Set around the time of the Rodney King beating in 1992 and the riots that followed, Showtime’s documentary Burn Motherf*ker Burn follows the tense and often violent relationship between the African-American community in California and the LAPD. The stunning documentary about the LA riots following the beating of King looks at the long history of violence against the black community in the US, and how the events of the past have resulted in the current political and social landscape.
Burn Motherf*cker Burn features actual footage and interviews of those who have been directly affected by violent unrest between the two sides. This spotlight on a dark time in American history is one of many important films that brings the often-untold true stories of the African American community to the big screen, but it’s hardly the only film worth watching. From slave plantations in New Orleans to the offices of NASA, these award-winning films are bringing forward the stories that history books have largely ignored.
STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON
Starring: Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell
Time Period: 1986 – 1996
Location: Los Angeles and the U.S.
Named after the 1988 debut album of Compton rap group N.W.A., Straight Out of Compton follows the rise and disbandment of one of the most influential rap groups of all time. The film shines a spotlight on gang life, police harassment and gun violence in inner-city neighborhoods in the 1980s. The biographical film includes the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, as well as the LA riots.
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS
Released: Premieres April 22 on HBO
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Rose Byrne
Time Period: 1951 – 2010
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the upcoming HBO original film follows Deborah Lacks, the daughter of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cancerous cells were used to create medical breakthroughs for the AIDS virus and Chemotherapy. The story follows Deborah and journalist Rebecca Skloot as the two women uncover the incredible advancements that Henrietta’s unauthorized harvested cells led to, finally assigning credit to a woman who has saved millions of lives.
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst
Time Period: 1958 – 1961
The critically and commercially successful 2016 film, Hidden Figures is based on the 2015 novel by the same name. Telling the untold story of three African American mathematicians who worked at NASA, the film focuses on Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, who helped the U.S. win the Space Race in the 1960’s. The film shows the issues of segregation and sexism the women dealt with every day, including whites-only bathrooms and lack of promotions in the work place. The film shone a spotlight on three otherwise virtually unknown trailblazers, with Hidden Figures grossing $224 million USD worldwide.
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo and Common
Time Period: 1964 – 1965
Ava Duvernay’s Golden Globe and Academy Award nominated 2014 film Selma chronicles the months leading up to the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in Alabama in 1965. Although the film does not include Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have A Dream Speech,” Selma has no issue conveying the gravity of the march and what it meant to millions of Americans.
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz
Time Period: 1926 – 2008
Location: Washington, DC
Based on the life of White House butler Eugene Allen, Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a butler who serves a number of presidents over his 34 years in the White House. The Lee Daniels film touches on many historical events both through the point of view of the U.S. President, including desegregation and the voting rights movement, and in Gaines’ home life, where his son becomes a freedom rider and his wife, played by Oprah Winfrey, struggles with alcoholism.
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon
Time Period: 1958 – 1967
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton play the real-life couple Richard and Mildred Loving, who in 1958 were arrested in their home state of Virginia for violating anti-miscegenation laws by getting married. After writing to Robert F. Kennedy for help, their case is passed on to the ACLU. Bernard S. Cohen, a lawyer, takes the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where the law is dismissed as ‘unconstitutional.’
Negga and Edgerton both received Golden Globe nominations for portraying the Lovings, who in real life were married until Richard’s death in 1975.
In 2007 on the 40th anniversary of the couple’s landmark case, Mildred, who died the next year, released a public statement saying “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry… I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
Starring: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Spike Lee
Time Period: 1920s – 1960s
Location: Chicago, New York and other U.S. States
Spike Lee’s biographical film about assassinated activist Malcolm X earned lead actor Denzel Washington a nomination for an Academy Award. The film covered much of Malcolm X’s life, based on Alex Haley’s 1965 book “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Acting as a vital piece of American history, the film was selected for preservation in 2010 by the Library of Congress.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, and Alfre Woodard
Time Period: 1841 – 1853
Location: New York, New Orleans
The Golden Globe winning film for Best Picture is based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup. A free black man in New York in 1841, Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was kidnapped and taken from his wife and children to New Orleans, where he was enslaved on a plantation for 12 years. He was eventually freed thanks to a Canadian labourer who sent word to a white shop keeper in New York that Northup was friends with, who retrieved Solomon from the South. After reuniting with his family, Northup was unsuccessful in bringing the men who kidnapped and enslaved him to trial.
REMEMBER THE TITANS
Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Gosling
Time Period: Early 1970s
Location: Suburban Virginia
Based on actual events in 1971, Denzel Washington plays Coach Boone, a black man made head football coach over a white assistant coach of a newly integrated high school. While the film could be accused of giving a softer, more Disney-fied version of racial tensions in Virginia in the 1970s, Remember The Titans glamorized take on a team where all players treat one another equally is inspiring and unfortunately, still aspirational.
Burn Motherf*cker Burn premieres on Friday, April 21 at 9 pm E.T. on CraveTV. See more new titles coming to CraveTV in April.