Humanity has always been under the threat of violence and hatred. To delve deep and into the roots of violence and understand what really instigates it is something truly beyond the meagre powers of the human intellect. The great Michael Haneke once said that the cause of violence is fear. Fear of being attacked; fear of someone or something that is foreign to us. And in this ignorance lie the roots of racial violence and xenophobia. Racism has been a major element in many films but only few have managed to tackle the issue in a very effective manner. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the list of top racism movies ever. You can stream some of these best movies about racism on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime.
12. Django Unchained (2012)
Very few filmmakers understand the pulse of their audience and manage to hit right on their nerves. Quentin Tarantino is one of them. He knows the primary reason why people go to the movies. And that makes him nothing short of a genius. His films are neither meant to provoke you nor to raise some serious questions about the society but rather intended to entertain you, helping you satisfy your darkest fantasies that would otherwise be not possible in the real world. With ‘Django Unchained’ he did exactly that. Seriously, who wouldn’t love a story where the black man survives an epic battle to save his wife, freeing her from the tyranny of the oppressive white and riding off on a horse together? At 165 minutes of run time, the film might be a bit of a drag at places but nevertheless it’s very rewarding and completely satisfying.
11. To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)
I’m not sure how ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ would hold up now. The film is replete with clichés and excessive sentimentality. But nevertheless it manages to grab a place on the list because its honest attempt, however naive and silly, certainly does affect on some level. Adapted from Harper Lee’s famous Pulitzer winning novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape. Atticus Finch, the film’s protagonist, is a man of high moral values and completely believes in truth and justice and his character’s concrete views on morality are central to understanding the film’s major themes and this has somewhat been putting off people because Finch is perhaps too good hearted and perfect to be realistic, at least in the world we live now.
10. A Time to Kill (1996)
Joel Schumacher’s ‘A Time to Kill’ is about a young African-American girl who gets raped and nearly killed by two white supremacists. Her father, played by Samuel Jackson, goes to the county courthouse and shoots the culprits, killing them instantly. The rest of the film revolves around his trial as he hires a good hearted white lawyer to help him win the case. ‘A Time to Kill’ is a film that is as much relevant today as it was back in 1996 and raises some very important questions on racism, justice and truth. It’s incredibly tense and well controlled, complimented by some fine performances from its stupendous cast.
9. Mississippi Burning (1988)
‘Mississippi Burning’ follows two detectives who are sent to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights activists in Jessup County, Mississippi. Things turn increasingly complex as the authorities and the locals aren’t cooperative and the detectives are forced to look for different ways to nab the culprit. Scriptwriter Chris Gerolmo based his work on the real life murders of three civil rights workers in 1964. The film generated controversy over its fictionalisation of the real life events and there were several disputes over the script between Alan Parker and Chris Gerolmo. It went on to get nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won numerous other awards.
8. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen’s powerful period drama is undoubtedly one of the most important films ever made in recent times. ’12 Years a Slave’ tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American man living in New York who was abducted and sold into slavery. The film is a viscerally powerful story of survival and hope but McQueen ensures that his viewers do not gain a comfortable viewing experience and depicts the sheer brutality of the subject in all its rawness, bringing in a very discomforting sense of realism that truly elevates the film to new heights. It’s a bold, unflinching, riveting piece of cinema.
7. American History X (1998)
‘American History X’ is undoubtedly one of the best films that manages to tackle racism on an emotional level. Featuring one of the greatest acting performances of all time by the ever brilliant Edward Norton, the film tells the story of a man named Derek Vinyard who is the leader of a Neo-Nazi movement. He is imprisoned for killing two black youths but returns a changed man only to find out that his brother is following in his footsteps. The film albeit a bit preachy at many places works brilliantly on many levels and manages to depict the complexities of the issue in an emotionally satisfying manner.
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6. La Haine (1996)
Raw, brutal, violent and in-your-face, ‘La Haine’ is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful films about racism and racial relations ever made. The film revolves around three young men in Paris, belonging to different ethnic groups, revolting against the police who tortured and brutalised their friend. The emotional flow and intensity is raw and almost palpable and the film is unflinching in its portrayal of a France so torn up in chaos and wrecked by racial tensions. The film has a documentary like quality to it that gives it a very authentic feel and distinctive tone.
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5. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Racism has been one of the major themes running in many of Spike Lee‘s films. ‘Do the Right Thing’ is probably his best work to date. The film focuses on a Brooklyn neighborhood where racial tension escalates when things take an ugly turn in a Pizzeria. What’s brilliant about the film is that it abstains from being preachy or manipulative which is so often the issue with films that talk about racism. The film is ferocious in its intensity and deeply passionate in its raw energy and Lee manages to pack a punch in the form of a comedy with utmost clinical brilliance and perfection.
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4. Code Unknown (2000)
‘Code Unknown’ isn’t anywhere near Michael Haneke‘s greatest works. But the reason why it’s ranked so high on the list is because Haneke at his weakest is still far better than most directors at their absolute peak. ‘Code Unknown’ is as challenging as cinema can get. It follows a cryptic narrative that includes various unedited scenes of everyday lives in several characters’ whose lives intersect and connect. Haneke deals with racism here in a way that raises some serious questions on the subject rather than resorting to traditional manipulative techniques and that makes this one a thoroughly demanding and profoundly intellectual experience for the viewers. ‘Code Unknown’ is cinema at its most challenging and enigmatic.
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3. The Pianist (2002)
‘The Pianist’ made me feel what it feels like to live in a world so full of hate and prejudice and what it feels like to get out of your home and be looked upon by people with utter contempt and hatred. Part of the credit here goes to Adrien Brody‘s heart-wrenching portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman; a Polish pianist hiding from the Nazis in Warsaw. ‘The Pianist’ is a deeply moving, humanistic tale of survival and compassion that captures the brutality of racism in a way that manages to affect you on a profoundly emotional level and shatters you in its brutally painful honesty.
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2. Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg‘s undisputed masterpiece is a searing tale of hope, survival and compassion. Many people have often criticised the film for being excessively melodramatic and manipulative. But what the film does is instil hope and faith in humanity during the darkest of times. ‘Schindler’s List’ tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a charismatic German businessman and a member of the Nazi party who employs Jewish workers in his factory and looks to earn high profits from the war. But he soon realises that his factory is turning out to be a haven for a number of Jews and then shifts his focus from making profits to saving as many number of people as possible. There have been better films about the Holocaust but ‘Schindler’s List’ truly remains one of cinema’s greatest ever because of its profound humanity and compassion. ‘Schindler’s List’ is Steven Spielberg’s greatest gift to humanity.
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1. Shadows (1959)
John Cassavetes was one of the masters of the early American indie scene. He often brought out the best from his actors, loosening control over their performances and often encouraging improvisation which brought in a rare touch of realism to his work. This is best displayed in his 1959 drama, ‘Shadows’. A fair skinned African-American woman develops a relationship with a white man who doesn’t realise she’s black until he meets her brother. This causes tension in their relationship. The film was one of the earliest to talk about interracial relationships and is today regarded as one of the most significant works of American cinema.
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