HIFF Virtual Cinema: Watch these African American Films (Free for Limited Time)

By HIFF News | June 5, 2020

Many film industry supporters have come out in the past week to help fight systemic racism, advocate for police reform and support protesters across America. From supporting a passionate Jon Boyega at a BLM rally in London, to companies like A24, Bad Robot and other leading voices in film are stepping up in response to current events. HIFF also issued a statement in support of #BlackLivesMatter (Read it here).

Companies like Warner Bros, Neon, and the Criterion Channel have lifted their paywalls and are offering some of their films about the African American experience for free.*

We have highlighted 5 films, from American indie classics like Julie Dash’s seminal DAUGHTER OF THE DUST,  Destin Daniel Cretton’s JUST MERCY based on civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, to Ava DuVernay’s Oscar nominated SELMA about the MLK-led Montgomery March that ushered in the Civil Rights Act of 1965–these are films that we feel best highlight the African American experience in the last 30 years.

DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (1991)
Director: Julie Dash

Julie Dash’s rapturous vision of black womanhood and vanishing ways of life in the turn-of-the-century South was the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide release. In 1902, a multigenerational family in the Gullah community on the Sea Islands off of South Carolina—former West African slaves who carried on many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions—struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while contemplating a migration to the mainland, even further from their roots. Awash in gorgeously poetic, sun-dappled images at once dreamlike and precise, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST forges a radical new visual language rooted in black femininity and the rituals of Gullah culture. (View film at the Criterion Channel)

DOWN IN THE DELTA (1998)
Director: Maya Angelou

The only film directed by the iconic writer, poet, and activist Maya Angelou is a warm, richly evocative celebration of black southern family and resilience. Alfre Woodard delivers a brilliant performance as a floundering, drug-addicted mother living in Chicago whose own mother sends her to stay with an uncle (Al Freeman Jr.) in the Mississippi Delta, where she gradually reconnects with her heritage and discovers strength in her roots. With her writer’s eye for detail and keen sense of character and place, Angelou crafts a bittersweet, deeply moving family portrait that ranks as one of the unsung gems of 1990s independent filmmaking. The marvelous supporting cast includes Esther Rolle (in her final film appearance), Loretta Devine, and Wesley Snipes, who also produced.  (View Film at the Criterion Channel)

JUST MERCY (2019)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

A powerful and thought-provoking true story, JUST MERCY follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Brie Larson). One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds-and the system-stacked against them.  (View Film at Amazon Prime / YouTube / Google Play)

MONSTERS & MEN (2018)
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice? With a deep sense of humanity and a deft directorial hand, Reinaldo Marcus Green smartly reformulates the traditional construction of “protagonist” to magnify the power of perspective. Green tells the story of how the footage affects the lives of three upstanding men in Bed-Stuy–a young father striving to support his new family, an African American cop dealing with the fallout of his colleague’s mistake, and a star high school athlete who becomes politicized by the incident. Each man is very different, but they equally feel the urgency of the question they must all face: should I take moral action or remain safely on the sidelines? Green provokes viewers to ask themselves the same question.  (View Film at NEON)

SELMA (2014)
Director: Ava DuVernay

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  (View Film at Amazon Prime / Google Play)

* Films free to view at the time of this writing. HIFF does not know when paywalls will be re-activated.