Big Questions

Missional Living: I want to increase my knowledge about racial justice in North America. What films would you recommend I see?

I love watching films. I want to increase my knowledge about racial justice in North America. What films would you recommend I see?

Here are six films, from the very old to the recent, that are worth watching:

Birth of A Nation (1915). D.W. Griffith’s film of life after the Civil War was considered revolutionary for its cinematic achievements. The film was considered by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson as the best movie he had ever seen related to race. This movie is offensively racist, but it reflected the fears of many white Americans in the early 20th century. 

Unwanted Soldiers (1999) looks at discrimination experience by a Canadian World War II veteran of Chinese descent. Filmmaker Jari Osborne’s father is the center of the documentary. Secrets kept for years reveal the strength and resilience of these fighting men who deserved honor.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007) reveals the acts of Henry Dawes and his U.S. commission  toward First Nations people from 1893 through 1914. The film can help viewers understand how the U.S. government contributed to disruption and destruction of the people who originally “owned” the land in the West.

Which Way Home (2010) is timely because of the political and humanitarian turmoil over migrant families taking the arduous journey to come to the United States. The movie shows the lives of lone children seeking a better life beyond the dangerous conditions of their Central American homelands.

Silence (2016). After reading Shusaku Endo’s novel in seminary, I was stunned and left wanting more. Director Martin Scorsese’s deeply researched journey of two young Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) seeking to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) in Japan has much to teach. I had to watch it twice because the themes of cultural intelligence are too many to count. The film’s lessons will stay with you.

Marshall (2018). The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall took cases of racial discrimination for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People across the nation. The movie depicts Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) teaming up with Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), an insurance lawyer, to try a case of sexual assault in late-1940s Connecticut.

About the Author

Reginald Smith is director of race relations and social justice for the Christian Reformed Church. He attends Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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