Protest: Movies for Families About Working for Justice and Progress

Posted on June 2, 2020 at 10:41 am

Copyright 2014 Cloud Eight Films

The news of 2020 may be confusing and scary for children. These movies will help families talk about how democracies allow ordinary citizens to work for change.

Selma:  “Selma,” director Ava DuVernay’s film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital at Montgomery, to make the case for the right to vote, is superb as biography, as history, and as drama.

He Named Me Malala:  She risked everything to be allowed to learn. And now she is a world leader in advocating for other girls to have the same chance.

How to Survive a Plague: Extraordinary archival footage of the early days of AIDS activism makes this documentary especially vital and compelling. As writer/director David France told me, ““This isn’t a movie about what AIDS did to us. This is a movie about what we did to AIDS.” the people in this movie changed the way the medical and research communities interact with patients and their families who are coping with all diseases and conditions.

Boycott: The Montgomery bus boycott led by a young clergyman named Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Mission Blue: World-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle travels the globe on an urgent mission to shed light on the dire condition of Earth’s oceans.

Dolores: One of the most powerful activists on behalf of migrant workers is Dolores Huerta, who had to fight sexism as well as racism.

Amazing Grace:  The first ever citizen-led movement leading to peaceful social change was the British anti-slavery movement led by William Wilberforce, movingly depicted in this film. You can see the origins of the kinds of tactics and arguments that have formed the basis for every social movement since.

Made in Dagenham: Sally Hawkins stars in this fact-based story about women fighting for equal pay at a car company. It is a stirring and inspirational story and has a nuanced look at the political challenges as well as the professional ones.

1971: Before the Pentagon Papers, Edward Snowden, the Panama Papers, Wikileaks, and Chelsea Manning there was the first-ever leak of government documents. A group of activists broke into an FBI office and released documents showing abuse by law enforcement in a program called COINTELPRO. It was decades before anyone discovered who was responsible and we are just beginning to understand the impact of these revelations in loss of trust for government and changes of policy in the press.

Mighty Times: The Children’s March: This Oscar-winning documentary is the story of how the young people of Birmingham, Alabama, braved fire hoses and police dogs in 1963 to demand justice.

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Based on a true story Lists

PBS: John Lewis — Get In the Way

Posted on February 7, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Congressman John Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the March on Washington organized by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This week, PBS will show a documentary about Lewis, a key figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and a genuine statesman and hero. Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. He was one of the leaders of the SNCC and a Freedom Rider and his three-volume memoir March is a best-seller and the first graphic book to be given a National Book Award.

A film by Kathleen Dowdey, “John Lewis – Get in the Way” is the first biographical documentary about John Lewis, an inspiring portrait of one man cast into extraordinary times and his unhesitating dedication to seeking justice for the marginalized and ignored. The film spans more than half a century, tracing Lewis’ journey of courage, confrontations and hard-won triumphs.

At the age of 15, John Lewis’ life changed forever when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio. It was 1955, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Lewis listened with rapt attention as the young preacher called for resistance to the harsh injustice of segregation. Notably, Dr. King exhorted those listening to fight not with weapons but with proven tools of nonviolence.

Lewis embraced Dr. King’s spiritual call with a fervor that would determine the course of the rest of his life. A student activist in the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis was arrested and jailed for the first time during the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. A front-line general during the 1961 Freedom Rides, he was repeatedly assaulted by angry, unrestrained mobs.

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Biography Race and Diversity Television

Black Reel Awards: Selma Ties the Record

Posted on February 20, 2015 at 7:37 am

Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures
Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures
It is a great honor to be one of the voters for the Black Reel Awards and I am so proud of our winners this year, with “Selma” deservedly tying the record set by “Precious” with eight awards.

Outstanding Motion Picture
Selma | Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner & Christian Colson (Paramount)

Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture
David Oyelowo | Selma (Paramount)

Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture
Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Belle (Fox Searchlight)

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Motion Picture
Wendell Pierce | Selma (Paramount)

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture
Carmen Ejogo | Selma (Paramount)

Outstanding Director, Motion Picture
Ava DuVernay | Selma (Paramount)

Copyright 2014 Paramount Films
Copyright 2014 Paramount Films

Outstanding Screenplay, Motion Picture
Chris Rock | Top Five (Paramount)

Outstanding Documentary
Anita: Speaking Truth to the Power | Freida Lee Mock

Outstanding Ensemble (Awarded to Casting Directors)
Selma | Aisha Coley (Paramount)

Outstanding Foreign Film
Fishing Without Nets (Kenya) | Cutter Hodierne (Drafthouse Films)

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male
Tyler James Williams | Dear White People (Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female
Teyonah Parris | Dear White People (Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions)

Outstanding Voice Performance
Morgan Freeman | The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Outstanding Score
Jason Moran | Selma (Paramount)

Outstanding Original Song
“Glory” from Selma | Performed by: John Legend & Common;
Written by: John Legend, Common & Che Smith (Paramount)

Outstanding Independent Feature
The Retrieval | Chris Eska

Outstanding Independent Documentary
25 to Life | Mark Brown

Outstanding Independent Short
#AmeriCan | Nate Parker

Outstanding Television Documentary or Special
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown | Alex Gibney (HBO)

Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series
The Trip to Bountiful | Bill Haber, Cicely Tyson, Hallie Foote & Jeff Hayes (Lifetime)

Outstanding Actor, TV Movie or Mini-Series
Larenz Tate | Gun Hill (BET)

Outstanding Actress, TV Movie or Mini-Series
Cicely Tyson | The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor, TV Movie or Mini-Series
Blair Underwood | The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actress, TV Movie or Mini-Series
Anika Noni Rose | A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)

Outstanding Director, TV Movie or Mini-Series
Reggie Rock Bythewood | Gun Hill (BET)

Outstanding Screenplay, TV Movie or Mini-Series
Reggie Rock Bythewood | Gun Hill (BET)

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Awards Race and Diversity

Oscar Nominations 2015: Surprises, Disappointments, Predictions

Posted on January 15, 2015 at 10:17 am

This year’s Oscar nominations are out!  Most of the expected nominees made it, but there were some surprises and disappointments, especially the omission of the Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself” and the animated mega-hit “The LEGO Movie,” both of which I expected not just to be nominated but to take home the award.  It was good to see a Best Picture nomination for “Selma,” but very disappointing not to see nominations for director Ava Duvernay, star David Oyelowo.  I hoped to have seen Angelina Jolie and Jack O’Connell nominated for “Unbroken” and it would have been nice to see Jennifer Aniston nominated for her brave and vulnerable performance in “Cake” and Oscar Isaac nominated for a complex, deeply felt performance in “A Most Violent Year.” I liked “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” especially (of course) the music and production design and the performance by Ralph Fiennes, but would not have given it a Best Picture nomination.

It is a big disappointment to see yet another year with no acting nominations for performers of color, and no women in the director or screenwriter categories.

I was thrilled to see Laura Dern nominated for her effervescent performance in “Wild.” Marion Cotillard is deservedly an Academy favorite, and, like Dern, gave two superb performances this year. So did also-perennial favorite Jessica Chastain, and it was a disappointment not to see her nominated for “A Most Violent Year.” And so did Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was incandescent in two films, “Beyond the Lights” and “Belle” and deserved nominations for both.

My predictions for the top awards are: “Boyhood” for Best Picture and Richard Linklater for Best Director, Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything” for Best Actor, Julianne Moore for “Still Alice” for Best Actress, J.K. Simmons for “Whiplash” for Best Supporting Actor, and Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood” for Best Supporting Actress

Here are the nominees:


American Sniper



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything



Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything


Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild


Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods


Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game


Big Hero 6

The Boxtrolls

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Song of the Sea

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya


Ida, Poland

Leviathan, Russia

Tangerines, Estonia

Timbuktu, Mauritania

Wild Tales, Argentina


Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo

Boyhood, Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy


American Sniper, Jason Hall

The Imitation Game, Graham Moore

Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten

Whiplash, Damien Chazelle


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The imitation Game


Mr. Turner

The Theory of Everything


Everything is Awesome, from The Lego Movie

Glory, from Selma

Grateful, from Beyond the Lights

I’m Not Gonna Miss You, from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me

Lost Stars, from Begin Again



The Grand Budapest Hotel


Mr. Turner



The Grand Budapest Hotel

Inherent Vice

Into the Woods


Mr. Turner



Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam

The Salt of the Earth



Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1


Our Curse

The Reaper (La Parka)

White Earth


American Sniper


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game




The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


Into the Woods

Mr. Turner


The Bigger Picture

The Dam Keeper


Me and My Moulton

A Single Life



Boogaloo and Graham

Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)


The Phone Call


American Sniper


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies




American Sniper






Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Guardians of the Galaxy


X-Men: Days of Future Past



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How True Should a “Based on a True Story” Movie Be?

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 8:10 pm

What does “based on a true story” really mean? The Washington Post had a front-page story titled, “‘Selma’ sets off a controversy amid Oscar buzz,” describing the objections by Lyndon Johnson administration insiders to the way he was portrayed. They say it was his idea to go to Selma, that he supported Dr. King’s efforts, and that he had nothing to do with the FBI’s surveillance and J. Edgar Hoover’s sending tapes of King’s supposed affairs to Mrs. King.

Historian Michael Bechloss has posted this handwritten note made by King for his conversation with LBJ:

Vox’s Matthew Yglisias has responded to the criticisms from those who object to the portrayal of LBJ’s views and actions.  

And now my friend Jen Yamoto is summarizing objections to “Selma” and to other “based on a true story” films “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “Unbroken,” and “Big Eyes.” Some of these are the concerns of those trying to make sure that those who take their “history” from Oscar-worthy feature films at least begin to question the capacity of any dramatic work to be accurate in conveying historical events.  But some are just sniping by competitors in the Oscar race.

As Jen writes:

Oscar voting opened Monday, and like clockwork, the haters have come calling. As Deadline’s Pete Hammond wrote on Monday, ’tis the season for controversy over fact-based awards contenders: Now, Bennett Miller’s real-life Olympian tragedy Foxcatcher and Tim Burton’s art exposé Big Eyeshave joined MLK Jr. drama Selma, the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken in ducking for cover over accuracy issues in mixing fact-based stories with narrative structure.

Even the most scrupulous accuracy will still reflect choices of perspective, tone, and emphasis.  The best we can hope from any work of art is that it is the beginning, not the end, of an inquiry into the subject.

The Guardian takes on the portrayal of Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

Movie critic Ann Hornaday has an excellent piece on this subject in the Washington Post. She wisely concludes:

if the Gotcha Game is here to stay, we can at least agree on some new rules. And we can begin by adjusting our own attitudes toward fact-based films and their inevitable nit-pickers. Rather than the dualistic one’s-right-one’s-wrong model, it behooves audiences to cultivate a third eye — a new, more sophisticated way of appreciating both the art and the reality that inspires it.

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