Because we are a Matthew 25 presbytery, our Faith, Education & Leadership Development (FELD) Committee will be promoting a movie or show of the month. These movies are recommended to individuals and to church groups. Click here to read more about what it means to be a Matthew 25 presbytery or church.
October 2022 – Just Mercy
A young Harvard law school graduate, a black man, goes to Alabama to defend death row inmates who have been unjustly accused or who lacked adequate representation. What could go wrong? The young man’s mother fears the worst in a touching scene at the beginning of this very emotional movie. Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, feels called to this work after doing an internship in Georgia; the true story he tells in his best-selling book by the same name, Just Mercy.
Bryan Stevenson founded his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989 In Monroeville, Alabama, working with inmates of a wide variety of ages from young teenagers to senior lifers who often had similar backgrounds of poverty and a lack of education. In the movie the case of Walter, McMillan is the focus. Middle-aged McMillan played by Jamie Fox has been accused of murdering a young white woman in a dry cleaner in downtown Monroeville. He is put on death row before his trial based on the testimony of a white man accused of murder in a different case. Racism and deep bigotry have a huge part in all of the proceedings.
In Stevenson’s book, the chapters about Walter McMillan’s incarceration and the legal hoops he goes through are alternated with chapters about other cases Stevenson and the growing staff of EJI dealt with through several years. Cases include those against young black boys thrown in adult prisons for life without parole…a sentence to die in prison. In the movie, the vast number of black men in prison and on death row are represented by quick statements from the inmates telling about their legal fights and imprisonment. There is no substitute for knowing the whole stories of these men but since that is not feasible in a two-hour movie, it only encourages the reading of the book.
The oftentimes overwhelming work that Bryan Stevenson and the staff of the EJI have undertaken is dramatically portrayed, even if condensed and abbreviated in this movie. The cast beyond Fox and Jordan is less well known but very talented. The details of life outside the courtroom add to the reality portrayed… Stevenson’s early morning runs, Eva (the founding partner of EJI and played by Brie Larson) putting her little boy to bed during informal legal discussions, visiting with Walter McMillan’s family at his home.
This is a movie that should be viewed by all who are concerned about the high incarceration rate in this country and its accompanying high percentage of black men in prison. Just Mercy cannot tell the whole story of the prison system in the United States but it is a great introduction to a very complex issue. The work of the Equal Justice Initiative continues along with other organizations and we all should be more aware of their important search for justice.
August 2022 – I Am Not Your Negro
Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro featuring the words of acclaimed American author, James Baldwin, is a searing portrait of being black and white in America.
The film is based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript called Remember This House, a memoir of his personal recollections of civil rights leaders Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., interspersed with recordings of Baldwin being interviewed or speaking and clips from films.
Here’s a quotation from Baldwin that for me sums up the crux of the movie: “It isn’t a racial problem. It’s a problem of whether or not you are able to look at your life and be willing to change it.”
Facing our lives and being willing to change them is essential to personal growth and true growth in Christian faith. Baldwin also calls on us to look history squarely in the face.
“The story of the Negro in America is America. It is not pretty.”
While some would like to ignore or prettify our history, Baldwin tells us that only by facing history can we create a better present and future.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
At only 94 minutes, I Am Not Your Negro is a good film for a discussion group. It is rated PG-13 for violent images including pictures of lynchings and films of white supremacy violence and language. It is not an easy watch, but it is an important one. I Am Not Your Negro is included in Prime Video and is available for pay screening on several other including YouTube.
June 2022 – The Gilded Age
The show The Gilded Age is historical fiction about economic growth and industrialization in America during the late 19th century. During this time, manufacturing, railroads, and coal rose as big industry. It tells the story of robber baron, George Russell, who represents the real robber baron, Jay Gould. It deals with issues of the Gilded Age including poverty, unemployment, and corruption. Even more, it deals with issues of classism, racism, and discrimination. The story line gives an eye-opening look into these last three issues.
In the show, Marian Brook moves to New York to live with her aunts after the death of her father. Just before boarding the train, she is robbed and is helped by an unexpected person, an aspiring black writer named Peggy Scott. Upon arriving in New York, she is thrust into the class war between her old money aunts and their new money neighbors. She is trying to navigate through a world of old money vs. new money, and other non-classism forms of discrimination against some persons in the old money social class.
Through Peggy Scott, who has become Marian’s friend, we learn along with Marian about the racism of the day. In one episode, they are trying to hail a hansom cab and Peggy puts Marian in a cab telling her she will wait for one willing to give a person of color a ride. Racism is new to Marian who grew up in rural Pennsylvania and she makes her own missteps as she tries to navigate her friendship with Peggy, her support for Peggy’s career, and her care for her as a human being.
The show also shows the classism that exists between members of the servant class and the very obvious racism directed at Peggy by at least one staff member, even though Peggy is higher on the pecking order of the servants, being the secretary to one of Marian’s aunts. The classism doesn’t end here. Peggy comes from a family considered among New York’s black elite, and they have a class war with the poorer black folks of New York. Peggy’s personal story reveals how discrimination by her father for those less fortunate has a great impact on her life.
You can watch the first season of The Gilded Age on HBO Max or stream it on Hulu. The second season is slated to begin in 2023 on HBO Max, though no official date has been set at this point.
May 2022 – The Great Debaters
Your Faith, Education, and Leadership Development committee recommends the movie The Great Debaters. This film is based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, a historically Black college related to the then Methodist Episcopal Church South (now the UMC), in Texas. Dr. Tolson, played by Denzel Washington, sought to place his debate team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s, when Jim Crow laws were common, and lynch mobs were active. In 1935, the Wiley College debate team defeated the University of Southern California, the reigning national debate champions.
This movie depicts the social constructs in Texas during the Great Depression, including the day-to-day insults endured by Blacks, and lynching. One scene in the movie depicts the debate team coming upon a midnight burning of a man on a cross. As hard as some of the scenes are to watch, the movie is highly inspirational, a testimony to doing what you “have to do” in order that you “can do” what you “want to do,” a recurring line throughout the movie.
This movie has an extraordinary case, including Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett, and John Heard.
This movie is available for free on the Roku Channel, and on other streaming services for $3.99.
April 2022 – One Night In Miami
On one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music, and activism gathered to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. When underdog Cassius Clay, soon to be called Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), defeats heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall, Clay memorialized the event with three of his friends: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
These four men, who are at the top of their professions, struggle with the systemic racism that still restrains them in America. It is one night in Miami and brings Malcolm into conflict with Cooke, Malcolm challenging Cooke to make his music more socially responsible, more like Bob Dylan. It is an engaging debate and encounter between these four men, two of whom are Cooke and Malcolm, would be murdered not long after this night in Miami.
One Night in Miami is rated R for strong language and is available through Amazon Prime.