movies

3 Shows To Watch During Black History Month

If you don’t want to die, comply — bumper sticker on pickup truck in Middletown, Ohio. As the statement indicates, our whiteness emboldens us — increasing our racial divide.

In honor of Black History Month here are three videos worth watching:

1.) Truth and Power: #BlackLivesMatter. Filmed in 2016, the first episode of the Truth and Power series on Netflix deals with the Black Lives Matter movement. A look at the inception of a movement borne from the frustration of a race historically, and currently, oppressed in a society that loves its whiteness. A lot is packed into this 20-minute episode, including interviews with the movement’s leaders, authors who have written about the country’s systemic racism, and the way the group has been monitored by government agencies.

2.) Spies of Mississippi. When I watched this hour-long piece on Amazon, I learned two things: 1.) Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, my alma mater, trained the 1960s Freedom Riders and 2.) the state of Mississippi created the State Sovereignty Group to systematically undermine the efforts of Civil Right leaders. The episode is journalistic in style (it was journalists who uncovered the documents about the Sovereignty Group) and it reveals government extensive effort to keep blacks ‘in their place.’ The piece looks at the various terror tactics used by police officers, newspaper editors and unscrupulous black leaders who spied on NAACP meetings.

Similarly-themed content about broken systems and the role they place in oppression are:

  • The Naked Truth, S1:E2 Mugged. This episode explores private companies exploiting people who have been arrested (including those with charges dropped). This is accomplished by posting mugshots online and forcing people to pay a fee to have them removed — but, as the episode reveals, finding out who operates these companies is difficult.
  • Truth and Power, S1: E4 Prisoners for Sale. This 20-minute episode explores how the private prison industry is undercutting the concept of justice.

3. I am Not Your Negro. I have mentioned this in a previous post, but this should be required viewing, especially for Whites. We have a tendency to presume we understand the race issue — or more commonly simply do not care because it does not impact us. This film is based on the unfinished work of black author James Baldwin. He set out to write about his three murdered friends: Malcom X, Medgar Evers (assassinated in Mississippi) and Martin Luther King — finishing 30 pages of the project.

The film is a tragic, poignant look at the black experience in America.

Baldwin was an intellectual who did not mince words and his written words, referenced throughout the film, are as applicable today as in the 1950s-1970s when Baldwin wrote them. The film also mixes in his interviews and speeches with current events, like Ferguson, showing not much has changed. I could fill this post with Baldwin’s quotes, but will include just one, which is read by actor Samuel Jackson as the image of a lynch mob is displayed on the screen. As the camera fades away from the dead black man it zeroes in on the white murderers staring at the camera while Jackson reads Baldwin’s words:

You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me an terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we literally are criminals.

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‘Stranger With A Camera’ Explores Filmmaker’s Murder In Kentucky

After reading What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, I walked away with more films to watch and more books to read. My family hails from the outlying regions of Appalachia, and as a family historian, I have always found the culture and region intriguing. It was my ‘other home’ since my family migrated from the region before I was born — and by the age of four, I was living in southwest Ohio.

The film, Stranger With a Camera, explores the murder of renown Canadian filmmaker High OConnor who was killed by a Jeremiah, Kentucky man while he was filming one of the man’s tenants. The documentary is filmed by a member of the Appalshop and resident of the region where the murder took place.

Since the film is short — about one hour (it can be live-streamed here for $3) — I won’t go into the ‘plotline’ but will instead discuss its broader theme. The backdrop for the film is the death of a filmmaker and the man who fired the gun. However, the director is really exploring the concept of who gets to tell a community’s story. The region where the story takes place was visited heavily by government officials and VISTA volunteers in the late 1960s as part of the War on Poverty. The filmmaker looks at how the community — and which parts — became part of the national dialogue. To set the stage she uses various news reels about the region and points out the individuals that she personally knows on the camera.

Those interested in storytelling — or how a community deals with ‘outsiders’ — will find the film enjoyable. Besides filming ‘locals,’ including the man who witnessed the murder, the director interviews crew members and the daughter of the murdered man.

My Rating 5 out of 5. The film successfully captures the ‘heart and soul’ of Jeremiah, Kentucky in a sensitive, yet objective and informative, way.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, movies, My America

‘Freeway’ A Tale Of Crack Cocaine And The American Dream

Although a segment of the ‘Freeway Ricky Ross” story winds through Cincinnati, Ohio, I was not familiar it. Ross is of one of America’s most successful drug traffickers. At one point, officials said Ross was worth $1 billion.

My interest in the roughly 2-hour documentary, though, is it offers a peak into the devastation caused by the ‘War of Drugs’ implemented by Ronald Reagan. (That ‘war’ help lead to Preble County’s economic demise, but I digress).

The film follows two basic narratives: the rise and fall of Ricky Ross and a background story — independent of Ross — that explores allegations of drug money being used, indirectly, by the Reagan administration to fund the Contras in Central America. This plotline is a little more complicated, but it is relevant, because Ross’ main supplier of cocaine was an individual funding the Contras.

In the documentary, Ross is portrayed as an amoral entrepreneur who surrounds himself with neighborhood and childhood acquaintances. He defies stereotypes as he eschews violence, helps his friends become wealthy, and takes a business approach to the trade. He simply sells an extremely large quantity of the highly-addicted product as a path to wealth.

This story line is engaging, intriguing, and offers a look at the societal, and political, forces that created a perfect storm for the drug’s acceptance.

Just importantly, though, is Ross’ new life. After spending 20 years in prison, the formerly illiterate Ross learn to read, write and became an activist — speaking out against drug use — and the “War on Drug” approach to addiction which left communities and families in ruin while spawning the prison industrial complex.

My Rating 4 out of 5: The film has it all: corrupt cops, reformed drug dealers, and a wide range of savory and unsavory characters. It gives a very detailed look at the drug scene in California and parts of the Midwest. My only qualm with the film is the Contra storyline. Although the Contra story and Ross’ story are intertwined, I would have preferred a Part One/Part Two scenario so the Contra story could be developed more fully.

Categories: American History, movies, Ohio, TV Shows