Photo Courtesy/ Youtube Movieclips Indie
Kanopy is an award-winning video streaming service that provides access to over 30,000 documentaries and films to subscribers — including St. John’s University students, provided through the university library.
This February, in celebration of Black History Month, Kanopy has an entire category dedicated to African American films and documentaries. Here are some of the top picks, selected because each shed light on the many different perspectives of the African American experience:
“For Ahkeem” (2017)
Dir. by Jeremy S. Levine & Landon Van Soest
This award-winning documentary follows a teenage girl, Deja Shelton, who has recently been kicked out of public school and is required to attend an alternative school (the Innovative Concept Academy) in order to graduate with a GED. Whilst following Shelton, light is also shed on other individual stories of gang violence, police brutality and poverty. When Shelton becomes pregnant, she must learn how to navigate the world as a young black teenage mother and also learn how to shield her newborn son, Ahkeem, from the struggles and trials that face her community.
This documentary serves as a coming-of-age film set against the backdrop of Ferguson, Missouri. It focuses on the resilience, strength and support that is necessary to survive as a young black person in America today.
Dir. by Barry Jenkins
This coming of age film focuses on protagonist Chiron Harris (Trevante Rhodes) as he goes through childhood, adolescence and adulthood as a black man in a violent Miami community. He faces various struggles, including coming to terms with his sexuality as a black gay man, as well as growing up without a positive male role model in his life. He also deals with his mother’s drug addiction and thus has to learn how to navigate the world himself. Along the way, he encounters compassionate people who make his transitions from each stage in life to the other slightly easier. This film exceptionally portrays the struggles that young black men face in America, while highlighting the good people left in the world.
“15 to life: Kenneth’s Story” (2014)
Dir. by Nadine Pequeneza
Is it fair to sentence teenagers to life without parole? This documentary follows the story of Kenneth Young, a 15 year old boy who was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences. After a 10 year incarceration, Young fights for his release in a Supreme Court case (Graham v. Florida) that proclaimed sentencing juveniles to life sentences for crimes other than murder was unconstitutional. This law means that children, particularly children of color, will no longer be demonized by the courts and penalized more harshly than adults, resulting in 77 Florida inmates becoming eligible for early release.
“Black is…Black Ain’t” (1994)
Dir. by Marlon Riggs
This award-winning documentary follows the stories of several black people as they discuss their different experiences with their own identities as black men and women. Factors such as skin tone, hair type, sex, religion, geographical location and sexual orientation all dictate how different people view their own blackness. The relationship between black manhood and hypersexuality is also discussed throughout the documentary. The documentary hopes to give insight into the African American experience from all angles and does a good job gathering various experiences from black people across America.
“White like Me” (2013)
Dir. by Tim Wise
This documentary strives to explore racism and white privilege through the eyes of anti-racism educator, Tim Wise. He speaks about how his upbringing affected his view on white privilege and how ignoring this privilege is damaging to every institution in America. He evaluates how the election of President Obama caused many Americans to believe that there were no longer barriers holding the African American population back from success.
The documentary strives to identify how racism still exists in America, as well as the role of the government and the media in racial inequality.