On a day when Black people join together across the country in solidarity for the group of high school students unfairly prosecuted in Jena, Louisana, I took the opportunity to look at six movies that revealed the ugly side of the continuing struggle for social justice in America.
The Hurricane (1999)
Denzel Washington received an Oscar nomination for playing boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. Through all of his trials and tribulations, Washington remained optimistic. "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna bust me out." Amen brother, Amen.
A Soldier's Story (1984)
Howard Rollins starred as a Black Army officer sent to Louisana to investigate the racial murder of hated Sergent Waters (the brilliant Adolf Caesar). While everyone in the community assumes that the KKK was responsible, the real truth is far more sinister. The film featured an amazing cast of future Black film stars including Washington, Robert Townsend, David Alan Grier and William Alan Young ("Moesha").
A Lesson Before Dying (1999)
Mekhi Phifer and Don Cheadle give heartbreaking performances in this story of a wrongly convicted man (Phifer) who is asked to meet his death with dignity with help of a respected schoolteacher (Cheadle). The scene in the courthouse when Cheadle brings his students by to say goodbye brings tears to my eyes everytime I watch this incredible film.
The Autobiography of Jane Pittman (1974)
Cicely Tyson won two Emmys for her portrayal of the 110-year old former slave who stood up for civil rights in this amazing television film. The film's key scene when Pittman (Tyson) drinks from the White water fountain instead of the colored one was a powerful message that signaled that even in a small way that we as a people were continuing to make progress.
A Time To Kill (1996)
Samuel L. Jackson electrified film audiences and received a well-deserved Oscar nomination as a father who murders two White men who raped his 10-year daughter in a Mississippi town. When asked if the men deserved to die, Jackson delivered the film's signature line angrily exclaiming, "Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!"
4 Little Girls (1997)
Spike Lee's powerful and thought-provoking documentary about four girls that were killed in a Birmingham, Alabama church in 1963, still resonates as an amazingly sad piece of work. Featuring interviews with friends and family members of the victims, the film is an enduring testament to lives of four young girls gone too soon.