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Documentaries For Black History Month - 2013

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A One-A-Day List of Documentaries for Viewing During Black History Month, 2013

Part One For Week One

Black History Month provides a framework for learning more about and reflect on all the various aspects of black culture and black lifestyle in North America, and elsewhere in the world.

What better way is there to gain knowledge and understanding than to watch brilliant documentaries that cover the various issues that impact the lives of black people and that celebrate black people whose talents and achievements have had a positive impact on the lives of everyone?

My one-a-day list of documentaries for Black History Month is divided into four sections, one part per week.

This is part one of the list. Watch. Learn. Enjoy! And feel free to add titles of other documentaries that will provide similar enlightenment.

For Part Two of the list, click here.

Freedom Riders

Library of Congress
Filmmaker Stanley Nelson's comprehensive and historically important documentary chronicles the six month period from May until November of 1961, during which some 400 black and white Americans made it their joint mission to challenge racial segregation in America's Deep South. Traveling together by bus and train, en mass as an integrated force, the Freedom Riders risked their personal safely to deliberately defy the Jim Crow laws used to enforce segregation. As documented in the film, which effectively compiles archival footage with stirring voice over narration and on camera interviews with civil rights activists, the Freedom Riders met with race hatred and mob violence on every leg of their journey. Many were brutally beaten up by racist whites, while others cheered them on or simply stood by and did nothing to prevent the violence. Most of the Freedom Riders were carted off to jail, at the very least, for breaking the law. Times may have changed, but this chapter of American history and the struggle for equality and justice must not be forgotten. Remember the Freedom Riders and their great contribution to the civil rights movement by watching this documentary during Black History Month. Read more...

The Central Park Five

Sundance Selects
This historically important documentary chronicles the long-lasting miscarriage of justice in the case of the 'Central Park Five,' a group of black and Latino teenage boys who were arrested, convicted and incarcerated for a brutal rape they hadn't committed. In 1989, with New York City in financial crisis, and hit by a huge crime wave, news broke about the brutal rape of a white women who'd been jogging in Central Park. The media characterized it as an incident of 'wilding' by unruly gangs of black and Latino boys. The crime was a particularly horrific one that left the victim near death, in a coma and with severe injuries. Authorities and citizens were fervent about punishing the perpetrators. Five youths -- dubbed the Central Park Five -- were presumed guilty, and locked away for the crime, although there was much evidence that they hadn't had anything to do with it. As filmmaker Sarah Burns' documentary shows, the Central Park Five were deprived of their rights by the criminal justice system. Eventually they were released, but after years of incarceration had upended their lives and dashed their dreams. They've never been able to completely recover from the injustice that was done to them. This documentary is a cautionary tale. Read more...

Tchoupitoulas

Oscilloscope Pictures
Three African-American youngsters -- the Zanders brothers -- leave their family's home in the low income suburbs of New Orleans and take a ferry that lands them in the heart of the Big Easy's French Quarter. where they experience their first big night out on the town. With their dog as a companion, they wander through the streets, checking out all of the colorful sites and attractions and some of the underbelly of this extraordinarily vibrant and festive city. Filmmakers Bill Ross and Turner Ross -- who happen to be brothers, too -- follow them step by step, recording their big adventure. Tchupitoulas is a brilliant reflection of youthful aspirations and wonderment. Read more...

The Interrupters

In this inspiring documentary, filmmakers Steve James and Alex Kolowitz follow several key members of CeaseFire, a Chicago-based grass roots organization that is dedicated to preventing tensions and rivalries between residents of impoverished, drug and crime-infested inner city neighborhoods from escalating and erupting into incidents of violence and bloodshed. Read more...

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Grindstone Media
Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler follow the professional arc and changes of Fishbone, one of the leading bands on the alternative rock scene, intoxicating fans with a unique mix of funk and punk, hard rock and soul for decades. The group began in 1979, when Fishbone's founding members -- Norwood Fisher, his brother, Phil 'Fish' Fisher, Angelo Moore, Kendall Jones, 'Dirty Walt' Kibby and Christopher Dowd -- were students in a South Central Los Angeles junior high school. Their neighborhood was hard times central, rife with crime, infested with drugs and subject to street riots. The creative kids stuck to their music as a path to a better life. The behind-the-scenes film chronicles their successes and the glitches they experienced along the way. Read more...

Soul Power

Antidote Films
Back in the 1970s, the "Rumble in the Jungle" was promoted as one of the decades most important sporting events. It was the (in)famous championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foremen, and countless fans of both titans traveled from around the world to Kinshasa, Zaire to see it in person, while millions more watched and wagered on it from afar. Soul Power is a film about that event, but it's not about the boxing match. It spotlights a spectacularly successful side event, a headliner mega-concert that presented James Brown, Bill Withers, B.B. King, Celia Cruz, Miriam Makeba and other legendary soul music makers in a one-time-only performance festival in Kinshasa, in conjunction with the fight. The concert was taped. Filmmaker Jeffrey Levy-Hinte uses the cache of archival footage of their thrilling performances to bring that amazing concert to the screen for those who were not fortunate enough to be there to see it live. Read more...

Good Hair

Roadside Attractions
Comedian Chris Rock was shocked when he found his adorable six year old daughter, Lola, crying because she didn't have 'good hair.' Lola's anguish and Rock's concerns about her happiness and self esteem, instigated his investigation of American women's -- and, in particular, African-American women's -- attitudes towards their hair and what constitutes 'good hair.' The definition of 'good hair' is, usually, straight hair. That concept, which has huge social and political implication, has a powerful grip on women, who think of straight hair as a necessity for success in their professional and personal lives. Straight hair -- or straightening hair -- is the root of a billion dollar industry. Filmmaker Jeff Stilson follows Rock to hair salons, barber shops, celebrities' homes and the annual Bonner Bros. Hair Show, an African-American hairstyle expo that culminates in the Hair Battle Royale. The film has hilarious twists that come straight to the point in raising questions about the need for and nature of 'good hair.' Read more....

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