Racism was a very strong theme for 2018 with numerous movies playing off of the divide of the United States and other nations to tackle the concept of prejudice and social justice. While I usually do not do countdown lists this small, considering how significant racial subtext was to films in 2018 and the fact that today is a day honoring one of the most iconic African American men of all time, Martin Luther King, Jr., I wanted to pay homage to those movies that most successfully tackled the issues of racism in our world and attempted to open our eyes to an unfortunately still rampant societal problem that for one reason or another has become even more relevant in recent years. With that said, these are my picks for the Top 5 Eye-Opening Films that Tackled Racism in 2018.
This list is simple. These are the five films that I believe best touched on the issues of racism and prejudice against African Americans in the year 2018. They were no graded on their overall quality but rather how they approached their themes of race relations. Racism didn’t have to be the core theme of the film, but it did have to play a role in the plot and be a driving motivation for either the protagonist or the antagonists. While there weren’t a fill ten films to pick from, I still wanted to acknowledge what was an impressive slew of social justice projects meant to open the eyes of a world in desperate need of an awakening.
With that in mind I did not include a notable film “If Beale Street Could Talk” on this list because while it was technically released in December of 2018 its wide release in January makes it a 2019 film in my book. However you can consider it an honorable mention here and if you’d like to read my take on it you can read my review from this past weekend by clicking here.
With that in mind. what is your favorite film that tackled racism in 2018? Let me know in the comments below. On with the list.
5. “Black Panther”
“Black Panther” was one of the highest grossing movies of 2018 thanks to its incredible reviews and the public interest in seeing a true quality superhero movie with an African American lead. Hidden within its narrative though is a message about the impact of racism on the world as well as the risks of isolationism. The film’s villain Killmonger, considered one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, is a seasoned war veteran who marches into Wakanda looking to claim a thrown he feels entitled to. However he’s not just looking for royalty, he also wants to free “his people” from their oppression telling his cousin, Black Panther T’Challa, that Wakanda has stood idly by while the rest of the world has used, abused and enslaved African Americans time and time again throughout history. While Killmonger’s plan to spread Wakandan weapons across the world to help end that oppression is foiled the villain does convince T’Challa that the isolationist approach Wakanda has traditionally embraced is wrong. T’Challa eventually agrees to help the world with Wakanda’s resources. It may not be as heavy-handed a message as other movies on this list, but it’s a strong statement relevant to today’s reality and political environment.
4. “The Hate U Give”
I did not enjoy this movie as well as others did, but that doesn’t mean it’s undeserving of respect. “The Hate U Give” is based on a 2017 novel by Angie Thomas and focuses on a young black high schooler named Starr who witnesses a close friend shot by a white cop after which she decides to testify against the officer. Honestly, today’s world needs a movie like this. It speaks to the younger generation and tells them that it’s perfectly fine to stand against normalized racism and that when they see something wrong they should stand strong to stop it whether it’s a losing fight or not. But it also takes things a step farther. Starr’s opinion of the shooting stresses her friendships, especially with a white student who feels the cop is being run through the mud for simply doing his job. While I don’t feel the film properly juggles how these difference in perspectives should be handled, I do believe it touches on an important reality that plagues our world. It reflects how the media and people with an agenda can bend details to suit an end and how racism isn’t limited to the extremes but can be expressed through blind support for one opinion over another to fit a comfort zone. It may have it’s flaws but “The Hate U Give” accomplishes its purpose of inspiring the growing generation to take a stand.
3. “Sorry to Bother You”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this was by far one of my favorite films of 2018 and with good reason. “Sorry to Bother You” is so appropriately named because it not only plays off the main character Cash’s job as a telemarketer but also warns the viewer that that they should be prepared to be enlightened whether they like it or not. While the film does touch on many themes racism is a surprisingly downplayed aspect of the movie that’s still very important to its plot. When Cash starts working at his new job he is tutored by a fellow black man Langston. Cash finds it hard to make sales as many of his customers are white people hanging up as soon as they realize his race from his voice alone. Langston inspires Cash to use a “white voice” prompting Cash to change his cadence and tone to sound more Caucasian, which works to his advantage and sets the plot into motion. As it turns out every black operator uses a “white voice”. Director and writer Boots Riley uses this little detail to show that black workers have to deal with roadblocks white workers do not have to manage and that only by pretending to be something they are not can they ascend in the ranks. The idea of a black man being rejected for “sounding too black” might seem a little on the nose but it fits right in with the absurdist approach of the rest of this amazing project.
The only film on this list directly based on real life events, “BlacKkKlansman” focuses on black cop Ron Stallworth who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s with the help of a white officer. Director Spike Lee avoids sugarcoating the story he’s trying to sell by exploring the behind the scenes camaraderie of the KKK while also stressing the hypocrisy of the civil rights movement of the time that would turn its back on their own black brothers and sisters if they associated with the police, who they saw as the enemy. This to me is the best aspect of the picture because it makes “BlacKkKlansman” a film about both racism and reverse racism and how it’s a never-ending cycle of judgement. In a day and age where movements like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter have taken center stage seeing a movie that expresses the extremes of both perspectives feels not only appropriate but strangely inspired for a film based on a true story. “BlacKkKlansman” is grounded in the reality of racism’s impact on American culture opening our eyes to just how little the world has changed over the past few decades. While I didn’t feel it was necessary, this movie ends with a montage focusing on the Unite the Right Rally that took place exactly a year before its release, forcing viewers to come to the realization of just how little progress we’ve made over time.
No film touched on racism quite like this passion project did in 2018. Written and produced by and starring good friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, “Blindspotting” follows Collin Hoskins, a black man in his final days on parole, as he experiences a white cop shooting an unarmed black man in cold blood. This experience haunts Collin throughout the film as he comes to grips with racism within the police force as well as his best friend Miles, a white man, embracing black trends in a classic case of cultural appropriation. The movie gets its name from a term used to describe someone’s refusal to see numerous interpretations of a subject which plays perfectly into its story. While directly addressing the conflicts of racism, cultural identity and even reverse racism “Blindspotting” avoids feeling like a pandering mess by using very human dialogue and a slow buildup to get its points across. By the time we get to the epic finale where Collin has a chance to preach about the lessons he’s learned in an epic and poetic free-style rap that feels directed straight at the viewer, our eyes are opened to a reality few of us can possibly understand fully unless we have lived through it. Of all the films on this list, “Blindspotting” is by far the most honest, mature and balanced project and for me personally it’s depressing that it’s also the most overlooked movie of 2018 to make this countdown. But hopefully my placing it at the top here I can inspire others to give it a much deserved look.