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Free movies about race in America to watch and learn from

"Selma" (pictured) and several other films are being made available to watch free during June.
“Selma” (pictured) and several other films are being made available to watch free during June.
(Atsushi Nishijima / Paramount Pictures)

A flurry of films and documentaries on the Black experience, racism and social justice are coming online for viewing in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests over police brutality.

For the record:

4:10 PM, Jun. 08, 2020An earlier version of this story erroneously included “Daughters of the Dust” and “Down in the Delta” in a list of documentaries about the African American experience. Both films are dramas.

Warner Brothers earlier last week made the 2019 film “Just Mercy” available to rent free through June on digital streaming services, including AppleTV, FandangoNow, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, the PlayStation Store, Vudu, Microsoft and YouTube.

“We believe in the power of story,” Warner Brothers wrote in a statement posted on Instagram, following a posted quote from the main character of the film. “Our film, ‘Just Mercy,’ based on the life work of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systemic racism that plagues our country.”

“Just Mercy” stars Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, who works to free a wrongfully convicted Black man named Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) from potential execution after his imprisonment on death row in Alabama.

Showtime lifted its streaming pay wall on two of its documentaries: “16 Shots,” Richard Rowley’s Peabody Award nominee that covers the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke and the cover-up that followed; and “Burn Motherf—, Burn,” Sacha Jenkins’ tapestry of social justice stories from 1962 through 1992 told through three generations in the Greater Los Angeles area.

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The Criterion Collection joined in by lifting its paywall on films that center Black stories, such as “Daughters of the Dust,” “Down in the Delta,” “Portrait of Jason,” “Black Panthers” and “Losing Ground.”

Viewers can now watch these films at home for free, no subscription required, on the Criterion Channel. Criterion wants to “highlight films that focus on Black lives, including works by early pioneers of African American cinema such as Oscar Micheaux; classics by Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye and Charles Burnett; contemporary work by Khalik Allah and Leilah Weinraub; and documentary portraits of Black experience by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke,” the channel wrote in a statement.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and O Cinema have teamed up with Magnolia Pictures to make “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Whose Streets?” and “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” free to watch in certain cities with the help of community partners.

These cities are Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Macon, Ga.; Miami; Philadelphia; San Jose; and St. Paul, Minn.

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The three titles will be available to watch for free in a 24-hour period every Sunday, followed by virtual discussions of the films hosted by community organizations Monday night.

Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” which covers James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, “Remember This House,” kicked off the event Sunday. Up next is “Whose Streets?” — a documentary about the death of Michael Brown and the Ferguson events that resulted — on June 14, followed by “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” on June 21.

On Wednesday, PBS stations nationwide will broadcast “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” at 8 p.m. Pacific, followed by “I Am Not Your Negro” at 9:44 p.m. “I Am Not Your Negro” will also be available for free streaming through June 21. “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” will be available for free streaming through July 4.

Paramount Pictures has made Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” free to rent on all U.S. digital streaming services for June.

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Starz has curated a collection of films, documentaries and series that highlight Black lives, which will be made available to stream for free. The programming will be accessible through the Starz app and On Demand without a subscription.

Among the free fare: “America to Me,” “A Huey P. Newton Story,” “Emanuel,” “For Ahkeem,” “Out of Omaha,” “Scandalize My Name,” “Stranger Fruit” and “The Rape of Recy Taylor.”

After “The Help” soared on Netflix, actress Bryce Dallas Howard championed movies that “center Black lives, stories, creators, and/or performers.”


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