Andrew Bondarev ‘22
- Malcolm X
By taking on the struggles and complexities of Malcolm X’s difficult journey as a civil rights activist, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington demonstrate a breathtaking look at his beginnings, introduction to the Nation of Islam, and his death. As Malcolm transitioned from being an adolescent to a young man, he finds himself disillusioned and involved in a life in which he has virtually no alignment with the reality and oppression surrounding him. Once he is imprisoned, he meets a member of the Nation of Islam, who in accordance with his autobiography, was depicted in the film as a representation of a number of mentors he had in prison. This forever changed his life, as he now found a new sense of drive and faith, allowing for direction and invaluable discipline that surrounded his following actions. Therefore, the potential and actualization that isolation can create are epitomized through Malcolm X’s story in prison. He had been illiterate, but he had begun reading an English dictionary and started rewriting it word by word. You should have somewhat of an understanding of what takes place for the rest of his life and movie, but if not, this only reaffirms your absolute need to watch this. With registrations in the United States National Film Registry and an Academy Award nomination for Denzel Washington, this great film gave an artistic view of Malcolm X’s autobiography, as well as a look into the power and knowledge that can be harnessed in moments of despair and pain. It is currently available on Netflix.
- The Great Debaters
In another Denzel Washington classic that continues to be relevant and useful in the society of today, The Great Debaters focuses on the historically black Wiley College that had an extremely successful and talented debate team in the 1930s. Despite the racial segregation and oppression of the time period, the film adaptation of this real-life story demonstrated the excellence of the students’ revered teacher Melvin B. Tolson. The movie is best known in some circles for Denzel Washington’s iconic rendition of Langston Hughe’s “I, Too, Sing America”, and that is personally how I found out about the movie itself. The plot itself can be a source of great wisdom and food for thought today as it utilizes the motif of St. Augustine of Hippo’s quote, “An unjust law is no law at all”. This notion rings true today through the many calls for reform in the hierarchical structure of the United States’s system, in an attempt to solidify rejection of racism and an embracing of the common dignity of all.
Many history classes or textbooks do not tell the haunting story of Rosewood, a predominantly black town in present-day Levy County, Florida, that was brutally destroyed and massacred in 1923 over false accusations over the assault of a woman. Regardless of the racial background of the viewer, it is a culturally necessary film to internalize and understand as a part of this nation’s history. None of the perpetrators of his horrific sin were persecuted for their actions, and in many cases, this massacre is forgotten in the eyes of institutional America. In a very heavy and true-to-life depiction of the crime, Rosewood gave viewers a glimpse into the truly ugly and ruthless side of human nature, when infected with racism. It reminds us that people, when given carte blanche to judge the content of one’s character only based on race, have the ability to do demonic and misguided acts of evil against the Body of Christ. The message of the film illustrated how America must learn the lessons of the past, in order to prevent this sort of evil from repeating itself. The precedent that we set as a generation is vital for the continuation of a civilized society in which we must defend each person’s human rights, no matter their race.
- Do The Right Thing
In a very culturally significant film directed by Spike Lee, Do The Right Thing is a film that propels the viewer into the scorching hot setting of Bed-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn centered around the setting of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. This is a film that explored the present-day realities of racism and police brutality in a neighborhood in which frustrations and tensions boiled over into a riot. The characters found themselves in the center of a societal and ideological battle between racist stereotypes and preconceived disconnect, against the humanity of the characters. When paired with an environment and system that loses the trust of the citizens it serves, it can lead to disenfranchisement and overall violence. The search for where to place the blame for the disparities between communities of different races is strenuous and emotional, and Spike Lee perfectly demonstrates the realistic struggle of doing the right thing. This is an extremely important tour de force to digest. As one sees the protests and countless calls for systemic change after the death of George Floyd, one can see that these problems are all too familiar, coming from a 1989 classic.
- Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day is a film that was suggested to me a multitude of times, but I had never been remotely interested in watching it before quarantine began. After watching this on Netflix, one can conclude that it certainly was a worthwhile look into the idea of the present moment and how the human experience can seem mundane and maddeningly routine. Bill Murray plays a very pessimistic and self-centered meteorologist who is in Punxsutawney for the annual Groundhog Day, specifically an unimportant event that he has absolute contempt for. However, he finds himself trapped in a reality (or Purgatory) where he wakes up each morning in the exact same condition, time, and setting while everyone around him behaves completely in accordance with his actions. The solipsism he is caved into leads to apathy and misery in our protagonist at first, but through trial-and-error, he realizes that he can build skills and save lives with the opportunity, or curse, he was given. Without any further spoilers, this is a movie, written with a great sense of humor, delving into the concept of adopting a more selfless view of the world. Mentioned in many Catholic, Buddhist, and Hindu spheres of thought online, this movie can give insight into many existential ideas that culminate in a powerful film.