Films to promote dialogues about racism and inequality

“If Beale Street Could Talk.”

“If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Contributed photo

At a moment when the world can confuse, and our children can ask questions, movies can help parents explain complex issues.

Over the years, filmmakers have created compelling explorations of issues that can divide and actions that can bring people together.

Here are seven of my favorites, all available to stream.

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Moviemaker Spike Lee hits us between the eyes — just when we need it — with this brilliant, unforgettable and horrifying take on racism. Based on actual incidents from the 1970s, the film recreates an amazing story when an African-American police officer in Colorado becomes a member of the Ku Klux Klan. As he infiltrates the organization, he discovers layers of hatred and bigotry that reveal the divide this organization promotes through a lens of divine guidance and entitlement. The absurdity works because filmmaker Lee convinces us it’s real. Because it is.

Detroit (2017)

At any time, Kathryn Bigelow’s film would be a powerful reminder of the impact of hatred between races. Seen today, with all we experience in our world, its message could not be more significant. This detailed, heartbreaking recreation of the Detroit riots of 1967 reminds us what can happen when people only believe in what they fear. When we refuse to be accountable for the fragility of human life. Revisiting the summer of 1967, when too many made choices influenced by violence, brings us home to how the negative can forever destroy. At any time.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

In the 1960s, the idea of people from different races getting married was a challenging idea for many to embrace. No matter how far we felt we had progressed during the decade, we remained a world with miles still to travel. Director Stanley Kramer dared to use the conventions of a glossy Hollywood drama to highlight the challenges that evolve when people look beyond how people look to explore how they feel. With Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as parents who believe in their good intentions, the film endures because it still makes us think.

The Help (2011)

Sometimes we need to be reminded how people of different races may connect in an American dream that becomes more of a sentence than an opportunity. The film takes us inside the lives of women who only know one way to feed their families: to serve others without experiencing equal access to traditional facilities and services. But they don’t give up. Holding them together is a belief that strong people can endure; their strength reminds us that quiet resolve may be difficult to overcome. This film reminds us, again, that one person’s protection may be another’s prison.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Working from James Baldwin’s poetic novel, director Barry Jenkins takes a gentle approach to exploring how our judicial system can favor one race over another. He gently reveals the bias in a police force that may or may not dig for facts when conclusions are easy to reach, the fears of a family who find it easier to blame than to accept responsibility for how they contribute to chaos, and the realities of lives built on a fragile foundation of love and support. And Jenkins helps us hope that, if we focus on gentle steps, we can reach better tomorrows.

13th (2016)

Anyone who loves what America can be — and fears what America can become — will savor this powerful documentary of race relations in the country, past, present and hopefully future. Ava DuVernay — who directed “Selma” — dares to explore layers of hatred, deception and denial that create the racial tension that defines too many confrontations in our country. While politicians may argue over what dignity people should be able to expect, the film reminds us how easy it can be to pretend that all people are treated in equal ways.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

As children, we look to our parents for many things, security, direction and answers to the questions we can’t figure out. This classic story takes us to a small town in the South where a girl named Scout and her best friend have the world at their hands. But their realities quickly change when Tom, a black man they treasure, is accused of raping a young white woman. When Scout’s father, Atticus, becomes the lawyer who tries to defend Tom, her view of the world forever changes, as she sees how people act when they hate.

We cherish how film can make us think, especially at moments like these when there’s so much to absorb. And how these films, and others, offer messages we need to hear again and again.