SJC Movie Resources

“When They See Us” Netflix
Ava DuVernay
For mature teens ages 15 and up. Parental discretion is advised due to disturbing content.

Review by SJC member Mary Pritchard

Back in 1989, headlines across the country described five young Black and Hispanic men from Harlem as the Central Park Five who were picked up by police on the night that white jogger, Trisha Meili, was found brutally raped and left for dead in Central Park.  Netflix’s four-part docuseries “When They See Us” takes us through the story of Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise – all 14-16 years old falsely accused of the crime of brutal rape and assault-  from the time they were taken to the police station to their eventual exoneration of the crime 12+ years later.  

In this series directed by award winning Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th) we see the horrifying interrogation and dehumanizing treatment of the boys by the police and detectives, the coerced confessions to force a plea deal, the rush to judgment and conviction by the prosecution and the press eager to solve the crime despite timelines and conflicting accounts, and the eventual imprisonment of these five young men for a crime they did not commit.  Exonerated of their crimes and finally released from prison in 2002, four of the youths served sentences at juvenile detention centers for more than  six years, and the 16 year old served 12 years in adult prison. We see their struggles to deal with life in juvenile detention, its effect on their families, and the trauma of time in adult prison.  The final episode focuses on the toll of imprisonment and the many barriers and challenges faced on re-entry to their communities.  This film reminds us that youth sentenced as adults carry their criminal record their whole life diminishing their chances to find jobs, decent housing, student loans, go to college, join the military, or even vote in some states.  This system basically keeps people imprisoned for life.

Lucy Mangan from The Guardian complimented the mini-series, saying it is “a dense, fast-moving series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement (though you could argue they all have that same root cause) on people with the boys’ background. The lack of money that leads to inadequate lawyers and mothers unable to visit their sons incarcerated in distant places. The lifetime of fear and vulnerability that causes one parent to encourage his son to sign the confession so they can leave the station and sort things out later. The powerlessness in the face of an authority that doesn’t look like you or care about you.”  (emphasis mine)  We know this to be true in Lawrence.  The need for more district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges of color is paramount to delivering justice to people of color.  As I was watching “When They See Us,” I was reminded of South Church member and defense attorney, Jennifer Capone, commenting that “our system is designed to keep people down without even finding out who they really are.”  

When They See Us” is difficult to watch but we cannot turn away.  Our justice system is in terrible need of reform.  We need to educate ourselves about our criminal justice system.  We need to understand the racial disparities on how people of color are treated when they enter the legal system.  We need to understand the power that prosecutors wield and the travesty of how the plea deal is often used in a miscarriage of justice.  We need to re-examine how our system of bail works to the benefit of those with money and privilege.  We need to reform a parole system that is designed for failure on the part of the parolee.  We need to think about a restorative rather than a retributive justice system.  We need to envision alternatives to incarceration.  Lady Justice demands nothing less of us. 

Click here for a review from the New York Times, and click here to read more about director, Ava DuVernay.

Questions to Consider*:  Please click here to share your thoughts and join the discussion on our Facebook page.

  1. In what ways did race impact how the boys were treated by the prosecutors, police, and media?
  2. How did this series impact your thinking on the power of prosecutors and law enforcement?
  3. How does incarceration impact the families and communities of those in prison?
  4. What does society owe to individuals who are proven to have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated?

*Questions adapted from Campaign For Youth Justice (CFYJ) movie discussion guide

photo: IMDB

Official Trailer

4 Little Girls
Spike Lee Academy Award Nominated documentary
ages 14+ due to
graphic images of violence

We hear first hand from the parents, siblings, and friends of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson – the four young girls tragically killed in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama by white supremacists.

It is a story of love and loss, tragedy and hate. It shines a light on the awakening of a nation to the ongoing oppression of and violence towards black people living in the south during the 1960’s and the Civil Rights Movement. Before watching the film listen to this new 2020 song by MILCK – Somebody’s Beloved, a young activist and singer/songwriter. Then, watch the documentary, available on either YouTube or HBO-Max (you can get a free 30 day trial through many internet and cable providers). 

Spike Lee has an amazing, and previously under-appreciated, talent for sharing history with a deeply personal touch. To paraphrase an article from Insider, Jason Guerrasio shares that Spike Lee has used filmmaking to shine a light on “some of the most important (and often ignored) issues of our times.” You will want to put all of these films on your watch list!  Read the Insider article highlighting Spike Lee’s work here

The 1963 domestic terrorist attack reverberated across the globe. Every stained glass window of the church was destroyed in the blast, in addition to the lives and potential of the four girls. As a sign of solidarity, sorrow, and hope John Petts, of Wales, created a replacement stained glass window for the church as it worked to heal and rebuild in the following year. Read the Inspiring story of the Wales Window for Alabama.

Questions to ponder after watching the film:

  1. Think about the power yielded and culture created by Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor. It was said that this systemic racism, hatred and violence couldn’t have existed without the “nods of the status quo” people. Like with George Floyd, why does it take tragedies of this sort to show us the inhumanity and abuse of power that is right before us? How far (or not) have we come?
  2. How does the bravery and involvement of the youth challenging the status quo fit with your expectation for their behavior? Why were the parents and adults unable to act? Why did it take the youth to bring national attention to the Civil Rights Movement and the injustices occurring in the south? What parallels do we see in movements today – i.e. the Black Lives Matter Movement?
  3. The parents, siblings and friends of Addie Mae, Denise, Cynthia and Carole talk about their faith and prayer to help them get through their loss. How would YOU maintain your faith in God and humanity if you lost someone you loved dearly to senseless violence and hatred?
  4. This song, titled 4 Little Girls by Pantera Saint-Montaigne was written for Spike Lee’s film. Think about the other songs and music in the film (spirituals, protest songs, songs referenced from childhood memories). How does music help us to process events and express ourselves?

“Akeelah and the Bee”
Doug Atchison
family friendly PG rating

This entertaining and inspirational movie will provoke discussions about the roles that race and racism play as you follow the story of Akeelah Anderson, an eleven year old black girl growing up in Southern Los Angeles with a gift for spelling. When Akeelah is  encouraged by her teacher and the school principal, she becomes labelled by classmates as “smart”  and is made to feel separate because of it.

An important character that enters her life is a retired English teacher who lives in her neighborhood and becomes a tutor who expands her understanding of the importance of words, beyond just spelling.

As the story unfolds, and Akeelah advances from local, regional and then state competitions, you will witness the obstacles faced by those in low income neighborhoods, in inferior schools, and faced by racial stereotypes. The  final competition, The National Scripps Spelling Bee, is portrayed authentically and takes on the excitement of a sporting event! You will be inspired  as Akeelah learns what she is good at and becomes proud of it. Her success becomes the success of her community as well.  

YouTube Trailer The film is rated: PG and is available for rent online through youTube, or you can find it at your local library.


Before viewing:

  1. What is a stereotype?  Can you think of anyone who is assumed to be a certain way because of how they look, how they speak, where they live?
  2. Did you ever feel “different’” from your classmates for any reason?
  3. Do you know of anyone in your school who is treated as “separate” because they are different from others in some way?

After viewing:

  1. Why did Dr. Larabee tell Akeelah not to “talk like that here”?
  2. What did Akeelah’s mother mean when she said “You have 50,000 coaches.” Talk about what it means to support one another’s dreams.
  3. What message is Dr. Larabee sending when he asks Akeelah to read this quote on the wall of his office? “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson
  4. Can you give examples of how characters in the movie changed or reacted to Akeelah’s actions in the movie, and how she enabled others to rise to a better self? Think of Dylan and Akeelah’s actions at the end of the movie that allowed them both to be champions.
  5. Akeelah’s brother, in the air force, tells her that “Fear is all in your head.” Do you believe this? How much of a role did Akeelah’s disadvantaged background, school, and community contribute to her fear of failure?

“Hidden Figures”
Theodore Melfi
PG rating

According to the December 2016 NY Times review, “Hidden Figures” takes us back to 1961, when racial segregation and workplace sexism were widely accepted facts of life. It is the true story of the lives and careers of Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan who played crucial, yet ‘hidden,’ roles at NASA as it struggled to send an astronaut into orbit. One of the best movies of  2016, this film effectively conveys the poisonous normalcy of white supremacy, and the main characters’ determination to pursue their ambitions in spite of it and to live normal lives in its shadow. 

Make sure to share with your kids that this is current history too. A 2015 study found 100 percent of women of color in STEM fields report experiencing gender bias at work, an effect often influenced by their race. Black and Latina women, for example, reported being mistaken for janitors (a scene that, fittingly, takes place in Hidden Figures). Take the time to watch with your family – together you’ll groan, cheer, and clap through this movie.

Youtube Trailer 2:38 Rated PG

Here are a few questions to ponder as you view the film. For a more in-depth discussion, check out the TechBridge Discussion Guide 

  1. The movie took place during a time in the United States when black and white people were segregated, and black people were treated unfairly. Were you surprised at how resilient and successful Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy were despite the discrimination they faced? How did the white people in the movie react or show complicity to the segregation? Can you think of current day examples?
  2. Mary Jackson showed great perseverance as she fought for the opportunity to earn her engineering degree. In court, she argued “someone has to be the first.” Have you ever felt you were first to do something? What would you do if you were told you could not pursue a career or job because of how you look or who you are?
  3. Consider the importance of those who have power in the film. When did you notice other people standing up for Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary? Why was it important for them to have male allies (supporters) and white allies?
  4. What was the role of friends and family members in supporting Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary? How did they support each other? Why is having a support system important?

Jingle Jangle
David E. Talbert
a family friendly PG rating

Starring Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key, and newcomer Madalen Mills, the NYTimes Best of 2020, says “the magic of Jingle Jangle hinges on belief — in reinvention, imagination and the ability of even the most familiar stories to offer fresh lessons…about nurturing curiosity and fostering community. Click here to read more from the NY Times. Watch the official trailer here.

Jeff Nichols
PG 13 for thematic elements-suitable for middle school students and above
available on Netflix, YouTube,  & Amazon Prime

Loving is the true story of an interracial relationship set in Virginia in the 1950s. Richard Loving was raised in a rural black community and falls in love with a young black girl, Mildred Jeter. When Mildred becomes pregnant, Richard proposes marriage. Meanwhile, both black and white families express their concerns because in Virginia in 1958, interracial marriage is illegal.

Richard and Mildred must drive to Washington DC to marry and shortly after returning to Caroline County, police raid their home and take them off to jail. They plead guilty to the charge of breaking Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, but the presiding judge suspends the sentence of one year in jail if they leave the state immediately and not return for 25 years. They move to Washington DC, where interracial marriage is legal. However, urban life in the city is a stark contrast to their rural upbringing in Virginia and Mildred is homesick.  She is smuggled back to Virginia under cover of darkness to have her first child and to be with her family. They are re-arrested. After their attorney informs the judge that he “erroneously advised” the Lovings, the judge orders them to leave once more.

Five years later, Mildred hears Dr. Martin Luther King speak at the March on Washington and is moved to write to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, for help. He puts them in touch with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and a young attorney, Bernard Cohen, takes their case and begins a historic fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

Questions to consider as you watch.

  1. Richard and Mildred had lived in the same community all their lives and their relationship was supported by both families. Why do you think their families’ reactions changed so much after they were married?
  2. How are law enforcement and the judiciary portrayed in the movie? What is suggested about their attitudes towards the Virginia anti-miscegenation laws?
  3. Attorney Bernard Cohen asked Richard Loving if he wished to make a statement for the Supreme Court justices. He replied, “Tell the judge I love my wife.” How do you think this statement impacted the outcome of the case?

Additional Resources

Official Trailer

Copyright: Universal/Focus Features

“Queen of Katwe”
Mira Nair
PG rating

“While the Queen of Katwe is based on a true story about a Ugandan girl who becomes an international chess champion, it really is about a Ugandan girl who teaches us how to win at a game called life.” (Blackandmarriedwithkids) The movie begins with Phiona Mutesi, a 10 year old illiterate girl who lives in Katwe, a slum in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.  Phiona must help her struggling family survive by selling corn in the streets while her mother, a widow, tries to keep Phiona and her 3 siblings safe. They lose their small one room shack, become un-housed and are on the verge of starvation.

Phiona happens upon a club set up by a missionary to help educate and feed the kids in her area.. Welcomed in by the youth minister and chess teacher, Phiona is met with rejection by the students because she is dirty and smells.  Despite their insults, she is fascinated and determined to clean herself up to return to play chess. With her teacher’s help, she learns chess easily, stunning her teacher and peers, and earning their respect. The story of her teacher/mentor is woven throughout and is also one of compassion for others, discovering one’s true passion, and the meaning of love. The teacher comes to terms with his calling rather than following a misguided path.

Hope, love, determination, perseverance, the power of support, and eventually empowerment are comingled with disappointment, rejection, loss and discrimination, but perseverance, encouragement and love win out! Amid the chess playing, there are difficult scenes illustrating the impact of extreme poverty which may be difficult for  younger children to watch.  Cringe-worthy scenes also include when Phiona’s younger brother is hit by a motorcycle, and gets stitches with no anesthetic because they have no money for  medical care, or when Phiona’s teenage sister is lured away from the family by a ne’er-do-well ‘boyfriend’, or when her baby brother is swept away (but is saved) in a flood.

The Queen of Katwe is an emotional, gripping tale that demonstrates the strength of the human spirit, joy in the face of abject poverty, and the importance of helping one another. It presents a glimpse of life worlds away, while at the same time revealing our shared humanity and spirit. Amongst the many lessons in this film,  the joy of triumph for Phiona and her friends and family leave the viewer exultant in the end. Buy or rent this film on Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, or Disney Plus.

Questions to Consider: 

  1. How does Phiona’s life compare to yours?
  2. What character traits or factors helped Phiona to be so disciplined and determined?
  3. What did you think about the way Phiona and her chess club friends were treated at the chess tournaments?
  4. Some of the children in the film get very upset when they lose.  What do you do when you’re faced with disappointment or when you get discouraged?

Click here for more… “Talk to your kids about…”

Minari is the semi-autobiographical story of a first generation Korean-American family and their move from California to rural Arkansas in the 1980’s in pursuit of a better life and the “American dream.” They move to a small trailer on a large plot of land with the intent to become successful independent farmers of Korean produce. Upon seeing the home (trailer) for the first time, the mother Monica says to her husband Jacob “This isn’t what you promised.”  It is an experience likely shared by many immigrants coming to this country.

The couple’s young son, David has a congenital heart condition that makes him physically weak, but he is strong-willed and curious and his parents are challenged with protecting him despite their own formidable challenges. There are ample challenges in the family as they adjust to new surroundings, jobs, community and an unfamiliar culture. When grandmother Soonja arrives from Korea to join the family and help with the children, the relationship between young David and his grandmother takes center stage, and we see them conquer their own language and cultural barriers to ultimately develop a uniquely close relationship. Soonja shares aspects of Korean culture with the children as she spends her days with them. 

Religious themes are also woven throughout the film from the fundamentalist and superstitious neighbor to the church scenes where the family goes to find community. Jillian Cheney, the Poly-Koch fellow and writer for Religion Unplugged shares that “as the family is reminded through a variety of hardships that the things of the earth – even the farm and the family – are temporary, they become closer to each other and closer to the God in the soil. There’s no beauty greater than that realization.” Winning acclaimed prizes at Sundance, Golden Globes and nominated for ‘best picture’ at the upcoming 2021 Academy Awards, Minari is a film not to be missed. 

Additional reading:

Jane Kim, writer for the Asian American Christian Collaborative, writes a wonderful review of the film HERE highlighting its significance for the Asian American community to be ‘seen.’

For more about the inspiration for the movie, listen to or read two NPR interviews with writer/director Lee Isaac Chung:

How to Access the film:  rent on PrimeVideo or AppleTV

Questions to Consider: 

  1. Jacob dreams of becoming a successful farmer of Korean produce to sell to Korean Americans. Monica is yearning for community, safety, and stability for her family. How do Jacob and Monica help us explore what it means to sacrifice in relationships with those we love?
  2. Think about the awkwardness displayed at the church potluck when the Yi family visits for the first time. Monica says “Maybe we should work on Sunday mornings.” What role does the church play in building a sense of community for the family as they adjust to a new home and place? How have you felt as a newcomer to a group and how can we make this experience better for those visiting South Church for the first time?
  3. The movie is portrayed from the Korean-American point of view. What are some of the Korean stereotypes of Americans and the American stereotypes of Koreans? Despite their cultural differences, the characters are accepting and become friends across boundaries. What traits allow them to do this?
  4. Minari is a film written and directed by an American, starring several Americans, and tells a distinctly American immigrant story. While winning “Best Foreign Language Film” at the Golden Globes, it could not be submitted for “Best Film” due to the requirement that 50% of the film needed to be in English. The film is spoken in both Korean (at home) and English (in the community). The ‘Minari’ Golden Globes controversy isn’t just about Hollywood but fundamentally about how we define what ‘being American’ means. To act on this injustice, Contact the Golden Globes and demand change.

This movie is a frighteningly realistic yet inspiring story of the multi-faceted challenges of drought, farming, civil disruption, and heartache in a small community in Malawi, Africa.  A teenager combines his inventiveness and curiosity with persistence and access to a library to bring about a small miracle that helps his community survive the challenges it faces.  This is also available as a book for adults and a book for young readers.

Questions to Consider: 

  1. When have you had every door closed in your face and felt like giving up?
  2. What enabled the young boy to keep moving forward?
  3. Where do you see yourself in this story?