Documentaries for social justice
February 28, 2017 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to start up a monthly education & activism series at my church. Each month I'd like to look at a particular social justice issue. We'd begin by viewing something--a documentary, PBS special, or the like. More importantly, we'd bring in speakers/activists who work on the local level, to speak to happening on the city/county/state level, and how we can show up and make a difference. Help me think of good documentaries for this!

Specifics! The movies/shorts/TV specials/other media should be current enough that they're still relevant, politically/practically speaking. I know "social justice" is a broad umbrella. I'd like to start with a series of monthly engagements on criminal justice, then move to other topics. (The 13th is definitely on my list of docs to show.) Here are some issues I'd like to cover. Apologies in advance--this list is going to be a barely-organized brain dump.
  • Criminal justice
    • Mass incarceration, broadly
    • Racial disparities in policing and prison
    • For-profit prisons
    • Bail reform
    • School-to-prison pipeline/minors in the criminal justice system
    • Mental illness and mental disability in the criminal justice system
    • Police militarization
    • Police accountability and transparency
    • Public defenders & access issues
    • Drug legalization/criminalization policy
    • What else?
  • Immigration policy
    • Issues with the legal immigration system/attempts at reform
    • Immigration and policing/sanctuary policies
    • For-profit immigration detention
    • Legal rights of undocumented immigrants/legal appeal processes
    • What else?
  • Education
    • Voucherization/privatization
    • "Race to the bottom" testing standards
    • Weakening of unions
    • Geographic (and racial/income) disparities/property tax issues
    • What else?
  • Labor
    • Weakening of unions (again!)/right-to-work laws
    • What else?
  • Environment
    • Climate change (broadly)
    • Clean air/clean water issues (i.e. health)
    • Hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
    • Pipelines/transport of oil and gas
    • What else?
  • Health care
    • Drug prices
    • Inequity of care
    • Malpractice (and so-called "reform")
    • What else?
  • Wealth and income inequality
    • Wealth/income inequality and race/ethnicity
    • Taxation issues/history of tax policy, loopholes, and accumulation of wealth
    • Corporate personhood
    • Criminalization of poverty
    • Financial sector regulation/deregulation
posted by duffell to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The House We Live In - on race & housing policy
posted by snaw at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

"In whose backyard?" Is about nimbyism and racial injustice. See: FPP that mentions it.
posted by Michele in California at 10:07 AM on February 28, 2017

I used to go to the VT International Film Festival which had a social justice component to it. I wrote up reviews of a lot of the movies I saw. Not all timely (most not timely at all) but maybe one of them sparks something?

Some of the PBS and Frontline documentaries are very good at this sort of thing. I liked this one about sex trafficking and Razing Appalachia and Fenceline: a Town Divided. There's also The Ships Are Full about Jewish Children fleeing Hitler's Germany. There's also Brothers & Others about Muslims living in the US post-911, still useful today.
posted by jessamyn at 10:23 AM on February 28, 2017

Kids for Cash is about kickbacks scandal in PA that had judges sending kids to for-profit prisons.

There are a few great documentaries on the 2008 financial crisis.
posted by anotheraccount at 10:25 AM on February 28, 2017

Frontline's The Interrupters: "three former street criminals in Chicago place themselves in the line of fire to protect their communities."

Inequality for All on income inequality.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:31 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

There might be some relevant titles here on the Human Rights Watch film festival list.
posted by stillmoving at 10:43 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rooted in Rights is a project to tell the stories of the disability community. They recently finished a feature-length documentary called "Bottom Dollars" about the payment of sub-minimum wages to disabled people.

(Full disclosure: I work in the small world of disability advocacy; have met the filmmakers; and my boss and several people I know appear in the documentary.)
posted by gauche at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2017

At the River I Stand - 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike and MLK, Jr.'s assassination

Roger & Me - 1989 Michael Moore film about Flint/GM/economic inequality (but still very relevant today)

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 - footage shot by Swedish journalists from '67-'75 featuring interviews with Angela Davis, Kwame Ture, and more (available on Netflix)

How to Survive a Plague - AIDS epidemic, ACT-UP, etc.

Frontline: Separate and Unequal - the re-emergence of school segregation

O.J.: Made in America - the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary (not the FX dramatized version, though that is also amazing); particularly the episodes that explore the history of racist policing in LA

For some of the smaller niche issues, I recommend the deep-dive segments from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: special districts (local tax incentives); net neutrality, predatory lending, civil forfeiture, and more.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

If A Tree Falls and Better This World comes to mind.
posted by monologish at 11:41 AM on February 28, 2017

First of all, this is awesome!

I have too many specific videos to list, so my advice would be to google "syllabus" + your topic once you determine a longer outline of your topics - your own syllabus. College and other program syllabi will have many videos, as well as paired articles, for you to start from (For example I googled "School to Prison Pipleline" and got this syllabus with a reference to Fruitvale Station). You can show clips from bigger movies. I recently did this with Selma and had a facilitated discussion. Also, I recommend ensuring that you take an intersectional approach in your programming - often social justice films and discussions have ignored people who are multiply marginalized (women, people of color, people with disabilities, queer and trans* people, etc.). Looking for materials that cross lines will help build an oppression based analysis of social justice that is more encompassing of the intersecting structures of power, oppression and privilege - it shows how so many people, movements, and struggles, are deeply connected, even when different. I raised this because I do not see anything specific to women, queer/trans* people, etc. listed in your free-thinking list and, unfortunately, you sometimes need to seek out educational materials that specifically incorporate people's experiences from those communities - or even make them front and center. So for some of your what else's, I would say - "and what is happening in this context for women/trans* people/people with disabilties/etc." For example, women and children in detention and rampant sexual violence. For those syllabi, I would look to gender/women's/lgbt/"crip" studies as a starting point.

Searching syllabus will also help with already-developed community driven collections, such as the Black Lives Syllabus That includes a number of clips. Including Ted Talks - and think Ted can be a great source as well.

Happy to help with specific topics - feel free to PM me.
posted by anya32 at 12:31 PM on February 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Re: criminal justice, Gideon's Army is about public defenders.

Also, Where to Invade Next is a Michael Moore movie that flew largely under the radar. It might be challenging for your purposes because it doesn't address a specific issue but kind of a grab-bag - war on drugs, prison conditions, school lunches, labor rights, education policy, women's rights, etc. I'm not someone who loves Michael Moore but I found this film, particularly the ending, pretty moving.
posted by kat518 at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2017

Seconding Gideon's Army, but also the Central Park Five for general criminal justice/race/young people in the justice system.
posted by likeatoaster at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2017

It may not be exactly what you're looking for, but The Overnighters crosses into a lot of these topics (joblessness, homelessness, oil boom/bust, activism and more) and is also incredible.

A lot of the documentaries I watch are about social issues, but not so much about social justice, specifically, and tend to take on big topics from a smaller perspective (like, Small Town Gay Bar), but if you want some of those, I'd happily put together a list.
posted by darksong at 4:26 PM on February 28, 2017

I have no idea of its availability for screenings (the site has contact info), but 30 Seconds Away is a really good one about homeless men in Milwaukee, the MPD, the criminal justice system, and Milwaukee community groups who work with homeless populations. I was able to see it at one of the educational showings with a Q&A with the filmmakers and some of the participants afterwards, and I found the whole experience really compelling and moving.
posted by augustimagination at 6:52 PM on February 28, 2017

America Divided. The topics covered are race and police violence, immigration, the heroin epidemic, the housing crisis in NYC, gerrymandering in NC and the Flint water crisis.

It's available on Amazon.
posted by msali at 8:17 PM on February 28, 2017

Cinema Politica is a Montreal-based media arts, non-profit network of community and campus locals that screen independent political film and video by Canadian and international artists throughout Canada and abroad. We believe in the power of art to not only entertain but to engage, inform, inspire, and provoke social change. Cinema Politica is the largest volunteer-run, community and campus-based documentary-screening network in the world. All screenings are by donation.

Cinema Politica is committed to supporting alternative, independent, and radical political film and video, and the artists who dare to devote time, passion and resources to telling stories from the margins. We program works that feature under-represented characters and tell stories which confront and challenge conventional fiction and documentary narratives.

Check out their Archives!
posted by abhardcastle at 8:37 AM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Search on Films for Action Best ever!
posted by kch at 6:58 PM on March 1, 2017

A pastor colleague of.mine just had good luck using the mass incarceration documentary 13th on Netflix.
posted by 4ster at 7:39 PM on March 1, 2017

Here's a few environmental doc recommendations with links to the trailers:

Chasing Ice - An environmental photographer uses time lapse photography over several years to capture the loss of major arctic glaciers. It is visually stunning.

Gasland - A guy finds out a gas company wants to lease rights to begin fracking on the family farm his parents built, he goes West to talk to people who've been there done that with fracking while he's trying to make his decision. You may already be familiar with this documentary if you've ever seen the video clip of the guy lighting his tap water on fire.

This Changes Everything - Based on Naomi Klein's incredible book of the same title. I'd recommend saving this for when you need something that incorporates a great deal of inspiration, while still not shying away from the horrors of climate change.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:05 PM on March 2, 2017

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