Looking back at 2016, it’s hard to perceive humanity in any collective sense…did we roll out the red carpet to Donald Trump? Did we usher in Brexit? Did we send Italian-flavored shivers down the EU’s back? Even though decision-making is divided by nation, it seems that xenophobic nationalism has been the movement most adept at joining hands across the borders it insists on fortifying in order to push us several plump steps in the wrong direction.
The 2008 financial crisis exposed how our interconnected economic system is frail but also carefully calibrated to funnel money and power upward while distributing risk and pain downward. And, although right-wing nationalists failed to provide any meaningful analysis or rethinking of the underlying mechanisms, they did succeed in selling the shameful and flatly wrong scapegoating of immigrants. Crucially, media played no small role.
In 2017, the struggle for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice needs a strong and truthful media backbone around which to unite. Thankfully, 2016 has given us something to work with in the realm of the silver screen. The following seven films are a great place to start in tackling our 21st-century problems without harkening back to the days when white males were the only full-fledged human beings.
1. 13TH, directed by Ava DuVernay
The US president-elect has repeatedly vowed to bring back “law and order.” On the surface, this seems like an innocuous statement. But as pointed out by Natasha Oladokun in her recent IFM blog post, it is in fact “a historically coded term easily discernible to anyone on the front lines or receiving end of white nationalism.” The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. While the country has less than 5% of the world’s population, it contains 20% of the world’s total prison population. Within this stunning statistic, people of color are disproportionately more likely to end up behind bars. Do we need more “law and order” or do we need an honest reckoning with the prison industrial complex and its relationship to the systemic oppression of minorities? DuVernay’s documentary delivers the latter and is one of the most important films you can watch ahead of inauguration day.
Trapped, Trilogy Films
2. Trapped, directed by Dawn Porter
It will be no surprise when women’s reproductive rights come under intensified attack in 2017. Dawn Porter’s timely documentary examines how bitter the fight has already been in the mostly-southern states where conservative legislatures have passed far-reaching and medically unnecessary measures that have eroded women’s constitutional rights. As we push up our sleeves for a challenge at both the state and national level, there is a lot to be gleaned from this incisive documentary.
Audrie & Daisy, Netflix
3. Audrie & Daisy, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
As exemplified by the recent debate over “locker room banter,” rape culture is yet to be fully acknowledged in America. Audrie & Daisy tells the stories of four American girls in different places, with different lives, who find themselves in disturbingly similar situations. Through candid interviews with rapists, victims, and law enforcement, the documentary weaves together a narrative of how western society still plunges its female victims (rather than male perpetrators) into shame, all while social media augments the trauma. With a “groper-in-chief” set to take up the most prominent political post in the world, the time is ripe for the message leveled by Audrie & Daisy.
Equity, Sony Pictures Classics
4. Equity, directed by Meera Menon
Finance and films about finance have long been dominated by men. Equity, written and directed by women, shifts the focus to a female lead (the very capable Anna Gunn), while retaining the moral conundrums found at the heart of Wall Street. As the movie advances, cleverly smashing stereotypes along the way, the outcome may end up raising a few brows. But look closely: Equity carries as many lessons about the nature of the financial system as it does the sexism found in its ranks.
Toni Erdmann, NFP Marketing & Distribution
5. Toni Erdmann, directed by Maren Ade
In Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Ines is a German woman working her way up the rungs at a global consulting firm in Bucharest when her father, a former music teacher and practical joker, swoops in for an unplanned visit. At first glance, the film is a clever comedy about the fraught relationship between a hippie dad and his corporate-climber daughter. Below this surface, however, Ade casts a discerning and critical net over the serious anxieties bubbling up in Europe, and more broadly, in the far-reaching folds of international capitalism.
The Edge of Seventeen, Sypher Films
6. The Edge of Seventeen, directed by Kelly Fremon Craig & 7. Being 17, cowritten by Céline Sciamma
For the final inclusions in the list that intends to tackle 2017, it seems only fitting to pick two films about the adolescent realizations of seventeen-year-olds. Perhaps much like in The Edge of Seventeen, the year ahead will rattle humanity with yet more regressive choices fueled by raging hormones and misinformation (read: Breitbart). But if we are open to examining that rage more closely and more honestly, like the protagonists of Being 17, we might learn something that will irrevocably reshape our path…for the better.