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Jim Crow Movies & TV

Ethnic Notions (1987)

Director Marlon Riggs' documentary reveals the recent history of racial stereotyping in the United States. His film uses original footage from popular films and cartoons, as well as children's toys, household items, advertisements, and other artifacts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to illustrate the most common ways whites chose to view blacks. Riggs helps viewers understand how dangerous these cultural representation were (and still are) to the black community, how they justified anti-black discrimination and fueled anti-black violence. A must see for everyone.

I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1933)

Set in the 1930s, the film tells the story of James Allen, a white veteran of World War I, who is wrongfully accused of robbery and sentenced to serve ten years in a southern chain gang. Based on the autobiography of Robert Burns entitled I Am A Fugitive From a Georgia Chain Gang, the film was highly controversial for its gritty—and largely accurate—portrayal of the conditions in forced prison labor camps and chain gangs. It was so scandalous, in fact, that the state of Georgia insisted that "Georgia" be removed from the film's title and then refused to show it in any theater within its borders.

Birth of a Nation (1915)

The hero in director D.W. Griffith's cinematic masterpiece—a record-breaking, box-office hit from the early twentieth century—is a white southerner who helps organize the Ku Klux Klan to free the South of its supposed oppression by Reconstruction-era blacks. The film, with its electrifying performances, spectacular special effects, and provocative story, captivated white audiences and drew vigorous protests from African-American civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. This is a must-see for any student of American history, as it illustrates the sort of racism that helped justify and sustain institutionalized segregation in the United States.

Native Son (1986)

Actors Victor Love, Matt Dillon, Elizabeth McGovern, and Oprah Winfrey star in this film adaptation of Richard Wright's novel about a young black man in 1930s Chicago caught in an inescapable web of poverty, racism and aggression.

The Color Purple (1985)

Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, and Oprah Winfrey star in director Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a young black woman growing up in rural Georgia in the early twentieth century. In sharp contrast to Richard Wright's Native Son, The Color Purple explores some of the unique challenges faced by African-American women during the Jim Crow era.

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