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Civil Rights Movement: Desegregation Movies & TV

Hairspray (1988)

Set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962, Hairspray is one of those musicals for people who hate musicals. (Also see: Grease and Mamma Mia.) The town's teens defy pro-segregation parents and local leaders by integrating a local TV dance show, and all while keeping every hair in place. The original version (there was also an inferior remake in 2007) stars Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Sonny Bono (of Sonny and Cher), and features the acting debut of Ricki Lake!

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

This HBO original movie stars Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Mystic River, and Boyz n the Hood), Malcolm-Jamal Warner (TV's “Dexter" and “The Cosby Show"), Andre Braugher (TV's “Homicide" and “The Practice"), and Cuba Gooding Jr. (American Gangster, Jerry Maguire, and Boyz n the Hood) as members of the first African-American combat pilot unit in the U.S. Army Air Force. Although it's not a documentary, the film carefully recounts the real-life struggles of these pioneering men, who served their country during World War II.

The Long Walk Home (1990)

The Long Walk Home stars Whoopi Goldberg as Odessa Cotter, an Alabama housekeeper who, like many of her friends and neighbors, chooses to walk miles to and from work each day rather than endure abuse and embarrassment on segregated buses. This historical drama chronicles both the sacrifices made by working black southerners during the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott as well as the risks some southern whites took to cooperate with this protest.

Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings, 1954-1956 (1986)

Part one of the Oscar-nominated documentary about the Civil Rights Movement describes the early momentum of the struggle against segregation. The film recounts the Emmett Till murder trial, Rosa Parks's demonstration against Alabama segregation laws, and the vital role of the press in this stage of the movement.

Eyes on the Prize: Fighting Back, 1957-1962 (1986)

Part two of the Oscar-nominated documentary about the Civil Rights Movement chronicles the obstacles to the enforcement of a Supreme Court ruling against segregated public schools, including the turbulent months at Little Rock Central High School.

Eyes on the Prize: Ain't Scared of Your Jails, 1960-1961 (1986)

In part three of the Oscar-nominated documentary about the Civil Rights Movement college students play a crucial role, staging sit-ins, boycotts, and protests throughout the South. The film also focuses on the efforts of the "Freedom Riders," an integrated group of activists who risked their lives to desegregate interstate buses and terminals.

Eyes on the Prize: No Easy Walk, 1961-1963 (1986)

Part four of the Oscar-nominated documentary on the Civil Rights Movement focuses on the goals, triumphs, and failures of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who emerges as the Movement's move visible leader. The episode concludes with magnificent footage of the March on Washington.

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2004)

Director Keith Beauchamp utilizes archival film footage, photographs, and news clippings from the 1950s in addition to interviews with family and friends, to illustrate the context within which such a crime could occur. This documentary helps explain the impact of the murder and the trial upon the Till family, the African-American community, and the nation.

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