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What Happened Miss Simone?

Nina Simone wanted to be the first classical pianist to play Carnegie Hall, but events in her life were such that she started playing in jazz clubs and developed a long career as a singer and songwriter. The film reviews her life, through interviews with her daughter, ex-husband, and her lead guitarist, among others, as well as through her diary writings and recorded interviews. I think what is most fascinating and makes the film completely worth it is the concert footage. You get to hear a lot of the songs that made her famous as she sang them in various …

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Crip Camp

Beginning in the early 1950s, Camp Jened, in upstate New York, was a place where teenagers with disabilities could go and experience, many for the first time, a place where they could be teenagers and live freely with people like them with disabilities. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the camp was run by hippies, so there were a lot of freedoms provided that the kids did not get elsewhere. Many of these summer campers ended up migrating to the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, an innovative center focused on providing services to the disabled. It was here …

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Boy’s State

This documentary follows one class of Texas Boy’s State participants in 2018. Boy’s State is a program sponsored by the American legion that has been bringing high school junior boys together since 1935 (there is a Girl’s State equivalent that has been running since 1937). At the very beginning, we see that Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Cory Booker, and Dick Cheney were all previous participants. The boys are randomly assigned to two parties, and for a week create a government and participate in elections, with the most coveted office being that of Governor. There are also talent shows, and they …

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John Lewis: Good Trouble

This documentary is about the life of John Lewis, congressman and civil rights icon. The film uses interviews (many of them with Lewis as a much older but still committed fighter for civil rights) and archival film and photo sources to tell his story. It is a pretty “standard” documentary; there is nothing extraordinary about the filming or the approach. However, it is an inspiring story about a man who marched with Martin Luther King Jr and found himself arrested and sometimes beaten in his fight for civil rights. He became famous for saying that people should get into “good …

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Father Soldier Son

Brian Eisch is a single parent who is deployed to Afghanistan. His sons, approximately 10 and 12 at the beginning of the film, love and admire him as a hero who is serving their country. The film explores what happens to the family over the next 10 years after Brian is permanently disabled as a result of a war injury. I liked the film mostly for the way it shows how the “tough man” aspect of masculinity is transmitted through the family culture. The film could have explored more deeply the impact that the father’s injury had on the sons …

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Becoming

This Netflix documentary is based on the life of Michelle Obama as told in her autobiography of the same title. When I read the book, I thought it was good but way too long; I kept telling myself that she needed a better editor. But I am glad that I saw the film. It was much more concise yet told the story of how she not only became First Lady of the United States but, through that experience, has found her own voice and power independent of her husband. The film is a montage of guest appearances through which she …

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LA92

This documentary chronicles the events that let up to the riots in Los Angeles in 1992 as a result of the exoneration of 4 LAPD officers who beat a Black man after a traffic stop. I watched this film right after Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, and the difference is that LA92 focuses much more on the days during which the riots occurred. It is a powerful and sobering look at the simmering pot of race relations in the United States. There is so much footage available here; the way it is cut, you actually feel like you are …

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Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992

This documentary examines the decade prior to the riots that resulted from the exoneration of 4 Los Angeles Police Department officers who were involved with the brutal beating of Rodney King. The film starts off right away with the message that for those who lived in LA, during the decade before, they knew that something was going to happen at some point. The film provides, through interviews and archival footage, a detailed context of what life in Los Angeles was like during that decade: A police department that was at times out of control in its dealings with gang-related activities; …

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Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen

This Netflix documentary, told exclusively from the perspective of trans male and female actors, writers, and activists, documents the history of how trans characters have been shown on the main screen and television and how those depictions have controlled the narrative of how the mainstream (and trans people themselves) views transgender. What is particularly powerful is how the intersectionality of trans and race has been portrayed on screen, starting with the first full-length feature film, and probably one of the most racist, Birth of a Nation, and taking us through current trans-positive depictions such as those contained in shows like …

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The Innocence Files

This Netflix limited series features several stories of cases of men who were convicted and sent to prison for extended sentences, nearly 30 years in some cases, for crimes that they did not commit. The Innocence Project is a non-profit that is dedicated to investigating wrongful convictions and helping get cases overturned. The stories of these men tell are powerful. Through a combination of current interviews and archival photo and video footage, the directors take us through what happened. These stories also highlight the ways in which the justice system has failed these people and others, through over-aggressive prosecuting attorneys; …

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