Here’s what I love about December: Christmas, my birthday and awards season films. This year three varied stories are told through the lens of Black Lives Matter: a southern lawyer dedicated to exonerating innocent men, a warden questioning the criminal justice system’s ethics and a couple on the run after a tragic traffic stop. Heavy matter, sure, but thankful for these often unheard tales of perseverance, reflection and resistance.
Last summer the HBO documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality illuminated the tireless work of this civil rights lawyer and activist. This time around, Stevenson’s life is in the capable hands of Michael B. Jordan, who stars with Jamie Foxx in the theatrical retelling of Stevenson’s early cases exonerating harshly sentenced Black men in Alabama.
At Sundance Film Festival, this indie film about a stern prison warden crumbling from the mental weight of witnessing executions won the Grand Jury Prize for one reason: Alfre Woodard. Her subtle portrayal of a seasoned civil servant confronting a moral shift in perspective about death row executions—with a superb supporting performance by Wendell Pierce—is an intimate and devastating look at the toll incarceration takes on everyone.
QUEEN & SLIM
Throughout director Melina Matsoukas’s highly anticipated feature film debut, her gritty yet sublime imagery speaks volumes. From the tragic knowing between strangers Queen and Slim (played wonderfully by Jodie Turner Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively), whose lives have been upended by a racist cop, to their budding soulful romance despite their dire circumstances as fugitives from the law, the flick delivers so much beauty in defiance of the ugly realities of race in America. It’s no wonder this fictional couple becomes a symbol of hope as we root for their uncertain future.