From full-length features to 10-minute shorts, these films caught our attention—and deserve yours.
Photo courtesy of Leandrew Wiggins
The Memphis 13, directed by Daniel Kiel, looks back on 1961, a pivotal year for the desegregation of Memphis city schools. Local NAACP leaders, noting that most school integration efforts in the South began at the high-school level, urged black families to enroll their first-graders in formerly all-white elementary schools. That fall, 13 5- and 6-year-olds became some of the youngest individuals on the front lines of the civil rights movement, an approach the NAACP hoped would preclude incidents of violence. The Memphis 13 captures their experiences—some devastating, some uplifting—along with those of their parents, teachers and classmates. While the film grapples with the strategy and ethics of involving children in movements for social change, this tribute to the Memphis 13 focuses primarily on the courage of these tiny crusaders. (35 min.)
middle and high school
The New Black was primarily shot in Maryland during the lead-up to the 2012 general election when “Question 6”—also known as the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum—appeared on the state’s ballot. In this documentary, director Yoruba Richen talks with African Americans from many walks of life about Question 6 and about the topic of same-sex marriage in general. Some see LGBT rights as the unfinished business of the civil rights movement. Others see same-sex marriage as an affront to their values and their church community. Still others suggest that marriage equality does not trump other pressing priorities—poverty, education, employment, etc. The take-home message of The New Black clearly supports marriage equality, but the film engagingly captures the diversity of perspectives found not only in Maryland, but across the country. (55 min.)
In Valentine Road, director Marta Cunningham examines the circumstances surrounding the murder of eighth-grader Lawrence “Larry” King at his school in Oxnard, California. This emotionally charged film documents the school’s reaction to Larry’s exploration of his gender identity and expression, and the community’s response to Larry’s killer, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney. Through interviews with teachers, families, students and community members, Cunningham challenges viewers to imagine how their own school and community might treat a teenage boy who wore makeup, jewelry and high heels, and to consider what constitutes appropriate legal action when a middle schooler commits murder. (88 min. /
classroom version 52 min.)
The Graduates/Los Graduados, a two-part documentary by Bernardo Ruiz, examines some of the many barriers to graduation experienced by Latino youth (including discrimination, poverty, homelessness, gang membership, undocumented status and teen pregnancy) through the eyes of six young people struggling to make their futures. Ruiz does not simply point to the obstacles, however; instead, he urges viewers to take a vested and sustained interest in Latino youth. Through interviews with prominent Latino writers, actors, activists and elected officials, the film offers many suggestions for ways schools and communities can better support this quickly growing and often marginalized population of students. Ultimately, The Graduates/Los Graduados exposes how fault lines in U.S. education systematically affect Latinos and challenges us all to take action through community-based initiatives. (Available in English and Spanish. Part I: “The Girls” 55 min. / Part II: “The Boys” 55 min.)