7 Civil Rights Movies Everyone Should See

Wednesday, February 1 by Steve Silverman

The civil rights movement was one of the most explosive political and social issues in the United States throughout the 20th century. Race relations have changed dramatically as a result of the actions of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks. While Hollywood was not at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the United States, many films on the subject have resulted in increased understanding and improved communication. Here are seven civil rights movies everyone should see.

"Mississippi Burning" (1988). In 1964, three young civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. They were there to help blacks register to vote, and the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the murders. Two FBI agents with conflicting investigative styles, Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe), come to Mississippi to investigate the case and find the killers.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" (1962). This film illuminates the inequality between the races in the South. When a black man is accused of molesting a white teenage girl, the residents of the Alabama town want to lynch the accused before any trial takes place. Fair-minded lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is only interested in seeing justice done and making sure Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) gets a fair trial. During the trial, Finch shows that Robinson couldn't have attacked the woman in the way she claims because he only had use of one arm. The racist father of the accuser molested his own daughter, and Robinson was innocent, but the jury does not see it that way and convicts him. Before an appeal can be arranged, Robinson tries to run away, and he is shot and killed.

"Do The Right Thing" (1989). Spike Lee directed this film that examines how racial relations can explode into violence. Mookie (Spike Lee) works at a pizzeria in Harlem owned by Italian-American Sal Frangione (Danny Aiello). When customers complain that Sal only has pictures of Italians up on his "Wall of Fame" and no African-Americans, tensions escalate. The pressure continues to rise until violence explodes, a customer dies at the hands of the police and the pizzeria is destroyed.

"Blazing Saddles" (1974). This film tackles racism with comedy. In it, Bart (Cleavon Little) becomes a sheriff, and he dons Ku Klux Klan robes to help keep the peace. Director Mel Brooks uses humor to skewer racism and show the audience how stupid it is.

"The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950). This film examines the life of Robinson, the first black player in the history of Major League Baseball. As Robinson integrates baseball, he goes through a hellish experience, as he is met with racist behavior by fans, opponents and even some of his teammates. Jackie Robinson played himself in this movie, and critics of the era praised his performance.

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	<strong>"Driving Miss Daisy" (1989)</strong>. The Academy Award winner for Best Picture set in <a href='http://www.screenjunkies.com/tag/atlanta/' class='linkify' target='_blank'>Atlanta</a> during the <span data-scayt_word=1950s features an elderly Jewish woman named Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) and her driver, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman). Daisy is cantankerous and suspicious, and she treats people poorly. However, Hoke helps her let down her guard, and the two eventually develop a grudging respect and friendship.

"Ali" (2001). Boxing champion Muhammad Ali was more than just a great athlete. Played by Will Smith, the movie captures how Ali became a leading figure in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement while he was the dominant figure in heavyweight boxing. Ali's courage and determination serve as an example, and many African-Americans became empowered by his achievements.