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Criterion Channel Removes Subscription Fees on Films Highlighting Various Black Experiences

The tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers on May 25 forced many Americans to see the injustices Black people have experienced for centuries, including the killing of Black people at the hands of the police. Many people are now looking for ways to help the cause and educate themselves on the matter. While Black people are in no way obligated to inform their white and non-Black people of colour friends on the injustices, it certainly does help.

To make education easier and more readily accessible, Criterion is now offering Black movies for free on their Criterion Channel streaming platform. Criterion also announced that they donated $25,000 and pledged a monthly donation of $5,000 to “support organizations fighting racism in America.” This way, white people and anyone else unfamiliar with the injustices the Black community still faces can learn through these films which depict these injustices with no subscription necessary.

Beyond watching these films to educate yourselves on matters of Black injustice (if you’re not already familiar), we urge you to do what you can to help the Black Lives Matter movement. Please check out the links below to figure out which route is best for you:

Here is the list of films and their synopses (all from Criterion Channel) below:

Body and Soul dir. Oscar Micheaux

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

Body and Soul, directed by the legendary African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, is a direct critique of the power of the cloth, casting Robeson in dual roles as a jackleg preacher and a well-meaning inventor.”

The Scar of Shame dir. Frank Perugini

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“When a young woman (Lucia Moses) escapes from her abusive father (William E. Pettus), she is rescued by an aspiring composer (Harry Henderson), but encounters opposition from his class-conscious mother.”

Portrait of Jason (1967) dir. Shirley Clarke

(Courtesy of Milestone Slash/The Criterion Channel)

“On the night of December 2, 1966, Shirley Clarke and a tiny crew convened in her apartment at the Hotel Chelsea to make a film. For 12 straight hours, they filmed the one-and-only Jason Holliday as he spun tales, sang, donned costumes, and reminisced about good times and bad behavior as a gay hustler and aspiring cabaret performer.”

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) dir. William Greaves

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“In his one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM TAKE ONE, director William Greaves presides over a beleaguered film crew in New York’s Central Park, leaving them to try to figure out what kind of movie they’re making. A couple enacts a break-up scenario over and over, a documentary crew films a crew filming the crew, locals wander casually into the frame: the project defies easy description”

Black Panthers (1968) dir. Agnès Varda

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“Agnès Varda turns her camera on an Oakland demonstration against the imprisonment of activist and Black Panthers cofounder Huey P. Newton. In addition to evincing Varda’s fascination with her adopted surroundings and her empathy, this perceptive short is also a powerful political statement.”

A Well Spent Life (1972) dir. Skip Gerson and Les Blank

(Courtesy of Les Blank Films/The Criterion Channel)

“A deeply moving tribute to the Texas songster, Mance Lipscomb, considered by many to be the greatest guitarist of all time.”

Losing Ground dir. Kathleen Collins 

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“One of the first feature films directed by an African American woman, Kathleen Collins’s Losing Ground tells the story of a marriage between two remarkable people, both at a crossroads in their lives. Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a black professor of philosophy, is embarking on an intellectual quest to understand “ecstasy” just as her painter husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), sets off on a more earthy exploration of joy.”

Suzanne, Suzanne (1982) dir. Camille Billops and James Hatch

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“One of the many films that Camille Billops and James Hatch made centering on Billops’s family, Suzanne, Suzanne presents a devastating portrait of the artist’s niece, haunted by the abuse she suffered as a child and the passivity of the family members who allowed it to continue.”

Cane River (1982) dir. Horace Jenkins

(Courtesy of Oscilloscope)

“Written, produced, and directed by the late, trailblazing director Horace B. Jenkins and crafted by an entirely African American cast and crew, this luminous, recently rediscovered landmark of American independent cinema is a charmingly laid-back, socially incisive love story set in the heart of Louisiana. It’s there that a forbidden romance between an aspiring writer (Richard Romain) and an ambitious, college-bound woman (Tommye Myrick) lays bare the tensions between two black communities: the wealthy Creoles and the working-class descendants of slaves.”

My Brother’s Wedding (1983) dir. Charles Burnett

(Courtesy of Milestone Films)

“Charles Burnett’s second feature is an eye-opening revelation—wise, funny, heartbreaking, and timeless. Pierce Mundy works at his parents’ South Central dry cleaners with no prospects for the future and his childhood buddies in prison or dead. With his best friend just getting out of jail and his brother busy planning a wedding to a snooty upper-middle-class black woman, Pierce navigates his conflicting obligations while trying to figure out what he really wants in life.”

Daughters of the Dust (1991) dir. Julie Dash

(Courtesy of First Run Features)

“Julie Dash’s rapturous vision of black womanhood and vanishing ways of life in the turn-of-the-century South was the first film directed by an African American woman to receive a wide release. In 1902, a multigenerational family in the Gullah community on the Sea Islands off of South Carolina—former West African slaves who carried on many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions—struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while contemplating a migration to the mainland, even further from their roots.”

The Watermelon Woman (1997) dir. Cheryl Dunye

(Courtesy of First Run Features)

“Cheryl Dunye’s bitingly funny, deeply personal feature debut is a landmark look at the black lesbian experience. The director herself stars as Cheryl, a twenty-something lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s black film actress popularly known as the Watermelon Woman.”

Down in the Delta (1998) dir. Maya Angelou

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“The only film directed by the iconic writer, poet, and activist Maya Angelou is a warm, richly evocative celebration of black southern family and resilience. Alfre Woodard delivers a brilliant performance as a floundering, drug-addicted mother living in Chicago whose own mother sends her to stay with an uncle (Al Freeman Jr.) in the Mississippi Delta, where she gradually reconnects with her heritage and discovers strength in her roots.”

And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead (2015) dir. Billy Woodberry

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“Billy Woodberry’s first feature since his 1983 LA Rebellion landmark BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS is perhaps the closest we can come to knowing the man and his time. Both dense and nimble in its assemblage of archival footage and photos, interviews with contemporaries, and readings from the likes of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, AND WHEN I DIE looks back at a familiar era with new eyes, thanks in no small part to the honest assessment provided by many figures of New York’s Beat generation some half-century removed.”

Black Mother (2018) by Khalik Allah

(Courtesy of Grasshopper Film)

“Part film, part baptism, Black Mother brings us on a spiritual journey through Jamaica. Soaking up its bustling metropolises and tranquil countryside, director Khalik Allah introduces us to a succession of vividly rendered souls who call this island home.”

Shakedown (2018) dir. Leilah Weinraub

(Courtesy of The Criterion Channel)

“Charting the eight-year run of Shakedown, a peripatetic black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles, director Leilah Weinraub attempts ‘to portray the before and after of a utopic moment.’”

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