Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

James Baldwin

Five Films About Race in America


With Martin Luther King Day upon us its only timely to consider our country’s notoriously turbulent history on racial issues and the bitter divisions that remain today. It’s a difficult topic one that many movie directors prefer to side step altogether and even fewer can do it justice.  Here are five examples of films that successfully tackled race head on.

Malcolm X (1992) Spike Lee produced, directed, and co-wrote the screenplay and Denzel Washington starred in the title role, in this epic biopic about the famous African American activist. The film follows Malcolm’s troubled childhood raised by his mentally ill mother after his father’s murder, his conversion to the Nation of Islam while in prison, and his career as an incendiary activist which ended in his assassination.  He would however, become an inspiration to millions; including Nelson Mandela. Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to do With It?) plays Malcolm’s wife Betty Shabazz, Al Freeman Jr. (Finian’s Rainbow, Roots; The Next Generation) Malcolm’s tutor and teacher Elijah Muhammed, and Delroy Lindo (Get Shorty, The Cider House Rules) is a gangster known as West Indian Archie. Denzel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, and the movie’s garnered a fresh rating of over 90% at Rotten Tomatoes.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011) This award winning documentary directed by Goran Olsson chronicles the evolution of the Black Power movement through the late sixties to mid seventies as seen by Swedish Journalists and film-makers. Featuring found footage over thirty years old including appearances by Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Lewis Farrakhan, Ingrid Dahlberg and more.  Additional voiceovers and commentaries were provided by Erykah Badu and Amir Questlove who helped provide the musical score. Among the topics covered are the Black Panther Party, War on Drugs, and the anti-war movement.

Hidden Figures (2016)  Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) directed and co-wrote the screenplay adapted by the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterley telling the too long unknown story of black, women, mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Taraji Henson (Empire, Person of Interest, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is revelatory as the brilliant Katherine Goble Johnson. Octavia Spencer (The Help, Fruitvale Station) commands the screen as hyper competent Dorothy Vaughn and singer Janella Monae shines as sassy, ambitious Mary Jackson. They make a truly unforgettable trio on screen together and the cast is rounded out with memorable turns by Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and Mahershala Ali. The movie was a critical (over 90% fresh rating) and commercial success. Indeed it was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee that year.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) Directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this Academy Award-nominated documentary is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House.  Baldwin died before he completing his memoir of his memories of such personal friends of his as Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr., but Jackson and Peck give him a voice beyond the grave to create a biography  the Wall Street Journal called ‘enthralling…a evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era.’

Moonlight (2016) Barry Jenkins wrote and directed this ground breaking picture based on Tarell McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. (Jenkins wisely abbreviated the title.) Presenting three stages, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in the life of Chiron, the neglected son of drug addicted Paula, as he navigates his sexuality and identity. It’s pivotal theme is black male identity and how that intersects with sexual identity. The film was universally acclaimed with a 98% fresh rating, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and McCraney, and Best Picture. It was the first film with an all black cast AND first LGBT film to win Best Picture.

Top photo from Bigstock: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, as seen on April 16, 2016. This memorial is the first African American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall.

More MLK Day Reading


Monday, January 16th is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Instead of treating the occasion as just another federal holiday and long weekend, we might want to consider the greater historical significance of the occasion.  For some of us that might mean participating in Martin Luther King Jr’s Day of Service by volunteering within the community. Opportunities can be found on this website. Or if you don’t have time, you can donate money, even small amounts are always welcome, to a worthwhile organization. But MLK Day is also a chance to reflect on our nation’s history, and this seems especially important at a time when our country appears to be more divided than ever.  Consider adding the following books then to your reading list. Click on a title to buy on Amazon.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963) While Baldwin is primarily remembered as one of America’s foremost novelists, (who also happened to be black and homosexual) he was a renowned essayist as well.  The Fire Next Time contains two essays; one written in the form of a letter to Baldwin’s 14 year old nephew discusses the role of race in American History.  The second essay deals with how race intersects with religion.  It received enthusiastic critical reception and is considered one of the most influential books on racial relations to be written in the 1960’s.  Indeed, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall used Baldwin’s work as the foundation for her article on the Civil Rights Movement then led…by Martin Luther King Jr.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (1979)  The late, great Octavia Butler, one of the most visionary authors in sci-fi, crossed genres in this best-selling novel that is one part time travel tale and one part slave narrative. African American woman writer Dana finds herself routinely being shuffled back and forth between her modern California life with her white husband and a pre-Civil war plantation. On the plantation she meets her ancestors; a spoiled, petty, unstable white slave owner and the proud black woman he forces to become his slave and concubine.

The Known World  by Edward P. Jones (2003)  Set in antebellum Virginia, Jones examines issues of ownership of black slaves by both white and black owners. Besides being a captivating account of parts of history now forgotten, Jones also uses incredible lyric prose with the ability to layer stories upon stories in a non-linear fashion that is truly magical. Small wonder it won the National Book Award AND the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004.

The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanna Theoharis (2014)  The popular legend of Rosa Parks is that of a quiet seamstress who just refused to give up her seat, accidentally setting off a movement in the process. The real story though, as Theoharis exhaustively documents was that of a determined and dynamic activist whose act of rebellion on the bus that day was only one small part of a lifetime of resistance. Hailed by Henry Louis Gates Jr, Melissa Harris-Perry, and The New York Times Book Review, it also won the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.

Between the World And Me by Ta Nehisi Coates (2015)  Nehisi Coates is one of the most brilliant and insightful columnists/journalists alive today. (He also happens to be the current writer of Marvel Comic’s Black Panther series and his work there has been highly acclaimed as well.) This memoir styled as a series of letters to his teenaged sons, touches on his own childhood in the rough streets of Baltimore, his experience at Howard University, constructions of race, and Black Lives Matter among other issues.  It was a New York Times Bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, winner of the NAACP Image Award Winner, Winner of the National Book Award and named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times.

Winnie’s book, The Dog-Walking Diaries – A Year in the Life of an Autistic Dog-Walker, can be bought for the dog lover in your life by clicking here to purchase on Amazon.