10 activism films to inspire you to take action!

We reached out to our graduates to ask them what their favourite films about activism and social change are!

Film is an incredible medium. We know that film has the power to make us feel all range of emotions – joy, hope, sadness, anger… in short, it can make us care. This can be especially powerful when it comes to captivating audiences with your campaign message. 

What I particularly enjoyed about putting together this blog was rediscovering the sheer breadth of activism films; from blockbusters that engage masses in issues that they may otherwise be unaware of, to obscure indie works, to gritty documentaries. 

*Note- these films cover a wide range of themes and topics, some of which you may find hard to watch. Please check the ratings and content warnings of each film before viewing*

Selma

Watch this to learn more about the civil rights movement

With top scores from most movie rating websites, Selma is definitely one to watch. The film depicts the story of the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr led the campaign to secure equal voting rights for black people in America. The movement was met with violent opposition, and the efforts of those involved truly made history as one of the most significant civil rights victories. Selma is both gripping and educational. 

We are Many

Watch this if you’re interested in mass mobilisation

Smashing its crowdfunder target in just over a month, We Are Many is the story of the largest demonstration in history. This feature length documentary explores the events before, during and after the global protests that took place on February 15th 2003 against the looming Iraq War. We Are Many charts the ‘birth and growth of the new people power movement’. 

Do The Right Thing

Watch this if you like your politics with a side of pop-culture

I couldn’t have made this list without including some Spike Lee. Do The Right Thing follows the events of a single day on a block in Brooklyn, where building racial tensions reach a dramatic peak. It balances comedy and strong aesthetics with the heavy topics of racism and police brutality, and is often listed as one of the best films made. 

A note from Grace: you should also check out the “She’s Gotta Have It” reboot- as a series it didn’t make the cut, but it’s another great political work by Lee that has been updated to reflect current times.

Nae Pasaran! (They shall not pass!)

Watch this and be inspired about actions of solidarity

In 1974, factory workers at Rolls Royce in East Kilbride took a stand when they refused to carry out repairs on war plane engines; an act of solidarity against the violent military coup in Chile. Almost 40 years later a Chilean director caught up with three of the workers to share how they blacklisted the engines, grounding half of Chile’s airforce at the time. Although the outcome is ambiguous, this short film (it’s only 14 minutes!) depicts how the actions of strangers can impact the other side of the world. 

Sorry To Bother You

Watch this if you want to have a laugh, see a great cast and wonder “what the heck did I just watch?”

Boots Riley’s reality-bending tale of a man who makes it big in the telemarketing industry might not seem political at first glance, but unionising and protesting corporate oppression are major plot points. In between the comedy and art of this film is a political commentary on how our privilege (or perceived privilege, in the protagonist’s case) can get us further in life. 

Whose Streets?

Watch this for a powerful account of community action against state violence

Whose Streets? documents the protests that followed the fatal shooting of 18 year old unarmed Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014. It centres those directly impacted and involved in the Ferguson Uprising – family, community members, activists – creating a personal, passionate and unflinching account of those who took a stand against police brutality and racism in Missouri. 

No

Watch this for a history lesson wrapped up in drama and satire

This historical drama is set during the 1988 national referendum to decide whether Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet would continue his rule for eight more years. The story centres the novel marketing campaign created by Chile’s artistic community. Whilst advertising tactics may not sound like a thrilling theme, this film is clever, funny and suspenseful. Well worth a watch, even if you know the ending! 

Tomorrow

Watch this and reflect on our current systems and ask yourself, what’s working and what’s not?

Perhaps more relevant today than ever, Tomorrow is a documentary in search of alternative approaches to education, economics, agriculture, democracy and energy in an attempt to save the planet. This idea-centric work gathers solutions from around the world and is definitely food for thought.

Everything must fall

Watch this to see a film which goes much deeper than a university fees campaign and explores wider systems of oppression

This feature length documentary raked in the South African Film awards earlier this year, and for good reason. When South Africa hiked up their university fees, students took to the streets in support of the #FeesMustFall campaign. Everything Must Fall shows the efforts of a new generation of activists standing up for what they believe in. 

Made in Dagenham

Watch this if you want to see something that’s about social change, but is more lighthearted!

A classic underdog story, Made In Dagenham is based on the 1968 strikes against gender inequality by women working at the Ford car factory. 850 workers protested the gender pay gap- a topic which is still very live today. Whilst it skirts around some of the political reality of events, it is a fun and lighter watch within the activism genre. 

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