Both in the real world and in fiction, stories of injustice are much more common than they should be. In When They See Us, we get a brutal, infuriating look at the Central Park Five, a group of young black men who are wrongfully accused of a crime they didn't commit. Their story is just one example of injustice playing out on screen. Whether on TV or at the movies, these stories are designed to get your blood boiling. They want to make you understand the cruel state of the world.
Occasionally, stories of injustice can also be uplifting. They can be reminder that, amidst all the indefensibly terrible things in the world, there are still glimmers of hope. No matter where you look, though, you'll see stories where prejudice is more important than truth. In When They See Us, that leads to horrifying results. In the stories below, everything from hope to despair is represented.
Much like the story of the Central Park Five, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a black man who is wrongfully accused of assaulting a woman. In Mockingbird, though, the story takes place in Alabama, and is meant to highlight the injustice of the Jim Crowe South.
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the archetypal stories about injustice, and about those who wage wars against it. It's told from the perspective of a child, in part to highlight just how ridiculous our problems and prejudices often are. Treating people decently is not hard, and that's the message this movie drives home.
American Crime was an anthology drama series that lived up to its names. On each of its three seasons, the show highlights the complicated world of crime in America, and the way those crimes reverberate through communities.
What made American Crime special was that its answers never came easily. Some of the show's characters were criminals, but they were never evil or malicious. The show granted every character humanity, and argued that the ultimate reasons for the crimes at the show's center never made the people who committed them irredeemable. The show was a rich tapestry, and there were plenty who were sad when it went away.
20th Century Fox
The Hate U Give is the story of one girl's awakening to the importance of political activism in the aftermath of her friend's death at the hands of the police. It's an urgent warning, one that serves as a reminder of the injustice perpetrated against people of color every day in real life.
This story is about injustice, and about the ways that those who have been given a voice should use it to speak out. Anger is a powerful weapon, and it's one of the only tools many people have to fight against the injustice that is a feature in their communities. The Hate U Give is willing to embrace that anger, and remind those who wield it how powerful a force it can be.
Ava DuVernay has made injustice and reform one of the hallmarks of her directing career thus far, and in 13th, she paints a powerful picture of how mass incarceration has replaced slavery as the dominant American institution of oppression. 13th retells the history of mass incarceration in America.
It does more than that, though. The documentary connects the story of mass incarceration to the story of black people in America, and to the rise of figures like Trump. In telling the story of how America came to have one of the largest prison populations in the world, Ava tells a broader story about what our country is.
Spike Lee has been a provocative filmmaker for his entire career, but Do the Right Thing is his definitive masterpiece. The film takes place in the lead up to and aftermath of a race riot on a hot summer day in Brooklyn. After a black man is killed by police, tensions rise to a boil.
Do the Right Thing is a careful examination of the resentments that can build up inside of a community, and how race feeds into those resentments. It's also a careful reminder that those who perpetrate violence often don't have to suffer its consequences, even if they deserve to.
The Green Mile is in many ways, a fantasy film. Its central character is a death row inmate who was wrongfully accused of raping and murdering two white girls. Not only was he wrongfully accused, the inmate has supernatural abilities that allow him to heal the sick and grant people with unnaturally long lives.
In spite of these gifts and his innocence, he's still executed. His death serves as a reminder of the cruelty of our criminal justice system, and the death penalty itself. To take a man's life is a decision no person should have the ability to make.
The Weinstein Company
Fruitvale Station is a fictionalized version of a true story, and as such, it feels appropriately outraged about the story it's telling. The movie follows Oscar Grant on the last day of his life. Despite being a young, healthy, black man, we see that he's gunned down by an agitated cop on New Year's Eve.
The story is one of countless examples of police shootings of unarmed black men that have resonated in the media in recent years. Oscar's life was cut tragically short, and Fruitvale Station highlights that tragedy well. It also features star turns from Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler, who still work together today. (Black Panther, anyone?)
Imagine living a nice, privileged life and being swept away into slavery. In 12 Years a Slave, a free, northern black man undergoes that very journey. For 12 years, he's trapped as a slave, incapable of being returned to the life he led before. It's a horrifying story, but one that illuminates how horrifying slavery was for black people at the time.
12 Years a Slave also speaks to the instability of being a black person in a nation where slavery is legal. There is no such thing as freedom. You will always be thought of as less than, and if you're taken, no one will bat an eye.
The Thin Blue Line tells the story of one very specific investigation. It replays that investigation moment by moment, revealing the flaws in the logic that ultimately led to a wrongful conviction. Even as the documentary, which ultimately led to freeing the man who was wrongfully accused, illuminates that man's innocence, it also discusses the societal forces that led to his incarceration.
He was judged to be someone who looked like a criminal. He fit the archetypes, even though the evidence against him was circumstantial at best. The Thin Blue Line is a reminder that the policemen who solve crimes have biases, and those biases deserve careful examination.
In the Name of the Father is one of many pieces of evidence that attest to Daniel Day-Lewis's genius as an actor. In the film, he plays an Irishman who is wrongfully accused of perpetrating an IRA bombing, and spends 15 years trying to clear his own name.
The injustice in the film stems not just from the wrongful conviction, but also from the ways in which the police attempt to cover up their own mistakes. Avoiding embarrassment can be a powerful motivator, but it's not always a force for good. Sometimes, it leads to situations like the one depicted in In the Name of the Father.
Rectify is one of the very best TV shows that no one has seen. The show follows a man after he's released from prison following 20 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit. The aftermath of his release doesn't involve teary reunions, though. Instead, we get a careful character study that explores how a man reenters a society that once thought he was a violent criminal.
It's an incredibly smart, deeply moving show that takes its time unfolding plot. Instead of overloading audiences with story, the show gives us a chance to get to know its characters on a bone-deep level.
If Beale Street Could Talk is a love story set against a cruel, unjust backdrop. The story follows a black couple in the 1970s who fall in love, even as they come to realize that the world is not going to be an easy place for them to navigate. When the man in the relationship is unjustly arrested, they're forced to deal with a life in which they live apart from one another.
There's no silver bullet, no cure to the problems they face. There's a system designed to keep them apart, and that system does its job through no fault of theirs. All they can do is deal with the fallout.
You may not think of Paddington 2 as a movie about injustice, and that's partially because it's got a much happier ending than most of the stories on this list. Even so, Paddington is accused of a crime he didn't commit and is viewed as an outsider by some of the people in his neighborhood.
Although he's ultimately able to clear his name, Paddington 2 manages to tell a story of wrongful imprisonment that humanizes all of the prisoners the adorable bear meets. The movie is about compassion and kindness, and it has both of those qualities in abundance. People should just be nicer to each other.
Although it's based on an old TV show, the movie version of The Fugitive perfectly distills the terror of being accused of a crime you didn't commit. When Chicago doctor Richard Kimble is arrested for the murder of his wife, he escapes and goes on the run. The movie is largely concerned with his various attempts to escape capture, but it also works as a commentary on the limits of the criminal justice system.
For the marshal sent to Richard down, it doesn't matter whether he's guilty or not. His job is not to ask those questions, it's to catch people who have been convicted by an imperfect system.
The Shawshank Redemption is a story about the way incarceration impacts a man. That's true whether that person is guilty or innocent, but it's especially hard to take for the film's main character, Andy Dufresne. When we discover that Andy didn't kill his wife, we realize that his time in jail has been entirely unwarranted.
Even though he's innocent, he doesn't get any sort reprieve from his treatment in prison. Instead, he's victimized and brutalized until he takes matters into his own hands. Prison is a brutal place, but it also changes you. In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy's prison sentence is an injustice of the highest order.
This documentary tells the story of Amanda Knox, who was accused of killing her roommate while studying abroad in Italy. Because she was demonized in the media, Amanda became a worldwide figure who was despised by most people who knew her name. In the aftermath of her acquittal in 2015, Amanda has become an activist and has spoken about how the attacks on her in the press impacted her.
In Amanda Knox, we see the toll the entire process took on her, even as we see how long it took for her to be fully acquitted. Justice can take a long time, especially when it's correcting its own mistakes.
The Wire is a story about systems of oppression, and how those systems take advantage of people who have no way to escape them. Ostensibly the show follows Baltimore cops and drug dealers as they attempt to outsmart one another. In reality, though, the show becomes one about the tragic, brutal way that the drug trade works.
The characters on The Wire push drugs because they have no other options. They're trapped in a system that can't give them another avenue for their talents. They're not stupid or lazy, they're part of a system of injustice that they can't find any way out of.