Sure, Hollywood is full of movies like Disaster Movie, Fred Claus, and whatever new rom-com Gerard Butler is in, but every now and then a movie comes out that tries to educate the audience about a social issue via a true story. While documentaries are usually the go-to medium to convey a little-engine-that-could story, sometimes a few big-name actors are needed to help spread the word. That’s why many have realized that to tell a true story about social issues to the public -- one that may not have gotten as much attention as it deserves -- a major motion picture might be the way to go.
The most recent film to do so is Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, a drama based on the 1863 autobiography of the same name that tells the story of a free black man (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into a slavery. It is a story that, unfortunately, not many people knew of before the film was made. But thanks to those who thought the story was worth telling, the public now has the opportunity to reassess the issue of slavery and witness a story of true importance.
If a film based on a true story is done well (such as 12 Years a Slave), and if it stays closer to non-fiction than fiction, at the end of it we are more well-informed than we were when we entered the theater, and really, who wouldn’t want to be smarter?
Here are some of our favorite movies that shed light on real-life stories of importance:
12 Years a SlaveThe subject of America’s history with slavery has long been at the core of numerous movies, yet this story seemed to slip through the cracks until now. McQueen’s film tells a powerful human story of tragedy as it follows a free black man named Solomon Northup who is sold into slavery. The film reminds us of the horrors of America’s past and lets us reflect upon the unbelievable cruelty of others. It also reminds us that not every story about slavery has been told yet.
ArgoWhile this adaptation of CIA operative Tony Mendez's book The Master of Disguise and Joshuah Bearman's Wired article "The Great Escape" took flack for transgressing from the facts of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, the movie did it’s job: It brought to light an untold story of American and Iranian hostility.
Hotel RwandaBased on real life events in Rwanda during the spring of 1994, the film follows Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) as he attempts to rescue his family and thousands of refugees from the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide. It brings to life the issues of genocide, the results of violence, and the political corruption that ran rampant at the time.
The Killing FieldsThis drama is based on the experiences of two journalists (Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg) during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The film successfully sheds light on a totalitarian regime and the mass murder of millions of Cambodians.
Fruitvale StationIn another recent real-life story portrayed through film, Fruitvale Station follows the 2009 shooting of an unarmed young black man named Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, and in the process tells a powerful story of police brutality.
Erin BrockovichWhile Erin Brockovich is definitely a little lighter in tone than the other five films, it nevertheless tells a dramatization of the true story of woman (played by Julia Roberts) who went up against a big corporation, PG&E, that was knowingly harming citizens with contaminated groundwater. Plus, Roberts won an Oscar for it.
It goes without saying that neither you nor any of the people you associate with have ever even considered trying drugs. They lead to failed marriages, tooth decay and an excessive wind chime budget. But as a sociological experiment, let’s just pretend we’re a bunch of lowlifes who might have, just once or twice, experienced the phenomenon of what that ice cream man who was only around for a little while referred to as "getting high."
Now, there are plenty of stereotypical activities associated with this state of consciousness, like skiing and laundry. But what might deter your typical intoxicatee from accomplishing any and all other tasks is the strange all-encompassing desire to watch a movie. Cinephilia skyrockets with the intake of certain narcotics, but this isn’t a situation to be handled lightly. Sure, there are plenty of good movies to kick back and watch whilst narcoticized, but there are also those you should absolutely avoid.
(And again, just in case my mother is reading this, I have never seen a drug before, and I think I’m going to volunteer at the synagogue’s singles mixer tonight.)
Requiem for a Dream
This should seem like an obvious film to exclude from your late night (or mid-morning, depending on whether or not you have class) roster, but a high-minded individual doesn’t always think logically. Requiem is among the worst of choices to watch under the influence. It’s a movie that is actually about just how bad drugs are for you — not something you want to think about while you’re actually on them — sold through one of the grittiest examples of storytelling in modern cinema. As far as drug-centric films go, you're better off with A Scanner Darkly (and the really sensitive shouldn't venture further than Smiley Face).
Seems like a pretty good bet for your drug-addled needs, right? The Who’s classic rock opera is chockfull of psychedelic imagery and timeless music. But then, things take a turn, and Ann-Margaret invests her passions into her bathroom floor, just in time for her television to explode into a monsoon of baked beans. All of a sudden, you feel very alone, and moderately nauseous. If you want something musical, The Blues Brothers isn't a bad idea.
My Dinner with Andre
Overall, this is a must-see. A spirited testament to intellect, human relationships, and creative filmmaking. But when you’re high, My Dinner with Andre is a God forsaken nightmare. It’d be difficult enough to sit through an actual own two-hour dinner date — minutes seem a bit longer when you’re not sure if the wallpaper just moved. But watching two other guys talk so damn slowly about beehives or Sanskrit or whatever the hell they’re rambling on about in this horrifyingly plotless craft of Satan (again, it’s really good if you’re sober) will make you want to tear your brain out. Use The Goonies as your intellectual cap, and you’ll be fine.
Horror movies are generally a no-go. Zombies and ghosts don’t seem funnier when you’re high; they seem more probable. And the last thing you want is a demonic image that’ll stay tattooed in your brain. The Japanese horror flick Hausu has one of the most un-Eternal Sunshine-able images of the genre. Pleasantry will go a long way in times like these, but if you absolutely must watch a horror film, wait until The Cabin in the Woods finds its way into your possession. You'll feel surprisingly validated.
This might be the topper. It’s got everything: enclosed spaces, human dehydration, ad-hoc limb removal. Interestingly enough, it stars James Franco, who, under general circumstances, is a welcoming friend to the high community. But do not be fooled! Franco in Freaks and Geeks, Pineapple Express, Nights in Rodanthe, that’s the Franco you’re safe with. Armless Franco trapped in a pit with nothing to drink but his own bodily fluids? Bring in Lindsay Weir!
The Final Destination Series
Mindless violence, idiotic thrills, your token sex scene tossed in someplace — the Final Destination movies seem like some harmless, macabre humor... until the movie ends, and your high mind realizes that half of the things that killed those poor kids are scattered around your bedroom. If you get up off your bed, you might trip on a loose floorboard and hit your head on the doorknob. If you just try and fall asleep, you might suffocate on a piece of debris that is blown in through your open window. So why not get up to shut the window? Damnit, the floorboard! Steer clear of thoughts centered around household accidents and architectural follies... except in the case of Home Alone. As a matter of fact, you should definitely watch Home Alone.
"What the hell are you doing with your life? Sitting around, getting stoned and watching a Don Cheadle movie because you really like House of Lies and that Captain America parody on FunnyorDie? Do you realize what Paul Rusesabagina sacrificed for these people? Do you realize what kind of suffering is going on in this world? You said you were going to be a film major so you could make documentaries about poverty, not skits about how funny it would be if the Hulk was in group therapy. You disgust me." That's tantamount to what'll be going through your head. Stick with Hotel for Dogs. Actually, that might make you feel even worse...
There are plenty of good options for a drug-induced film screening. Comedy, science fiction and animation are all good bets. But make no mistake: the movies listed above will haunt you to your grave... or at least until you wake up the next morning and realize you now need to overnight your grandmother's birthday card and that you're out of Nutella. Avoid at all costs. There are always Stella reruns on Hulu.
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Set in the ‘60s and based on a true story we meet Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) a popular radio DJ--in prison. When he’s pardoned early Petey hits up one of his inmate friend's brother Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a radio station manager for work. In fact Petey marches right down to Hughes' D.C. radio station and keeps harassing Hughes until he gets his shot. Petey chokes the first time on air and makes libelous remarks that don't sit well with the station boss (Martin Sheen). But controversy sells so Petey and Dewey scheme to give Petey a show. When his show on Martin Luther King Jr's assassination calms down a rioting public even the corporate brass sees his value. Greene rises to local fame but still gets himself into trouble with booze and promiscuity. Will his talent overcome his vices? Not likely. Unfortunately the film’s self-importance simply masks a story about a self-destructive loser who lucks into some notoriety. For all its superiority Talk to Me still manages to wring out some Oscar-worthy performances. There is no shortage of juicy characters for acclaimed thespians to exercise their muscles. As is his modus operandi Don Cheadle transforms into Petey Greene as much as he did as Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina. You'd never imagine he had a better vocabulary to use he is that much of a foul mouthed low life. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) is also phenomenal. His good guy Dewey is the less showy part but he projects so much power. Dewey deserves the success Petey wastes. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow) plays Petey's girlfriend a composite of all the women the real-life Greene must have screwed over. She's devastatingly sexy flaunting her wares to attract more attention to Petey yet still heartbreaking when Greene does the inevitable. Martin Sheen never plays the "white boss." He's just a human being with practical worries but he still puts his neck on the line to support social change. Cedric the Entertainer plays a more established DJ at the station. It’s a very small role with only a few scenes but he puts that deep voice to good use on the airwaves. It is clear co-writer/director Kasi Lemmons thinks the Petey Greene story is an important one to tell but she fails to fully convey his true impact if there was any. He wasn’t the only black man on the radio in the '60s to follow Martin Luther King’s call for peace. Greene’s lengthy radio rants in Talk to Me are powerful and poignant but it's all overshadowed by his deplorable behavior off the air. Lemmons gets the period details down however. Everyone looks distinctly groovy and landmark events put together on a small budget still give a sense of the era. But by mostly containing the film’s world to a radio station Talk to Me seems more like a melodrama between a producer and a star than a biopic about a man who propagated social change.