Look, I think a lot of us can agree that America doesn’t look great these days. The land of the free and the home of the brave are exhausted, sick, anxious, distracted and at war with themselves. As we are only weeks away from a momentous election, it is not controversial to say that it is not the brightest moment in the country.
So while I’m not sure if it’s by design or by accident, it’s a fluke that four films premiering on digital services this weekend try to thread a tricky needle: see America for this. that it is and find hope there anyway. Two are film versions of acclaimed Broadway plays; another is that of one of the country’s most acclaimed screenwriters; and one is one of the best documentaries of the year.
The images painted in these films are by no means pink. They don’t play around with myths about restoring our old greatness or being the best of ourselves. But the people who created them are looking for the core of humanity in the midst of injustice, and each finds it in their own way.
Put the four together, and you begin to see a thoughtful, layered, hopeful portrait of America, leveraging the past to understand the present, and finding something in the present to point us into the future. I can’t think of a better theme to look for in these tough, difficult days.
Watch Time for a heartbreaking story of real courage and hope
Heartbreaking and passionate, Time is the chronicle of a deferred love and of the life that hope can give. Garrett Bradley’s documentary follows Fox Rich (aka Sibil Richardson), who spent 21 years stubbornly petitioning for her husband, Rob, to be released from prison. Rob is serving a 60-year sentence for a juvenile crime in which they were both involved; During this time, Fox raised their six children and became a strong advocate for change in his community.
Time details his struggle, demonstrating how mass incarceration consistently separates black families in America, as well as how bureaucracy and centuries of narratives cover up the truth and pain of those separations. And from the start, Fox has been making videos at home, which feels like a diary of his pain, endurance, and commitment to hope.
How to watch it: Time is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Watch What the Constitution means to me for an angry and hopeful outlook on law, debate and rights
When Heidi Schreck was 15, she was traveling the Pacific Northwest for speech contests run by American Legion chapters, giving improvised speeches on the meaning and importance of various constitutional amendments. Years later, she recreated this experience with What the Constitution means to me, who won Tony and Pulitzer nominations during her Broadway run in 2019. Schreck wrote and starred in the play, in which she claims to be herself at 15, speaking about the Constitution – at least until then that his youthful optimism be called into question by both his adult realism and the stories of his family’s past.
The filmed version of What the Constitution means to me (with the direction of Won’t you be my neighbor‘s Marielle Heller) captures this moving, angry, heartbreaking and eerily inspiring Broadway show. Schreck skillfully oscillates between his own personal history, the life stories of his ancestors and his in-depth knowledge of Supreme Court decisions and arguments, mixing politics, rights discourse and lived experience. And she ends up arguing with a teenage debate partner over the future of the Constitution – a moment that shows the power and true purpose of real, thoughtful debate.
How to watch it: What the Constitution means to me is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Watch The Chicago 7 trial for a moving appeal for dissent and honor
The Chicago 7 trial is a signature Aaron Sorkin humdinger, an audience drama about the past with the present in mind. Its subject is the six-month trial of a group of men who were charged with conspiring and crossing state borders with the intent to incite a riot in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The men traveled to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. Riots have taken place. But the men did not conspire – and furthermore, they insisted that the Chicago Police Department started the violence.
Sorkin wrote and directed The Chicago 7 trial, which fiddles with real historical events in the service of history. But the film draws a parallel between the issues that mattered at the time – racism, militarized police, unequal justice, challenges to the right to protest – and those that still resonate today. With a brilliant cast that includes, among others, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Chicago 7 trial is a film aimed at connecting the dots of the past with those of the present, and suggesting that sometimes the long arm of justice crosses a rocky territory.
How to watch it: The Chicago 7 trial is streaming on Netflix.
Watch David Byrne’s American Utopia for a beautiful and beautiful musical celebration of our differences
In 2019, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne put on a Broadway show that wasn’t a concert or a play or a musical or anything, really, other than a recognizable production. by Byrne-ian. On a gray-hued stage full of lights and textures, accompanied by a group of brilliant barefoot musicians and singers dressed in matching gray costumes, Byrne has woven an American story. The songs in his catalog have been reimagined for a joyous journey through his mind – and through the way he imagines the possibility of an American utopia.
Spike Lee captured it all on film, and the result is David Byrne’s American Utopia, a journey that is both realistic and surreal through what makes a nation a nation: we share the same house. Byrne’s songs question the notions of house and house and what they mean in an American context. His answer is that we are all different; we look different, we speak differently, we believe different things, and yet there is always hope that we can decide to rebuild our house together. I challenge you not to dance while watching it.
How to watch it: David Byrne’s American Utopia Airs at 8 p.m. EST on October 17 and start streaming on HBO Max at the same time.
If you are looking for something else …
- Kajillionaire, Miranda July’s latest comedy, arrives this week on digital on-demand services (find the full list of services here). Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, and Richard Jenkins, it’s a quirky and loving story of growing up and learning to love. (I loved the movie and wrote about how it shows July’s lasting affection for the nutcase in all of us.)
Having just selected virtual cinemas: Martin eden, which looks as much like a tribute to Italian cinema as it is an adaptation of a Jack London novel. This is the story of a young man named Martin (Luca Marinelli, who you may have seen on Netflix The old guard) who aspires to join the ranks of the elite through self-education. It is a critically acclaimed tragedy.
Help keep Vox free for everyone
Millions of people turn to Vox every month to understand what’s going on in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial calculation to what is, quite possibly, the most significant presidential election of our lives. Our mission has never been as vital as it is right now: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism requires resources. Even as the economy and the advertising market recover, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, consider helping everyone figure out an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from just $ 3.