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Top 10 Films that Depict the American Justice System

America – you need a mirror right about now and where better to start if not art. One of the ugliest faces of US history – racial discrimination, is at large and the country is observing massive protests for justice.

Here is a small but powerful list of artworks you can rely on for a deeper look at the dark events of your past while also imagining a new way of life going ahead.

10. 13th(2016)

From mass incarceration and war on drugs to police brutality and private prisons, this Ava Duvernay direction is a primer on the historical context and moral urgency behind a lot of today’s most pressing public issues.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system

The documentary is a particularly compelling whirlwind tour through America’s long history of denying its racism, and the ways that its denial has affected the country’s justice system. All this, whit it also explores the dovetailing motivations behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

Where to watch it: Netflix and YouTube.

9. Clemency (2019)

Caring for the inmates and quietly supporting them as they approach their execution dates as the warden of high-security prison, has been wearing on a woman’s health, marriage, and soul.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system

With Clemency, director Chinonye Chukwu crafts a heavy, deliberate film that takes an emotional toll on not just Williams but also her coworkers, their families, the inmates, and the inmates’ loved ones extra clear. It has an fresh perspective to expose the injustices of the capital punishment system.

Where to watch it: iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.

8. Crime + Punishment (2018)

New York outlawed the quota system of policing — that needed each officer to make a minimum number of arrests in a given time frame — back in 2010. The system, it was argued, turned officers away from serving the community and finding ways to dispel violence before it happened.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system
Crime + Punishment (2018)

Arrests were being made just to hit the numbers and they were more often tha not, done in low-income minority communities. But the practice still continues.

In a set of interviews, secretly recorded conversations, and other footage shot from 2014 to 2017, Stephen Maing’s documentary explores the NYPD’s ongoing, concealed use of quotas and their effects on the people of New York. Watch the doc with the idea that the NYPD’s system is a template for city police across the country.

Where to watch it: Hulu.

7. The Force (2017)

Documentarian Peter Nicks spends two years following
The Oakland Police Department was put under federal supervision in 2003 after a wave of misconduct and other public offenses.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system
The Force (2017)

The film makes it clear that the Oakland PD’s situation is extraordinarily complicated and that any possible solutions will be wildly complex. With documentarian Peter Nicks, we find that broken institutions can’t be reformed from within and fixing them requires a culture shift from the outside. Nicks is more than outright saying that the power needs to be put back in the hands of communities.

Where to watch it:  iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.

6. The Innocence Files (2020)

Based on the 1992 initiative by by law professors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, The Innocence Project, the film looks at how the project overturned wrongful convictions by using DNA evidence to free innocent prisoners.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system
The Innocence Files (2020)

The project also seemed to advocate for reform in the criminal justice system. Across its nine episodes, The Innocence Files draws on the intriguing cases which illustrate the breakdown of supposedly just systems and the unreliability of evidence. It’s among the strongest documentary series about criminal justice ever made.

Where to watch it: Netflix.

5. The Prison in 12 Landscapes (2016)

Brett Story’s documentary about the way prison systems reshape the landscapes around them is remarkable for the simple reason that we don’t see a prison until the end of the film. Instead, The Prison in 12 Landscapes captures a series communities that are shaped in some way by a nearby prison.

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes Trailer
The Prison in 12 Landscapes (2016) Trailer

From conversations with people at historical societies to narration from prisoners who fight fires for a few bucks a day, the film is a work of art that says out loud less than what it leaves unsaid. It particularly discusses whether the prison system does what it claims or whether it has a different aim altogether.

Where to watch it: The Prison in 12 Landscapes is available to stream in its entirety on Vimeo. It’s also available to digitally rent or purchase from Amazon.

4. When They See Us (2019)

In yet another Ava DuVernay production, who co-wrote and directed all four episodes of this miniseries on the case of the Central Park Five. In the case, five non-white boys aged 14 to 16 were coerced into confessing to raping a jogger named Trisha Meili in 1989 and convicted in 1990.

WHEN THEY SEE US Trailer (2019) Teen Drama, Netflix Series HD
When They See Us (2019) Trailer

It’s a true crime series, partly concerned with discerning what really happened to Meili, but the rest considers the crime committed against the five young men. We clearly witness how the criminal justice system is more committed to politics than the truth — and what drives it is plain, old-fashioned American racism.

How to watch it: When They See Us is streaming on Netflix.

3. Just Mercy (2019)

Based on the memoir of the civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, the film follows the world-renowned defense attorney as he fights to free a black man condemned, albeit wrongly, to the death row.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system
Just Mercy

Stevenson, a recent Harvard graduate who has arrived in Alabama to help the wrongfully convicted, reviews his case and finds that most of the evidence in the case proves McMilllian is innocent.

As Stevenson fights McMillian’s case, he unewrth the murky waters of racial injustices and discrimination along the way. The film then becomes a story of redemption, passion, and mercy set against a corrupt judicial system designed to easily assist disfavoring of the black people.

2. Whose Streets (2017)

Witness the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement with directors Damon Davis and Sabaah Folayan who were integral to it.

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system
Whose Streets (2017)

The movement, which was born out of protests following the 2014 killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown, is shared in this raw film collaged from footage and interviews. The film opened in theaters in 2017 just as a white supremacist march began to unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, and remains no less relevant today.

Where to watch it: iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu.

1. 12 Years A Slave (2013)

10 films to watch if you want to know what’s wrong with the American justice system
12 Years A Slave (2013)

Based on a true story, this Academy award winner for Best Film will take you as close to the experience of being Black in US as anything else. Solomon Northup, a free African-American, is promised a fortnightly job by Brown and Hamilton. However, after arriving in Washington DC, he realises that he has been sold into slavery.

Source: Vox

Originally Written By Epic Dope

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Soumya Mishra

Soumya Mishra

Journalist. Obsessed with all things old, wrinkled and discolored. Wilderness lover.

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