In response to an inquiry in 2001, a social movements listserv shared suggestions for films to use in social movements classes. Below I have pasted the various recommendations that came in. I left them sorted by the person who made the suggestion, but took off their names.
1) The Gates of the Heavenly Place is a BBC documentary on the Tienanmen movement which illustrates very well many collective action problems and is substantively gripping and emotional.
2) There are a number of videos about the anti-corporate globalization movement. Most of them have been made by the movement themselves, and thus have a fair amount of boosterism. One of the better ones is “This is What Democracy Looks Like” about the protests in Seattle. Another one is Breaking the Bank – about the protests against the World Bank/IMF in Washington.
3) There’s an interesting documentary on the Stonewall Uprising and the gay/lesbian rights movement that is available through PBS. There is also “Making Sense of the Sixties” that is useful in tracking various movements. I’ve also used the series “Chicano!: History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement” and the series “Eyes on the Prize” which is useful in showing the rifts, grassroots involvement, and government involvement/infiltration in their respective movements.
4) Beyond the many good suggestions already offered for videos to teach about social movements, another rich video series is “A Force More Powerful.” This new PBS series is six 30 minute stand-alone sessions describing and analyzing six different campaigns: Nashville student sit-ins of 60s with Jim Lawson; Indian independence with Gandhi; South African transition to democracy; Philippines people power revolution in mid-80s; Solidarity in Poland in the 80s; and a sixth that escapes me at the moment. All are excellent, and just the right length for classroom use, followed by discussion. There is also a companion book by Peter Ackerman, with same title.
5) A great film that I always use in teaching social movements is: “Freedom On My Mind” which documents Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. What really makes the film great is the juxtoposition of clips from 1964 and interviews with participants 30 years later, including Bob Moses, Heather Booth, and grassroots Black leaders from Mississippi. Another excellent film is “The War At Home” about the movement against the Vietnam War on the Madison campus of the U. of Wisconsin.
I also recommend With God On Our Side, an excellent multi-part documentary series made for PBS about the rise of the Christian Right. The documentary series is a supplement to William Martin’s book of the same name. It would be a useful contrast with Eyes on the Prize to show how religion influences social movement activists in very different ways.
6) In my class on the Civil Rights Movement, in addition to segments from the extraordinary “Eyes on the Prize” series and “Freedom on My Mind” already mentioned, I also show as background “A. Philip Randolph: For Jobs and Freedom,” which connects the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the person of E.D. Nixon, Randolph’s connection to the March on Washington movement, and much more. The segment on the Child Development Group of Mississippi from the 5-part “America’s War on Poverty” series is a useful follow-up to what happened in 1965 after the Freedom Summer of 1964.
For my class on Gender and Social Movements I show the excellent two-hour “One Woman, One Vote” program on the Woman Suffrage Movement. I also show between the “One Woman, One Vote” segments program 5, “Outrage,” from the British “Shoulder to Shoulder” series, on the Pankhurst family, to add some excitement and a bit of international perspective.
“Before Stonewall” is excellent on the origins of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movements; the sequel “After Stonewall” is good but more diffuse and scattered (I don’t show it). I do use “The Times of Harvey Milk” as a wonderful introduction to the politics of the GLBT movement, as well as an essential part of local (northern California) history — it shocks and grips our 20-year-old students who weren’t born when Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated, and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s career was relaunched.
On women in the labor movement, there is a very moving segment on the “revolt of the 6000,” the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and its consequences in part 4 of the “New York” series. And finally there is the old standby, “Union Maids,” on women in labor and the left in the 1930s and 40s, now available in video to replace your university’s tattered celluloid film.
I’ve also taught a class on the Conservation and Environmental Movement, which has been less systematically documented in videos than the movements above. “The Wilderness Idea” is good on the early conflict between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, between preservationism and utilitarianism in conservation. “For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower,” is a little too much a personal tribute, but it introduces this remarkable leader and his involvement with the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and Earth Island Institute. On the 30-year struggle against strip-mining in eastern Kentucky, I’d recommend “To Save the Land and People,” a video from Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY. I also use “Butterfly” on Julia Butterfly Hill, which is problematic but involves young students and is a jumping off point for a good discussion.
On the student movement of the 1960s, I’ve found “Berkeley in the Sixties” to be most useful; good cuts from past to present, the activists are reflective and often self-critical, and it gives a good feel for the importance of the civil rights movement boosting student protest, the Vietnam War, the rise of Black Power, and the beginnings of the women’s movement. Better in several of these respects than the recent film on SDS (IMHO). Of course again we gain student interest from the local history aspect of Berkeley.
And yes, I’d endorse segments of the “Chicano!” series, as well as the Farmworkers segment from the “America’s War on Poverty” series.
7) Women Make Movies has some excellent films on the women’s movements in the US as well on the Beijing Conference, they also have one on the million women march but it is not as good. Another one on cultural feminism about punk music artists and feminism like Ani DiFranco et al called The Righteous Babes is pretty good as well.
8) In addition to “Freedom on my Mind” (which the students absolutely love), I’ve used “Ballot Measure 9” on activism surrounding the Oregon anti-gay ballot measures. It’s very powerful and especially good for talking about movement/counter-movement themes. Also the PBS documentary “Mean Things Happening” (part of the Great Depression series) is a nice comparison of successful vs. unsuccessful labor organizing in the 1930s (steel vs. tenant farmworkers) and is a good accompaniment for reading Piven and Cloward.