Social Justice Films

Social Justice Films As we wrestle with the question of what social justice truly means, here is a list of films with stories and themes that exemplify the subject. The topics of these films range from slavery to murder, and even genocide, and some contain genuinely disturbing material. Consider carefully, and even prayerfully which films you will watch, particularly if you plan to watch them with your family. These films depict some of the deepest darkness within humanity, but sometimes that harsh truth is exactly what we need to see in order to be motivated to affect change.

Amazing Grace – Rated PG
Amazing Grace is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, the man who crusaded for years to end the transatlantic slave trade; and who, in 1807, finally succeeded. It was a long and arduous road for Wilberforce, fighting against endless opposition and given every reason and opportunity to give up, but he refused to stop fighting for the rights of his fellow man. After spending a good portion of his life working to get a bill passed that effectively ended the slave trade in England, the victory in the end is both is hard fought and sweet. This is one to watch with the whole family.

Schindler’s List – Rated R
This is a film that everyone should see at some point in their life. It is the true story of Oscar Schindler; a businessman and war profiteer during World War II. He employs a number of Jews in his factories, and although he is initially unconcerned by their persecution under the Nazis, Schindler eventually risks everything to save as many Jews as he can. This film is raw, jarring, and at times painful to watch. The things you see will stay with you, as Schindler’s List depicts mankind at his most depraved. However the film is moving and beautiful in its own way; a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.

A Time to Kill – Rated R
When two white men in Mississippi rape a ten year-old girl, her father is afraid that they will be acquitted because of the prevalence of racism in his hometown. He takes matters into his own hands, lies in wait, and kills both men in the courthouse where their trial was set. The film follows the father’s own trial, and much like the story To Kill A Mockingbird, it brings up the question of just how much race actually matters. This film is sure to cause some introspection on your personal views on issues of race and equality.

Hotel Rwanda – Rated PG-13
No list on this topic would be complete without Hotel Rwanda. This is an incredible film in every way. Taking place during the 1994 Rwandan civil war that resulted in the genocide of nearly one million people, a simple hotel manager uses the property he oversees to shelter and save over 1,200 lives. This is one of the rare films that manage to tell the story of a terrible atrocity and make you feel the impact without actually showing much of the violence. Most of the bloodshed happens off-screen, though you are no less aware of it or moved by it.

12 Angry Men – Not Rated
This 1957 Sidney Lumet classic tells the story of an 18-year-old Latino man on trial for killing his father. Eleven of the jurors believe it to be an open and shut case, but one man believes that there is more to the case that what it seems to be on the surface. Slowly but surely he forces the other jurors to come to terms with their preconceived notions and prejudices concerning the case, and the accused.

Pay It Forward – Rated PG-13
When a young boy’s social science teacher poses the question, “How would you change the world?”, the boy poses the idea of “paying it forward.” You do a random good deed for three people, but instead of asking them to pay you back, they each must pay the good deed forward to three other people, and those three will each then do the same. This will cause a sort of altruistic ripple effect, and hopefully one day change the world. It is a brilliant concept, delivered in a beautiful, albeit heartbreaking story.

Bonhoeffer – Not Rated
This documentary recounts the life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; a pastor, theologian, teacher, and a conspirator in the plan to kill Adolph Hitler. Beginning the war as a pacifist, and then being moved to action by the evil he witnessed, Bonhoeffer finally dies in a Nazi concentration camp mere days before the allies liberated it. Every Christian should know his story.

Beyond The Gates – Rated R
Much like Hotel Rwanda, Beyond the Gates takes place during the Rwandan civil war, however this film paints an even darker picture of this conflict. The violence is more severe, and better represents the scale on which the genocide was occurring. We follow a catholic priest named Christopher and an idealistic teacher named Joe who attempt to save Tutsi refugees from the Hutu forces that are hunting them. UN peacekeeping forces protect them for a time, but when the UN abandons the refugees, Christopher and Joe must also decide whether to stand by them or leave them to their fate.

The Pianist – Rated R
Władysław Szpilman was an immensely talented piano player in the years leading up to World War II. He was also a Polish Jew. This film portrays the restrictions on the Jewish community growing ever tighter as the war approaches. Along with the rest of his family, Szpilman is moved into the Warsaw Ghetto. As conditions become even worse, he is eventually separated from them as they are sent to a concentration camp. He is left in the ruins of Warsaw, attempting to evade capture and, most of all, to survive. Though not as graphic as Schindler’s List, The Pianist is a powerful and moving depiction of the holocaust; it is a story we must never forget, lest we allow history to repeat such horrors.

Rick Deal is a freelance writer and worship leader. He blogs at, and tweets at @Letsmakeadeal26.Email Rick at [email protected].


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