There is always news in the world related to democracy and activism, but in recent years it feels like there has been an abundance of noteworthy movements and events. From climate change to school shootings, as well as Brexit, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Covid-19 and the extremely controversial 45th US President, Donald Trump, the early part of the 21st century has seen an unprecedented rise in people taking to the streets, organising, and demanding action.
This diverse list of titles touches upon some of these subjects as well as many more historical figures and movements from Civil Rights to political campaigns acting as conversation starters, provoking discussion and debate. Films about democracy can introduce secondary school students to ideas around equality, activism and ethics, as well as deepening their understanding of historical events and their significance, helping to inspire the next generation to become more engaged in their political futures.
A faithful animated retelling of the classic story by novelist George Orwell that sees farm animals split into conflicting groups.
This animated version of George Orwell’s novel has long been a favourite amongst Into Film members of all ages. The story of a group of pigs on a formerly prosperous farm that has fallen on hard times can be treated as innocent entertainment, but also as an entry point into some more serious issues.
One of a series of short films made by famed director Frank Capra in World War II, commissioned to encourage US citizens to support the war effort.
These ground-breaking documentaries, produced by Frank Capra (director of It’s A Wonderful Life) and commissioned by the US government to justify to the public the allied actions during World War Two and to encourage their support. Created in direct response to Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will, the films now serve as an invaluable piece of historical record.
Classic courtroom drama in which one man attempts to convince his fellow jurors that a murder case might not be as clear cut as it seems.
The values of democracy have perhaps never been better displayed than in this classic jury-room drama. Often cited as one of the most inspiring films ever made, this is a riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama, but one that remains utterly relevant to the modern world, demonstrating how vital it is to stand up for what is right, even when the world seems against you.
Thought-provoking film about an idealistic scout leader made a US senator and faced with the reality of widespread political corruption and cynicism.
Capra was also responsible for perhaps the most celebrated example of everyman democracy ever committed to film. One of James Stewart’s defining roles, the film remains a remarkable and inspiring fable about what government is for and who it should represent.
Inspirational documentary about equal education advocate Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel peace prize.
The true story of an inspirational young woman follows the journey of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Despite being shot and almost killed by the Taliban in 2012, she continues to speak out against the unjust lack of opportunities for schooling – particularly for girls – across the world. An inspiring documentary full of hope and determination.
Biopic of American lawyer and professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her struggle for gender equality as she prepares for a landmark case in her career.
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this timely biopic examines her personal life and early career as she struggles to forge a career for herself in the male-dominated legal world. But when a landmark case of gender equality surfaces, RBG sets out to change the course of history, becoming a role model for her daughter and many more around the world in the process.
A powerful depiction of the rise of the Suffragist movement and some of the British women involved.
Remarkably, it took until 2015 for film to tackle the extraordinary account of the suffragist movement in 20th century Britain. Focusing around a group of working-class activists, rather than the campaign’s better-known figures, Sarah Gavron’s film is a rallying cry to continue the fight for equality around the world, and sincere telling of a vital story.
Biopic of American abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman who escaped from slavery and freed many through the Underground Railroad.
Known as one of the early key figures in the US Civil Rights movement, Harriet Tubman has an extraordinary story to tell. After freeing herself from slavery, she embarked on several missions to free others using a network called the Underground Railroad. As well as black history, this crucial biopic also encompasses issues around gender and class.
Steven Spielberg's epic biopic focusing on Abraham Lincoln's fight to end the slave trade in America.
Lincoln deals with an historical giant who’s greatness was crucially influenced by his common touch. Spielberg’s vast, magnificent historical drama concentrates on a short period of his life, the battle to abolish slavery in America. Astutely chronicling the minutiae of political process, it is a fitting document to one of the most important democratic movements of all.
Political drama following the steadfast Edward Murrow's attempts to maintain journalistic integrity in the face of the 1950s McCarthy witch hunts.
Broadcast journalism has also frequently demonstrated its power and effectiveness as a medium for standing up to corruption. In this case, it is the true story of American journalist Edward R. Morrow and his team, who refused to compromise when attacking the practices of Senator McCarthy, despite the huge professional and personal consequences.
A young girl is drawn to activism after witnessing the police shooting of her childhood friend.
This slick and energetic adaptation of a popular young adult novel speaks to themes that remain all too prevalent in the news. After a young black man is unjustly killed, his childhood friend wrestles with her responsibilities to his legacy while attempting to negotiate family, romance, identity and so much more through her formative teenage years.
Documentary examining the events surrounding the 2003 Iraq war and the enormous global protest it provoked.
Another film that celebrates the ongoing British relationship with political protest and marching is We Are Many. This documentary tells the story of the largest demonstration in British history, the 2003 march against the looming invasion of Iraq, by those who were intimately involved, demonstrating the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
Powerful drama focusing on Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure voting rights for black Americans.
Focussing on a pivotal moment of political history, this is the first film to directly explore the life of Martin Luther King, focussing on the campaign to secure equal voting rights via a seminal march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. The film’s themes and discussion of violence as a means of political protest remain remarkably topical.
Powerful epic from famed director Spike Lee about the life of late African-American Civil Rights leader Malcolm X.
While 'Selma' mentions Malcolm X and his teachings, this biopic from Spike Lee tells his life story, from childhood to his stint as a small-time gangster through to his leadership in the black liberation movement. Played by Denzel Washington and adapted from Malcolm X’s own autobiography, this is a significant exploration of a seismic political figure.
Sean Penn won an Oscar for this inspiring portrayal of gay rights campaigner, Harvey Milk.
Every political campaign needs its heroes and pioneers. For the LGBT movement, they don’t come much more significant than San Francisco mayor Harvey Milk. This biopic tells the story of his life, movingly demonstrating how the personal and the political are inextricably linked.
Uplifting comedy about an unlikely moment in recent British history when, in 1984, gay rights activists offered to support the striking miners.
In Britain, many of the advances in democratic rights for LGBT citizens emerged in the 1980s, as a group of London activists formed an unlikely alliance with a village of striking miners in Wales, demonstrating the remarkable power of solidarity. This inspiring comedy tells their story, resulting in a remarkable, ongoing turning point in public attitudes towards LGBT issues.
The story of how the people of Chile attempted to oust dictator General Pinochet from power in the late 1980s.
This drama tells the story of a simple but effective campaign designed by a Chilean advertising executive to oust the brutal dictator General Pinochet from power, by persuading the country to vote ‘No’ in a crucial referendum on whether or not his reign should continue. A stirring example of democracy in action through the actions and commitment of ordinary people.
A drone pilot spots a young girl entering the blast zone when given the order to strike in this tense exploration of the ethical dilemmas of warfare.
Issues of accountability for political actions are brought up to date in this nail-biting thriller. Eschewing easy answers and points-of-view, the film puts us on the ground in Kenya; in the heart of a ‘remote airbase’ in Las Vegas; and the centre of UK government, as complicated ethical issues are urgently discussed, leaving audiences with awkward questions.
The true story of a whistleblower who uncovered an illegal spying operation prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States.
Director Gavin Hood followed 'Eye in the Sky' with 'Official Secrets', bringing the tension and theme of ethics from the former into his next release. It recounts the true story of a British intelligence worker who – much like in The Report – uncovers sensitive materials which suggests a US-UK conspiracy, and must decide how far she is willing to go in pursuit of the truth.
A fascinating insight into one of the world's most controversial websites, Wikileaks, which leaked many classified documents into the public domain
Many see the actions of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks foundation as modern day anarchism. This riveting documentary explores the foundation and its ramifications, from the rise of ‘citizen journalism’ and the disruption it caused amongst media and political and media establishments, as well as the personal controversies that constantly overshadow Assange’s profile.
Filmmaker Michael Moore investigates the current state of American politics.
Encompassing everything from the Flint water crisis to the US presidential election in 2016, Michael Moore returns in top form to examine the political landscape. With a particular focus on Donald Trump becoming president and the things in place which allowed this to happen, Moore’s latest work is typically fiery, funny and rousing.
Unusual, ideas-packed thriller set in a parallel Britain, where a Guy Fawkes- inspired terrorist tries to stir up resistance against a dictatorship.
In this film, political protest is reimagined in an Orwellian future Britain where a neo-fascist regime has taken over the country. Based on an important graphic novel, the eponymous ‘V’ is a freedom fighter, attempting to spark a revolution through increasingly anarchistic means.
70s classic about the two journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal which brought down a presidency.
There is a long and noble tradition of intrepid journalists doggedly fighting to bring the corrupt and guilty to account. This was never better captured than in this telling of the Watergate scandal, where two journalists from the Washington Post begin to examine what seems a fairly straightforward burglary and uncover a scandal that brought down a president.
Period drama on the notorious 1819 Peterloo Massacre, where pro-democracy protesters were attacked by British forces.
British filmmaker Mike Leigh assembled an ensemble cast to tell the story of the Peterloo Massacre which took place in 19th century Manchester. Demanding political reform and highlighting increasing poverty in the city, the 60,000 protestors who had gathered in St. Peter’s Field were attacked, with a number of fatalities and hundreds more injured.
Documentary in which the late writer James Baldwin looks back at his experiences through American history, most notably the Civil Rights movement.
An already important social document, this film has taken on even greater significance in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Samuel L Jackson narrates Baldwin’s own words as he recounts his personal experiences including his relationships with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers, with the story told through superb use of archive footage.
A US Senate staffer uncovers the CIA’s use of torture within interrogations in the aftermath of 9/11.
After an idealistic staffer uncovers astonishing evidence relating to torture tactics employed by the CIA, he seeks to make the public aware of the truth. But as he attempts to include these findings in his report, he comes up against political pressure and bureaucratic barriers which threaten to derail his work in this rousing drama about perseverance and sacrifice.
Members of the Paris branch of activist organisation ACT-UP demand action from the government and pharmaceutical companies amid the AIDS crisis.
This urgent French language drama is told from the point of view of AIDS activists in the early 1990s. We witness their regular meetings in which they plan radical campaigns and act out daring protests seeking to capture media attention, full of lively debate and disagreement, as they seek to tackle a health crisis that affects so many of their members.