You Can Watch Tons of Black-Directed Films on Criterion Channel for Free

The movie streaming service lifted the paywall on many cornerstones of Black cinema.

daughters of the dust
Julie Dash's 'Daughters of the Dust' | Cohen Media Group
Julie Dash's 'Daughters of the Dust' | Cohen Media Group

We're in the midst of what can only be described as a societal upheaval that we're way past due for. Across the country (and the world!) folks are taking to the streets every single night to protest police violence against people of color -- specifically, and overwhelmingly, against Black people -- following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others at the hands of police. As such, many non-Black people have been turning inward to examine the internalized racism they hold, and beginning to combat that by supporting Black-owned businesses, charities, and entertainment.

Cinema has long been a powerful route through which marginalized communities have found ways to voice the truths about injustice, and the Criterion Channel, the home of one of the largest curations of notable world cinema, announced that it would be taking down the paywall on as many cornerstones of Black cinema that they have, so that anyone who wants to can experience them for free.

"We support the protesters who have taken to the streets to demand justice, and we share their hopes. We are committed to fighting systemic racism," the streaming service said in a newsletter that went out on June 4. "We are also using our streaming platform, the Criterion Channel, to highlight films that focus on Black Lives, including works by early pioneers of African American Cinema such as Oscar Micheaux; classics by Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, and Charles Burnett; contemporary work by Khalik Allah and Leilah Weinraub; and documentary portraits of black experience by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke." The site said they have taken down the paywall on "as many of these titles as we can," so that anyone can watch them even without a subscription. 

Criterion Channel has listed these films at the top of their homepage, highlighting essential movies like Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman and Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, as well as a monthly double feature of Kathleen Collins' semi-autobiographical film Losing Ground and the silent film The Scar of Shame, which was made in 1929 with an entirely Black cast. What's so wonderful about this collection of movies is, as the Criterion Channel made note of, that it focuses on Black lives, not simply on films that discuss the horrors of racism in the world. It's important to continue to educate ourselves via Black-led accounts of the insidiousness of systemic inequality all over the world, but seeking out Black-authored comedies, dramas, literary fiction, science fiction, fantasies, and horrors is just as vital. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.