March 3, 2021

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Film Club: ‘What It Means to Be Black in America’

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

This week we present six short films from the Opinion section’s video series “What It Means to Be Black in America.” From history and politics to art and sports, from astronauts and fencers to quilters and activists, these stories — all related to the Black experience in the United States — explore a range a subjects, themes and people.

For Film Club, we invite you to watch at least one of these short films:

  • While I Yet Live (14:25): Gee’s Bend is a rural community in lower Alabama that is widely recognized for its extraordinary quilts. The quilts reflect a collective history and a deep sense of place. And they register the bold individual voices of the women who made them.

  • Stay Close (18:43): This is the underdog story of a young fencer from Brooklyn who overcame a gauntlet of hardships on the road to the Olympics. You might think that Keeth Smart would be morose as he recounts his parents’ passing or his own brush with death. Instead, he glows.

  • The Lost Astronaut (12:44): Ed Dwight Jr. was invited by his country to train to be the first African-American astronaut. But the United States never sent him to space. Mr. Dwight is now a prolific artist, building memorials and creating public art honoring African-American history.

  • Black Panthers Revisited (7:17): Founded in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., to combat police violence, the Black Panther Party and its story are a key part of our nation’s still-complicated racial narrative.

  • Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business (8:21): There’s no stopping when it comes to the legendary artist Betye Saar, now 93. Her work reflects her very personal visions of nature, spirituality and ideas addressing equality and a new kind of African-American representation.

  • Traveling While Black (20:08): This virtual reality film explores the legacy of The Green Book, a Jim Crow-era guidebook developed by Victor Hugo Green that help steer African-American travelers to points of welcome and safety across a virulently racist landscape.


1. Watch the short film above. While you watch, you might take notes using our Film Club Double-Entry Journal (PDF) to help you remember specific moments.

2. After watching, think about these questions:

  • What questions do you still have?

  • What connections can you make between this film and your own life or experience? Why? Does this film remind you of anything else you’ve read or seen? If so, how and why?

3. An additional challenge | Respond to the essential question at the top of this post: How do these films help us learn about, recognize and celebrate Black American lives, culture and history?

4. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)

5. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.

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