Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

One of our favorite projects in 2015 was organizing everything we learned about education advocacy campaigns and sharing it as a Guidebook with fellow advocates across the country. But not everything worth learning about advocacy can be found in a book.

For the past three years, the 50CAN team has held the tradition of an annual staff outing to the movies to see a film that tackles the subject of advocacy. It’s a great way to get inspired and see the world through the eyes of some of the amazing advocates who have moved the world forward.

It’s in that spirit that we put together this post, a holiday watch list of people, places and movements in the advocacy world. Below you will find 11 films that challenged us, inspired us and helped us think of ways we could be better advocates in the year ahead.

1. Gandhi (1982)

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Social movement
Synopsis: Gandhi covers more than a half-century in the life of one of history’s greatest advocates, from the defining moment in 1893 when he was kicked off of a segregated train until his assassination in 1948.
Why you should watch it: The winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Mohandas Gandhi, the film provides both great insight into Gandhi’s mastery of the strategy and tactics of nonviolence and a helpful reminder of the role that patience plays in revolution.

2. Lincoln (2012)

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Elite negotiations
Synopsis: Loosely based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin biography Team of Rivals, the film explores the political maneuvering of Lincoln and his advisors in the last four months of his life as they struggled to secure the votes to pass the 13th Amendment and end the institution of slavery.
Why you should watch it: While most advocacy films shy away from depicting the horse-trading and compromise that makes politics the “art of the possible,” Lincoln embraces it and elevates it as the surest path of human progress.

3. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Expert communities
Synopsis: In 1993, a car crash brings an unemployed single mother with three children into the world of lawyer Ed Masry. Erin’s tireless investigation into the files of a real estate case involving the Pacific Gas and Electric Company eventually leads to the largest settlement ever in an American direct-action lawsuit.
Why you should watch it: The profane language, Julia Roberts’ award-winning performance, and one of cinema’s great portrayals of the power of listening when building a coalition of supporters.

4. No (2012)

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Elite negotiations
Synopsis: The film tells the story of a young advertising executive who finds himself in the unlikely role of developing the communications strategy to restore democracy in Chile by winning the 1988 national plebiscite on General Pinochet’s rule.
Why you should watch it: Nominated for the Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film, No provides a fascinating inside look at the way marketing insight can be used as a force for change and how hopeful messages (“Happiness is coming”) in a time of unspeakable tragedies can help people join together to stand up for their collective rights.

5. Amazing Grace (2006)

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Elite negotiations
Synopsis: The film tells the story of William Wilberforce, who used his political skills to guide a bill outlawing the slave trade through the British parliament during an unrelenting 25-year campaign.
Why you should watch it: Come for Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of William Pitt the Younger and stay for the vivid reminder that great achievements in the advancement of liberty are driven forward by tireless advocates against a backdrop of ridicule and self-doubt.

6. César Chávez (2014)

Watch it on: Amazon
Advocacy strategy: Social movement
Synopsis: The first feature film produced about the iconic labor leader, this biopic explores Chávez’s life through his work with the United Farm Workers during the grape boycotts of the 1960s.
Why you should watch it: While not achieving the same critical success of other movies on this list, the film provides a dramatic retelling of the early organizing work of Chávez and helps reveal both the urgency of his cause and the challenges that must be overcome to build an enduring social movement.

7. A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Expert communities
Synopsis: Set between 1529 and 1535, the film tells the story of Sir Thomas More’s fight for freedom of conscience in an age of political corruption.
Why you should watch it: Winner of six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Paul Scofield’s portrayal of More, the film brings to life the personal costs and moral challenges of standing on principle in unprincipled times.

8. Milk

Watch it on: iTunes
Advocacy strategy: Elite negotiations
Synopsis: The biographical film depicts the life of Harvey Milk, an American gay rights activist and the first openly gay person elected to public office in California.
Why you should watch it: Sean Penn’s Academy Award winning portrayal of Harvey Milk and the Academy Award winning screenplay make this film a moving experience, but advocates will also appreciate Milk’s extensive efforts to forge coalitions among opposed parties to build a political force to move the gay rights movement forward.

9. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)

Watch it on: Netflix
Advocacy strategy: Social movement
Synopsis: The documentary follows the development of the Black Power Movement in America between 1967-1975 and features intimate interviews with leaders of the movement including Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis.
Why you should watch it: Through its unique historical footage incorporated with commentary from prominent contemporary African American artists and leaders, the film provides a fresh perspective on the Black Power Movement at a pivotal time in our country’s history that is just beginning to be rediscovered by a whole new generation of advocates.

10. The Square (2013)

Watch it on: Netflix
Advocacy strategy: Social movement
Synopsis: This movie follows the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in real time, taking to the streets of Tahrir Square in the spring of 2011 to highlight the disparate, feuding voices for change.
Why you should watch it: The Square hits on an often overlooked tension of social movements: not all voices that unite for a desired outcome are united in their methods to achieve it. This documentary doesn’t shy away from the feuding between protesters and Egypt’s army, The Muslim Brotherhood and other protesters in the movement itself. It’s an unflinching and hopeful look at the mechanics of revolution.

11. Freedom Summer (2014)

Watch it on: PBS
Advocacy strategy: Social movement
Synopsis: In 1964, hundreds of black and white students descended on Mississippi for 10 weeks with one goal in mind: register African-American voters in one of the most violently segregated regions of the country. Freedom Summer is a sharp and heartbreaking look at the power of community organizing and it’s trickle up effects throughout the country and into the Oval Office.
Why you should watch it: Stanley Nelson’s documentary aired on PBS in 2014 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the events, and yet the struggle for equality remains today. The film shines a stark light on how far we’ve come as a country and how far we have yet to go.

 

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