Lee Daniel’s The Butler
The filmmaker behind Precious digs into the evolution of race relations in the United States through the true story of one African-American butler who worked in the White House for 34 years, under the likes of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan. Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey star; Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and many, many more co-star. Daniels directs. (Read our full review here.)

It’s an incredibly ambitious goal to attempt to capture the complicated history of race relations in the U.S. within a single film, but sometimes a narrative movie or TV series is an incredible tool to investigate a particular era. For a look back on some of America’s dark but defining moments, check out these three titles. One centers on the greatest feud the nation ever knew. Another follows the story of one soldier that speaks for many. And the last unravels the mystery of a serial killer who wrought terror and infected the popular culture.

Hatfields & McCoys (2012) The Civil War was famously a conflict that turned brother against brother, but the legendary feud of neighbors Hatfield and McCoy began after their patriarchs returned from the battle field. The History Channel unfurled the beginnings of this gruesome feud that stretched from the Hatfield’s West Virginian home across the river to the Kentucky land of the McCoys with this heralded mini-series. Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989) This twice Academy Award-nominated drama unfolds the story of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, finding inspiration in his best-selling autobiography of the same name. Tom Cruise stars as Kovic, playing him from an idealistic youth who willfully enlists in the Marine Corps, to a proud soldier on the front lines, to a wounded vet and activist who spoke out against the war whatever the cost. Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Berenger, and Frank Whaley co-star; Oliver Stone directs.

Zodiac (2007) In the 1960s and 1970s, a serial killer who called himself Zodiac was the scourge of the California police force, leaving a string of bizarre murders, strange codes, and public threats he demanded be published in newspapers. He made headlines, spurred fear, and inspired the movie Dirty Harry. The unknown man also became an obsession to one cartoonist who risked everything—even his own life and family—to crack the case that had so long confounded the police force. Be warned, while this film makes it quite clear how this killer became a national obsession, it is also so chilling it can give you goosebumps on the hottest summer day. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, and Robert Downey Jr. co-star; David Fincher directs.

For even more selections, check out our Now Streaming archive.

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