12 Inspiring films on social change you need to see

Films are great. They can capture your imagination and educate you about issues you might not know much about. But the best thing about films is that they tell you a story.

Sometimes it can be hard to really understand what discrimination, poverty or suffering are like when it doesn’t affect you personally. The journey a films takes you on can immerse you in other lives for a few hours and help you empathize with people you’ve never met.

Films can motivate you, inspire you to live a bit differently and even transform your beliefs. So next time you’re going to settle down to a film with friends or family, why not watch one of these incredible films about social change.

1. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

In a line: The story of Nelson Mandela, from childhood to anti-apartheid activist, prisoner and eventually to President of South Africa. (2013)

Best part: When Mandela (Idris Elba) ignores his lawyer’s advice and you realize just how much he sacrificed for the cause he believed in.

2. Philadelphia

In a line: High-flying lawyer Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is dismissed from his job when it’s revealed that he has AIDS, so he hires homophobic lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) for his case. (1993)

Best part: When Joe sees the discrimination Andrew faces and it changes his mind about representing him.

3. V for Vendetta

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In a line: Set in a dystopian future, the UK is being ruled by an oppressive regime, which imprisons those deemed to be different. But agitators like ‘V’ (Hugo Weaving) are standing up for freedom and revolution with the help of Evey (Natalie Portman). (2005)

Best part: When Evey reads Valerie’s (Natasha Wightman) note, where she writes that even though she doesn’t know the reader, she loves her, with all her heart.

4. Gandhi

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In a line: The life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his struggle for independence from colonial rule. (1982)

Best part: When Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) defines non-violence resistance: “I, for one, have never advocated passive anything. We must never submit to such laws. And I think our resistance must be *active* and provocative!”

5. Braveheart

In a line: Story of William Wallace who led the Scottish uprising in response to English invasions in the 14th Century. (1995)

Best part: When William Wallace (Mel Gibson) says, “They may take our lands, but they will never take our freedom” – with excellent face paint.

6. The Grapes of Wrath

In a line: Set during the Great Depression, an Oklahoma family is forced to become migrant workers and end up in California. (1940)

Best part: When Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) sums up inequality in one line: “One guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’.”

7. Pay it Forward

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In a line: A young boy comes up with a social movement that could change the world. (2000)

Best part: When Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) explains Pay It Forward to Eugene (Kevin Spacey). 

8. Made in Dagenham

In a line: The story of the car manufacturer Ford’s sewing machinists strike of 1968 in Dagenham, England, which played a significant role in passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970 in the UK. (2010)

Best part: When the journalist asks Rita (Sally Hawkins) how they’ll cope and she says: “Cope? How will we cope? We’re women. Now, don’t ask such stupid questions.”

9.Persepolis

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In a line: The story of one young Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution, written by and loosely based on the life of Marjane Satrapi. (2007)

Best part: When Marji rocks out in her room.

10. Tsotsi

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In a line: An adaptation of a novel, Tsotsi is about the life of a street boy in South Africa who discovers a baby in the back seat of a car he steals. (2005)

Best part: When Tsotsi has to change the baby’s diaper, and thinks using a knife and newspaper is a good idea…

11. Water

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In a line: In India, there was a time when scripture dictated the fate of widows, who are powerless and left to exist in poverty. This film explores the social restrictions imposed on women and the movement that wanted change. (2005)

Best part: When you realize you can help break the cycle by supporting Girls not Brides.

12. Thunderheart

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In a line: In South Dakota, followers of the American Indian Movement seize the  town of Wounded Knee in protest against federal government policy regarding Native Americans. (1992)

Best part: Watching Ray (Val Kilmer) rediscover his Indian heritage.

Films have the power to anger, motivate and change us. Now you’ve seen some truly motivational films, join the movement of more than 4 million people fighting to end extreme poverty.

What is the most inspiring film you’ve ever watched? Tell us in the comments below.