Trans Teens, American Muslims, and Harriet Tubman Get Their Due at Cinematters

Brandon Judell
6 min readJan 16, 2020
A shot from Adam Zucker’s American Muslim.

Before “Jokering” around, Joaquin Phoenix noted in the 2005 documentary Earthlings:Since we all inhabit the earth, we are all considered earthlings. There is no sexism, racism, or speciesism in the term ‘earthling.’ It encompasses each and every one of us: warm- or cold-blooded, mammal, vertebrate or invertebrate, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish and human alike.”

In a far better world or, more realistically, only in a sci-fi novel, such a state of congenial existence with no negative “isms” might be achieved. We’re not there though, and consequently salamanders, sardines, and koalas don’t have it easy. However, Cinematters: NY Social Justice Film Festival, which runs from January 16–20, is a new annual event that limits its focus to just humans and their plight. Even with that narrow focus, the event has its hands full.

Opening night showcases Anthony Mandler’s All Rise, a true tale of a black honors student charged with felony murder. Jennifer Hudson and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Waves) star.

Leana Hosea’s doc, Thirst for Justice, dives into America’s contaminated water crisis, focusing on communities in Flint, Michigan, and Sanders, Arizona, and the accompanying health effects such as ovarian cancer and lead poisoning. (One in four of your fellow U.S. citizens are currently sipping and bathing in possibly pestilent H2O, but you already knew that, right?)

Slay the Dragon takes on high-tech gerrymandering.

Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance’s Slay the Dragon takes on gerrymandering; Linda Goldstein’s We Are the Radical Monarchs follows a group of moms and their daughters as they create an alternative to the Girl Scouts where minorities do not feel left out, and so forth and so on.

As for Adam Zucker’s vibrant American Muslim, this hard-hitting doc bristles forth with facts such as “nearly 60% of Muslims living in in the United States are first-generation immigrants,” most of whom have become American citizens, with the majority living in New York City. The film, shot in the time immediately after Donald Trump passed his travel ban affecting seven Muslim countries, captures the…

Brandon Judell

For half a century, Brandon Judell has covered the LGBTQI scene and the arts. He currently lectures at The City College of New York.