5 Oscar Winning Films that Stood on the Side of Justice

February 23, 2012

It’s Oscar season! In honor of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary on the death penalty, Paradise Lost 3, we thought it was a good time to look back at past Oscar winners that have also helped broaden our understanding of a range of human rights issues.

Movies can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about an issue, or even inspiring people to take action. And in our everyday work at Amnesty International, we aspire to do the same.

With a rich 84 year history of great films, we started looking at Best Picture winners from 1980 and onwards. Here are 5 Best Picture Winning films that not only continue to influence generations of filmmakers but also address social injustices still relevant in our world today.  Read on then let us know what films have inspired you.

Gandhi (Richard Attenborough 1982)

This biographical film documents the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) who led the nonviolent movement for Indian independence, a movement that has inspired activists everywhere as an alternative, peaceful way to protest. As witnessed in the the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, nonviolent movements of civil disobedience have been popping up to overthrow repressive regimes.


Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner 1990)

An injured Civil War soldier, Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), is stationed at a remote military outpost on the Western frontier. In this harsh new environment, Dunbar begins to befriend the native Sioux tribe and later on embrace their lifestyle. Very few movies bring attention to the respect and dignity that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples deserve.



Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg 1993)

This film highlights the true story of a German businessman, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved Polish-Jewish refugees during World War II. Albert Einstein once said that, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Like Schindler, our activists aspire to fight against against apathy and ambivalence.


Crash (Paul Haggis 2004)

With an all-star ensemble cast, this film interweaves and reveals racial and class tensions in contemporary Los Angeles. The film challenges its viewers’ perceptions of class and race, an important reminder for us to not only stand against discrimination but also combat prejudice in our everyday lives.



Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle 2008)

Revealing an India that is not often portrayed in mainstream films, Boyle tells the uplifting story of Jamal (Dev Patel) whose lifelong quest to find his childhood friend Latika (Freida Pinto) lands him in a round of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The film vividly illustrates the poor living conditions, vast inequalities and indignities that the enormous Indian underclass experiences every day. As a response to the kind of utter destitution that this film exposes, Amnesty’s Demand Dignity campaign fights against the human rights abuses that continue to imprison people in a cycle of poverty.

We know this is a really small list of films (and we only focused on Best Picture winners) so we would love to open this discussion to all of you. What are some movies that have inspired you? They do not need to be limited to Oscar winners; they can be documentaries or even made-for-TV movies.

Alice Wu contributed to this post