The 25 Best Movies About Political Rebels

18. Drum (2004)

DRUM, Taye Diggs, Gabriel Mann, 2004, (c) Armada Pictures

Sophiatown. Johannesburg, South Africa, 1955. Drum, “the first black lifestyle magazine in Africa.” Journalists have a reputation for making controversies, writing polemical pieces and taking dangerous pictures. Drum, nevertheless, wasn’t up to that, it wasn’t a political magazine; Bailey (Jason Flemyng), its chief editor, rather sent his men to cover boxing matches or asked them to write exciting short stories, such as gangster-like stories.

Based on true events, the magazine’s staff was multiracial, besides Bailey who was British, the main characters in the film are Henry Nxumalo (Taye Diggs), a South African, and Jürgen Schadeberg (Gabriel Mann), a German photographer. Despite the fact that Diggs and Mann are American actors, most of the cast is South African and Zola Maseko, the director, is Swazi.

Drum turns to be a political film. Nuxmalo goes undercover to many places, such as a farm wherein black men are under horrible working conditions and a jail, and renders controversial stories. He, who wasn’t political at all, now works sorely in order to denounce the barbarities committed in his country by white men.

Apartheid is another issue in Drum; Can (Tumisho Masha), a friend of Nuxmalo’s and Drum’s writer, was beaten and arrested because he had a relationship with a white woman. Moreover, Nelson Mandela also appears in the film, as a anti-Apartheid revolutionary; he later became an African political icon and there are many films about him and his efforts.


19. Diarios de motocicleta aka The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)


Legend has it that Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles was invited to shoot On the Road after Francis Ford Coppola watched to The Motorcycle Diaries late one night.

The road movie tone in Salles’s filmography can be noticed very before The Motorcycle Diaries, such as in Central Station and Behind the Sun, but the former has captivated some audiences because it tells the story of how an Argentine medical student called Ernesto Guevara de la Serna came to be an iconic guerrilla commander and revolutionary known worldwide as Che Guevara.

Ernesto “Fuser” Guevara (Gael García Bernal) and Alberto “Mial” Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) leave Argentina behind in a motorcycle in order to travel across South America. In their long way they face and witness the hardships of Latin Americans, it touches Guevara profoundly and the rest is history (see also Steven Soderbergh’s Che).


20. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta

Originally a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V for Vendetta was written for the screen by the Wachowskis and directed by James McTeigue. Labeled as a political thriller, V for Vendetta unravels a futuristic and dystopian England in which the past is more than present.

The scenario is developed by evoking Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, a political rebel and a failed uprising that took place in England in 17th. The 5th of November was a date meant to be remembered and V, a masked man wearing a black cloak and dexterous with knives, is behind the revolution. His identity and his face is as concealed as his past but we know that Australian-British actor Hugo Weaving is that man.

Weaving’s performance is a blast (though he was sometimes dubbed by James Purefoy), the moment he introduces himself to Evey (Natalie Portman) is picturesque beyond the imaginable, his lines are remarkably prosodic, stressing the “v” sound and its alliteration.

V is well-read and has good taste for arts. Evey, an ordinary girl whose parents were political activists and therefore killed, becomes V’s pupil and follows his trail. McTeigue’s direction is less than meets the eye, but when screenplay and edition are put together the whole picture takes off.

There are many catchy phrases in V for Vendetta, such as “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people,” which, just like Fawkes mask, became widely spread in protests around the world in the last years.


21. Hunger (2008)


Hunger depicts the 1981 Irish hunger strike, starring Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, a member of the IRA. Like the other films listed here, Hunger also shows the police violence committed against rebels but in Hunger McQueen introduces the policeman’s side, his life and his habits, especially those in his job (the close-up in his wounded knuckles, which is a double-edged symbol and result of violence).

Hunger is not focused solely on Bobby Sands (it actually takes almost thirty minutes to Fassbender show up), it rather portrays the vicissitudes of Davey Gillen and his cellmate Gerry Campbell; their cell, to our naked eyes, is a filthy and disgusting place with the walls covered with shit but that’s just a way of protesting. Fassbender goes to extremes, his character is beaten and scarred, the body becomes a political instrument, a hunger strike is a must, even though some may die.

McQueen’s direction is versatile but not exaggerated, there is a skillful disposition of shots at the same time that the pace of the film is slow and the shots are somewhat lengthy, particularly in the incredible scene between Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (a Catholic priest friend of his) which lasts seventeen minutes. Hunger has almost no non-diegetic sound, the visceral aspect is found visually in its characters, mostly in Fassbender’s performance.


22. Der Baader Meinhof Komplex aka The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)

aader Meinhof Komplex

The Baader Meinhof Complex, aka Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Frakton, RAF), was a revolutionary and far-left militant group from 1967 to 1977 in Germany. It was founded and headed by Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof, and Horst Mahler; and their main objectives were to fight against North American imperialism and protest against the Vietnam war.

They recruited sympathizers, submitted themselves to military training in order to become an urban guerrilla, and fought planting bombs in strategic sites, robbing banks as a political act (“expropriation”), and so on. Being considered a terrorist organization, they became the government’s target.

The Baader Meinhof Complex has a enthralling screenplay and its edition is somewhat fast but not confusing. The performances delivered by Moritz Bleibtreu as Baader and Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun are explosive, just like their deeds, while Martina Gedeck, as the leftist journalist Meinhof, is more contained, being constantly provoked by Gudrun, who claims she’s not a revolutionary. “We believe that speech without action is wrong.” The Baader Meinhof Complex discourses and does act.


23. In film nist aka This Is Not a Film (2011)

This is Not a Film

Can you be considered a political rebel when you are forbidden from making art but you make it anyway? Yes, sir. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is therefore a political rebel and if In film nist is not a film it is a protest! Under house arrest, Panahi is waiting for his court appeal (he’s expecting to get a six-year imprisonment and a twenty-year ban on filmmaking) and out of boredom and worry he decides to document his everyday routine. He recollects his earlier films and reads a screenplay from a film he was going to make, also explaining how he’d direct it.

This Is Not a Film was simply shot with digital camcorder and partially with an iPhone. With a little help from fellow countryman Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Panahi denounces Iranian cinema and its policies, besides externalizing his artistic and political anxieties. “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?”


24. No (2012)

No (2012)

Like many other South American countries, Chile underwent a military dictatorship (see also Costa-Gavras’s Missing) and in 1988 a referendum was held: “The people would YES or NO to another 8-year term for Pinochet. For 27 days, the two sides would fight it out daily on TV: 15 minutes for the YES camp, and 15 for the NO.”

No, directed by Pablo Larraín and starred by Gael García Bernal, portrays the making-of for freedom. René Saavedra (Bernal), an advertisement creator, takes sides and decides to support the NO campaign; the film reaffirms the power of political and ideological propaganda and advertisement, showing what people want to see, exposing or concealing the truth, making promises.

Stylistically, the most remarkable features in No are the visual aspect—it was shot in video support U-matic 3:4, a format widely used in the 1980s—and the use of handheld camera, which in way limits the function of montage, the camera thus approaches more naturally the cast, panning all over, leaving no room for shot-reverse-shots.


25. Après mai aka Something in the Air (2012)


Something in the Air takes place in 1971, not far from Paris and then abroad. As the French title indicates, the film depicts the outcome of the May 1968 events, society is in a political effervescence, students take sides in anarchist beliefs, protest and confront the police; there are Trotskyites and Maoists; the proletariat is organized in unions; alternative networks and free press with many newspapers, etc.

The plurality of political perspectives is not a synonym of tolerance and self-confidence, however. Something in the Air is basically about youth and how friendship is eventually dismantled, how paths intersect but fall apart. It also questions the dilemma between artistic creation and militancy: “Politics is no game. […] Art is solitude. It’s a choice.” Gilles (Clément Métayer) is in-between this dilemma, besides a deep romantic attachment to a girl he admires and that is freer than he is.

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Something in the Air displays expressive camera movements, pervading places and characters. The screenplay leaves room for doubts and questions, Assayas isn’t proposing a new horizon, he’s rather pointing contradictions and hypocrisy in political movements and their beliefs, also showing how we, as human beings, can’t know for certain what is right.

For whom should we fight for? And how to do it? Social class matters and how privileged you are too. To be a political rebel is, to a certain extent, a way of keeping the wolf from the door, whoever the wolf is.

Author Bio: Matheus Massias is a Brazilian MA student who is working on the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre. He is addicted to lists since an early age and tries to follow Truffaut’s formula of three films a day and one book a week.