55 Documentaries, Movies, and TV Shows To Learn About Systemic Racism

This list was compiled from various lists and articles published by @theskimm, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein, NPR, Netflix, USA Today, Glamour, and Vox.

DOCUMENTARIES: FREE TO STREAM

  1. 13th — Netflix
    Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.
  2. Baltimore Rising — Hulu, HBO Max
    In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, peaceful protests and destructive riots erupted as the city awaited the fate of six police officers involved in the incident. Baltimore Rising follows activists, police officers, community leaders and gang affiliates, who struggle to hold Baltimore together.
  3. Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise — Amazon Prime Video
    In his new 2 part series, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. embarks on a deeply personal journey through the last fifty years of African American history. Joined by leading scholars, celebrities, and a dynamic cast of people who shaped these years, Gates travels from the victories of the civil rights movement up to today, asking profound questions about the state
  4. Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 — Amazon Prime Video
    The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 is a 2011 documentary film, directed by Göran Olsson, that examines the evolution of the Black Power movement in American society from 1967 to 1975 as viewed through Swedish journalists and filmmakers.
  5. King In The Wilderness  — HBO MAX, Hulu
    A portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. during the last years of his life, from his part in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to his assassination in 1968.
  6. LA 92 — Netflix
    Examining the tumultuous period following the verdict in the Rodney King trial in 1992. The acquittal of four police officers for beating a black motorist saw several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles.
  7. Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story — Amazon Prime Video
    The six-part documentary recounts the life and tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, the polarizing trial of George Zimmerman and the rise of Black Lives Matter.
  8. Say Her Name — Hulu, HBO GO
    An investigation into what happened to activist Sandra Bland, who died in police custody after a routine traffic stop.
  9. Strong Island — Netflix
    When filmmaker Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of a young black man, it becomes an achingly personal journey since the victim, 24-year-old William Ford Jr., was the filmmaker’s brother.
  10. Teach Us All — Netflix
    Teach Us All is a documentary and social justice campaign on educational inequality set against the backdrop of the 1957 Little Rock school crisis. Sixty years after the Little Rock Nine faced violent resistance when desegregating Central High in Arkansas, America’s schools continue to represent the key battleground of the Civil Rights Movement. Teach Us All demonstrates powerful lessons from history within a timely context, emphasizing the need for unity and collective action to rectify the disparities among America’s children.
  11. Time: The Kalief Browder Story — Netflix
    The criminal justice system tragically failed 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who spent three years in Rikers Island jail awaiting trial — two of those years in solitary confinement — after being arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. The case was never prosecuted, the charges were ultimately dropped, and Browder committed suicide after his release. His story and the challenges it poses to a basic understanding of American liberties are central to this six-part documentary.
  12. What Happened, Miss Simone? — Netflix
    The documentary chronicles the life of American singer Nina Simone, who became a civil rights activist and moved to Liberia following the turbulence of the 1960s.[
  13. Whose Streets? — Hulu
    An account of the Ferguson uprising as told by the people who lived it. The filmmakers look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back and sparked a global movement.

DOCUMENTARIES: AVAILABLE TO RENT

  1. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? — Available to rent
    When director Travis Wilkerson tries to investigate the 1946 murder of an African-American man by his white supremacist grandfather, he meets great resistance, and people threaten to take his life.
  2. Hale County This Morning, This Evening — Available to rent
    Intimate and personal moments from the lives of the black community of Hale County, Alabama, forming an emotive impression of the historic South and consequences of racism while upholding the beauty of life.
  3. I Am Not Your Negro — Available to rent
    In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of this manuscript. Filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished.
  4. Quest — Available to rent
    Filmed over the course of eight years, filmmaker Jonathan Olshefski chronicles the daily struggles and successes of the Raineys, an African-American family living in Philadelphia.
  5. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — Available to rent
    Filmmaker Stanley Nelson examines the rise of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and its impact on civil rights and American culture.

 

MOVIES: FREE TO STREAM

  1. American Son (Kenny Leon) — Netflix
    Time passes and tension mounts in a Florida police station as an estranged interracial couple awaits news of their missing teenage son.
  2. BlacKkKlansman — Hulu, HBO MAX
    Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.
  3. Blindspotting — Hulu with HBO MAX
    Collin must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning in his Oakland, Calif., neighborhood. His bond with his volatile best friend soon gets tested when Collin sees a police officer shoot a suspect in the back during a chase through the streets. Things soon come to a head when the buddies attend a party at the upscale home of a young and wealthy tech entrepreneur.
  4. Hidden Figures — Hulu
    Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.
  5. If Beale Street Could Talk — Hulu
    In early 1970s Harlem, daughter and wife-to-be Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny. Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together, but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
  6. Just Mercy — Available to rent for free in June in the U.S.
    After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for McMillian’s life.
  7. Loving — Hulu, HBO MAX
    Interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving fell in love and were married in 1958. They grew up in Central Point, a small town in Virginia that was more integrated than surrounding areas in the American South. Yet it was the state of Virginia, where they were making their home and starting a family, that first jailed and then banished them. Richard and Mildred relocated with their children to the inner city of Washington, D.C., but the family ultimately tries to find a way back to Virginia.
  8. Miss Virginia — Netflix
    An impoverished single mother is losing her 15-year-old son to the rough streets of Washington, D.C. Unwilling to see him drop out and deal drugs, she places him in a private school. But when she can’t afford the tuition, she soon launches a movement to change the system that is destroying him and thousands of others.
  9. Moonlight — Netflix
    A young African-American man grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.
  10. Mudbound — Netflix
    Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm, a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not – charming and handsome, but he is haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, now battles the prejudice in the Jim Crow South.
  11. See You Yesterday — Netflix
    Two Brooklyn teenage prodigies, C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas, build makeshift time machines to save C.J.’s brother, Calvin, from being wrongfully killed by a police officer.
  12. Selma — Free to stream in June
    Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  13. The Hate U Give — Hulu, Amazon Prime Video
    Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds — the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy, mostly white prep school that she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is soon shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.

MOVIES: AVAILABLE TO RENT

  1. Clemency — Available to rent
    Years of carrying out death row executions are taking a toll on Warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares for another one, Williams must confront the psychological and emotional demons that her job creates.
  2. Belle — Available to rent
    The illegitimate, mixed-race daughter (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) of a British admiral plays an important role in the campaign to abolish slavery in England.
  3. Dead Presidents — Available to rent
    Soldier Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) returns to his Bronx home after a nightmarish tour of duty in Vietnam. But the nightmare continues for Anthony and his friends as they suffer the indignities of trying to find steady work and provide for their families in a flagging economy. As desperation takes hold, Anthony teams up with Skip (Chris Tucker), a drug addict, and Kirby (Keith David), a small-time crook, to pull off a bank heist that will give them all a chance for a better life.
  4. Do the Right Thing — Available to rent
    On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone’s hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.
  5. Fruitvale Station — Available to rent
    Though he once spent time in San Quentin, 22-year-old black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is now trying hard to live a clean life and support his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter (Ariana Neal). Flashbacks reveal the last day in Oscar’s life, in which he accompanied his family and friends to San Francisco to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and, on the way back home, became swept up in an altercation with police that ended in tragedy. Based on a true story.
  6. Get Out — Available to rent
    Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.
  7. Let the Fire Burn — Available to Rent
    Let the Fire Burn is a 2013 documentary film about the events leading up to and surrounding a 1985 stand-off between the black liberation group MOVE and the Philadelphia Police Department.
  8. Malcolm X — Available to rent
    Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.
  9. Marshall — Available to rent
    Young Thurgood Marshall faces one of his greatest challenges while working as a lawyer for the NAACP. Marshall travels to conservative Connecticut when wealthy socialite Eleanor Strubing accuses black chauffeur Joseph Spell of sexual assault and attempted murder. He soon teams up with Sam Friedman, a local Jewish lawyer who’s never handled a criminal case. Together, the two men build a defense while contending with racist and anti-Semitic views from those who deem Spell to be guilty.
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird — Available to rent
    Scout Finch 6,and her older brother, Jem, live in sleepy Maycomb, Ala., spending much of their time with their friend Dill and spying on their reclusive and mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. When Atticus, their widowed father and a respected lawyer, defends a black man named Tom Robinson against fabricated rape charges, the trial and tangent events expose the children to evils of racism and stereotyping.
  11. To Sleep With Anger — Available to rent
    Vagabond Harry pays an unexpected visit to his old chum Gideon, who accepts the aimless man into his home, despite the fact that the household is already overcrowded. Hard-drinking yet charismatic, Harry both entertains and enrages Gideon and his wife, Suzie. However, after Gideon falls gravely ill, Harry decides to step in and take his friend’s place in the household. Unfortunately, his intentions are far from pure, and the consequences are tragic.

 

TV SHOWS: FREE TO STREAM

  1. All American — Netflix
    When a rising high school American football player from South L.A. is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High, the wins, losses and struggles of two families from vastly different worlds—Crenshaw and Beverly Hills—begin to collide. Inspired by the life of pro football player Spencer Paysinger.
  2. #blackAF — Netflix
    #blackAF uncovers the messy, unfiltered, and often hilarious world of what it means to be a ‘new money’ black family trying to ‘get it right’ in a modern world where ‘right’ is no longer a fixed concept.
  3. Black-ish — ABC, Hulu
    Dre Johnson has it all – a great job, beautiful wife Rainbow, four kids and a big home in a classy neighbourhood – but as a black man, he begins to question whether all his success has brought too much cultural assimilation for his family. With the help of his father, Dre begins to try to create a sense of ethnic identity for the members of his family that will allow them to honour their background while preparing them to embrace the future.
  4. Dear White People — Netflix
    Based on the acclaimed film of the same name, this Netflix-original series follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college. The students are faced with a landscape of cultural bias, social injustice, misguided activism and slippery politics. Through an absurdist lens, the series uses irony, self-deprecation, brutal honesty and humor to highlight issues that still plague today’s”post-racial” society.
  5. Insecure — HBO MAX, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video
    Modern-day black women might be described as strong and confident; in other words, just the opposite of Issa and Molly. As the best friends deal with their own real-life flaws, their insecurities come to the fore as together they cope with an endless series of uncomfortable everyday experiences. Created by co-star Issa Rae and writer/comic Larry Wilmore, the comedy series looks at the friendship of two black women in a unique, authentic way. It features the music of both indie and established artists of color, and touches on a variety of social and racial issues that relate to the contemporary black experience.
  6. Marvel’s Luke Cage — Netflix
    This gritty, action-packed drama follows the evolution of Luke Cage, a man with super strength and unbreakable skin caused by a sabotaged experiment. After a failed relationship with fellow superhero Jessica Jones, Cage tries to rebuild a quiet life in Harlem, New York –until he is pulled out of the shadows and forced into a battle for his city. Along the way, Cage cannot avoid confronting his past, which he has worked hard to bury. “Marvel’s Luke Cage” is the third show in the Netflix-original Defenders series.
  7. Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker — Netflix
    Self Made is a fictionalized depiction of the untold and highly irreverent story of black hair care pioneer and mogul Madam C. J. Walker and how she overcame the hostile turn-of-the-century America, epic rivalries, tumultuous marriages and some trifling family to become America’s first Black, self-made female millionaire.
  8. Seven Seconds — Netflix
    Peter Jablonski, a white police officer, accidentally hits and critically injures Brenton Butler—a black teenager from Jersey City—with his car. Jablonski calls his friends on the force to the scene. They assume Brenton is dead and a cover up ensues. Racial tensions explode in the face of injustice and the absence of quick resolution of the case.
  9. She’s Gotta Have It — Netflix
    Brooklyn-based artist Nola Darling struggles to stay true to herself and her dreams while dividing her time between her friends, her job and her lovers — all three of them. That trio includes married businessman and father Jamie Overstreet, photographer and self-described “biracial Adonis” Greer Childs and chatty Michael Jordan fan Mars Blackmon.
  10. The Wire — HBO, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video
    This series looks at the narcotics scene in Baltimore through the eyes of law enforcers as well as the drug dealers and users. Other facets of the city that are explored in the series are the government and bureaucracy, schools and the news media. The show was created by former police reporter David Simon, who also wrote many of the episodes.
  11. Trigger Warning with Killer Mike — Netflix
    Grammy-winning rapper Killer Mike uses his fame to serve as an activist, hoping to bring to light and confront important social issues, especially those that impact the black community. On “Trigger Warning,” Killer Mike — whose real name is Michael Render — examines cultural taboos and allows viewers to examine the “what ifs” and “why nots” that limit how people operate in the world. The show explores the human condition using nontraditional approaches, some of which not everyone will agree with. Killer Mike describes the show as “if an anarchist determined the status quo.”
  12. Watchmen — HBO MAX, Amazon Prime Video
    Based on the celebrated graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the exciting and dark “Watchmen” takes place in Tulsa, Okla., 34 years after the original story. After a white supremacist attack on the local police department, which leaves only two surviving cops on the beat, laws are passed that allow the cops to hide their identities behind masks. One of these cops, Angela Abar, adopts the identity of Sister Night and fights racists while dealing with the decades-long legacy of the vigilantes.
  13. When They See Us — Netflix
    In 1989 a jogger was assaulted and raped in New York’s Central Park, and five young people were subsequently charged with the crime. The quintet, labeled the Central Park Five, maintained its innocence and spent years fighting the convictions, hoping to be exonerated. This limited series spans a quarter of a century, from when the teens are first questioned about the incident in the spring of 1989, going through their exoneration in 2002 and ultimately the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.

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