10 movies and TV shows to watch about racial injustice
We’re collectively waking up to the racial injustice that’s embedded in every system that supports our daily lives. It might be difficult for some of us to imagine the changes that the Black Lives Matter movement calls for. Defunding the police and examining mass incarceration are big collective tasks — we all have to start somewhere. At its core, this movement asks us to educate ourselves, to find ways that racism is upheld by the systems at large, and to do our part to empathize deeply with the Black community.
An article about the effects of binge-watching on the brain by NBC News shows evidence that our brains are more likely to retain information from engaging video content because of the dopamine reward we get from binge-watching. It’s a time of difficult but necessary conversations about race, and gathering information is only the starting point.
To jumpstart your process, we made a list of 10 movies, television shows and documentaries to watch to educate yourself on racial injustice:
1. If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu)
Based on a groundbreaking novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk centers the love story of Tish and Fonny. Their plans to marry, move to a new apartment, and start their family are thwarted when Fonny is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Tish exhausts all of her resources to get Fonny out of jail, but finds that all the odds are stacked against her.
2. When They See Us (Netflix)
In 1989, five young Black male suspects were wrongly accused for the rape and assault of a white woman jogging in Central Park. The series follows the lives of the group, dubbed The Central Park Five, and the challenges they face while navigating a corrupt justice system as young Black men.
3. 13th (Netflix)
In this chilling documentary, director Ava DuVernay shows us that slavery never ended — it was just rebranded into the prison industrial complex. 13th asks us to examine our preconceptions of Black people who have been incarcerated, and how we’re contributing to a generational cycle of silencing.
4. Pose (Netflix)
Say it loud and proud: Black Queer and Trans History is an important part of Black History. Often left out of mainstream storytelling, Black transfeminine women are the heart and soul of Pose. House mothers Blanca Evangelista, Candy Ferocity and Elektra Abundance adopt outcast queer youth and teach them the ways of ballroom culture. The show also shows how Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities were disproportionately affected by HIV in the 80’s.
Colin Hoskins is struggling to finish his last three days of probation. Things take a turn for the worst when he witnesses the murder of a black civilian at the hands of the police. He begins to have nightmares about the incident, causing difficulties in many of his relationships. Meanwhile, his best friend, Miles Turner, struggles to adjust to the gentrification of Oakland. The film is raw and powerful, showing us how Black men build friendships with support and accountability.
6. The Hate U Give (Hulu)
Adapted from Angie Thomas’ young adult novel of the same name, The Hate U Give stars Amandla Standberg as protagonist Starr Carter, a young black girl from the Black neighborhood Garden Heights, attending a predominantly white high school. Starr witnesses the murder of her friend Khalil at the hands of a white cop. To protect herself and her family, she agrees to testify about the murder, but keeps her identity a secret. She struggles with the weight of living a double life, both in the context of this case and her everyday life as a Black girl in a predominantly white school.
7. Disclosure (Netflix)
Disclosure takes a closer look at Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people. The stories of actors Laverne Cox, Alexandra Grey, Angelica Ross and MJ Rodriguez take centerstage, as well as performer Jazzmun. Black transmasculine perspectives are also highlighted in the stories of Brian Michael Smith and Yance Ford. Get your tissues ready. This documentary is a tearjerker, centering the voices of people who demand to be seen on their own terms.
8. Do the Right Thing (Rent on YouTube)
Spike Lee’s 1989 classic Do The Right Thing changed the game for Black aesthetics in film. Set in historically Black Bedford-Stuyvesant, the film follows 25-year-old pizza delivery man Mookie on one of the hottest weeks of the summer. The film highlights the different types of personalities and stories that the neighborhood holds, including an unapologetic, stylish and bold Radio Raheem. The film ends with an epic scene where Black people take their anger out on an Italian-owned business after the police kill Radio Raheem.
9. Time: The Kalief Browder Story (Netflix)
Kalief Browder was a high school student from the Bronx who was imprisoned for three years, two of which were in solitary confinement. He was accused of stealing a backpack, and his family was unable to afford $3,000 for bail. Browder was in Rikers awaiting trial. Upon his release, he committed suicie. The six-part series reveals the flaws within the prison industrial complex — how companies profit from the mass incarceration of Black men, and what we can do to help.
10. I Am Not Your Negro (Rent on YouTube or Amazon Prime)
We start and end this list with the architect of the sentence, James Baldwin. I Am Not Your Negro is an award-winning documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson that explores the lives of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. through Baldwin’s perspective. The documentary is adapted from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, which included notes, letters and essays written by Baldwin in the mid-1970’s.
Writer: Leo Aquino (they/them) is a storyteller living in Los Angeles. They love reading books on the beach and eating Filipino food.