Film & TV

Educate Yourself on the Black Experience in America with These 13 Essential Films

Watch these honest and powerful portrayals to better understand the systemic oppression of African-Americans.
Reading time 8 minutes

The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of the police are the final straw for many who recognize the injustice towards Black bodies in America. Thousands are hitting the streets demanding change from government institutions, the police, and corporations, but reflection on a personal level is needed as well. To truly bring change, one must identify and acknowledge individual wrongs, and then take it upon oneself to learn about the history and experience of living while Black in America.

Movies and TV shows that display the adversity faced by African-Americans are no novelty in the film industry, but many of those stories have not been supported or popularized by mainstream media. These works tackle difficult subjects like racial inequality, wrongful convictions, and police brutality, and do not reduce the Black community to stereotypes often promoted by Hollywood and history. These stories exist as a recollection of the Black experience in America, and as honest and powerful portrayals of truth. Each one has a message, from the Netflix series Dear White People that illustrates race relations experienced at universities to Spike Lee's 1989 film Do The Right Thing.

Lee recently appeared on CNN to discuss the protests against injustice with Anderson Cooper. In a moving mash-up, he demonstrated how the plotline of his seminal film is nearly identical to the filmed killings of George Floyd and Eric Garner, proving that as a country we still have much work to do.

So in addition to the donations and activism displayed across the world, we invite you to learn more about the Black experience through these 13 works that share the history of the struggles and tribulations African-Americans still face today. Each of these excellent movies and TV shows delve into the Black experience in America - add them to your watch list today.

13th (2017)

Available on Netflix, this documentary is titled after the 13th Amendment in the US Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime.13th examines the racial inequality and continuous suppression of African-Americans throughout our nation's history. It notably delves into the criminalization of African-Americans, focusing on the issue that the United States' prisons are disproportionally filled with African-Americans. 

Just Mercy (2019)

Starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, this film highlights the absence of proper legal representation and wrongful conviction toward African-Americans in the United States. Based on a true story, Just Mercy describes the story of Walter McMillian who appeals his murder conviction with the aid of young defence attorney Bryan Stevenson in the late 1980s. Originally a New York Times Bestselling memoir by author Bryan Stevenson, this story is available to read or watch for free on Youtube and Amazon Prime. 

Do the Right Thing (1989)

The parallel between this 1989 film written directed by Spike Lee and the murder of George Floyd is uncanny. The film focuses on neighborhood racial tensions between the Italian-American pizzeria owners and its Black clients. The tensions between both groups eventually evolved into white policemen depriving a black client of air which eventually kills him, prompting riots and anger in its wake. As posed by its title, the film questions how do you react and empathize with those placed in positions of continuous oppression. To see today's comparisons for yourself, this film is available to rent on Youtube and Amazon Prime. 

Dear White People (2017)

This Netflix TV series, based on the well-known film with the same name, follows a group of Black students and their varying experiences while at a predominantly white elite university. The show deals with race relations and racial identity for young African-Americans in the United States. It offers its non-Black audience various examples of microaggressions and other normalized racial issues that should be erased from our society.  

When They See Us (2019)

A story that still deeply resonates in the minds of many New Yorkers, this miniseries retells the 1989 incident where a jogger was assaulted and raped in Central Park while five young black men were subsequently charged with the crime. When They See Us details the legal case's journey from when the teens are originally questioned in 1989 to when the settlement is finally reached in New York City in 2014. To further understand how the American criminal justice system is rigged against the lives of African-Americans, watch this miniseries on Netflix. 

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro is an examination of race in America through the words of famous writer James Baldwin. Director Raoul Peck envisions Baldwin's unfinished novel left after his death, where Baldwin provides a personal account of the lives and assassination of his close friends Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers. This documentary reveals America's failure to amend its history of racial inequality toward African-Americans. To gain more insights into America's deep-rooted records of racial tensions and inequality, the documentary is available to rent on Youtube and Amazon Prime. 

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Fruitvale Station is a powerful true story that follows the life of a young black man, Oscar Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, who attempts to live a better and clean life for his family, girlfriend, and child. However, his new life journey and future is cut short after an altercation with the police, a story common for many young black men in America. This film is available to rent on Youtube and Amazon Prime.

Fences (2016)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1985 play by August Wilson, this film explores race relations and its detrimental effect on a black family. Starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, the film is set in 1950s Philadelphia revolves around Troy, a father whose life's regrets and bitterness toward society's racial injustice create tension within his family. Available to rent on Youtube and Amazon Prime, this film exemplifies how our environment shapes us, making it imperative that we must fix the unjust environment we live in. 

Queen Sugar (2016)

The TV series Queen Sugar depicts the story of estranged African-American siblings in Louisiana who reunite to run the family's sugar cane farm following a family tragedy. Based on Natalie Baszile's novel of the same name, the series covers the issues of racial profiling, inequalities in the criminal justice system, and other prevalent issues related to African-Americans. Renewing for a fifth season soon, watch the first four seasons on Hulu


Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Set in an alternate reality of Oakland, California, the film follows a young black telemarketer who adopts a white voice to succeed in his workplace. However, this switch from African-American vernacular to a white accent referred to as code-switching isn't a fantasy for blacks in America. Available to watch on Hulu, the film introduces this reality that's tied to the lives and experiences of many African-Americans. 

The Hate U Give (2018)

The Hate U Give represents the black experience of living and switching between two worlds: the poor black neighborhood she lives in, to the wealthy, white prep high school that she attends. After her best friend is fatally shot by a police officer, young African-American girl Starr Carter, played by Amandla Stenberg, must confront both her worlds where she finds her voice to stand up against the injustice faced by the Black community. Available on Hulu, this film intertwines topics of racial tensions, police brutality, and racial identity that African-Americans experience from a young age. 

King in the Wilderness (2018)

The HBO documentary draws a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.'s final years as he takes part in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to his assassination in 1968. King in the Wilderness reveals his internal struggles as a leader and the challenges he faced in trying to reform America. Also available on Hulu.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Set in early 1970s Harlem, If Beale Street Could Talk focuses on a black couple filled with hopes for a future together that includes a baby on the way. However, this dream is thwarted when the boyfriend is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Available on Hulu, the film highlights how the American criminal justice system wrongfully accuses innocent black men while simultaneously causing broken family structures with the African-American community. 

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