22 things to watch to educate yourself about racism, black history and the black experience

Following the death of George Floyd, an African American, while under police custody on Monday 25 May, the anti-racism movement has swelled across the globe. It has ignited worldwide protests and led to what became known as Blackout Tuesday on 2 June, where people were encouraged to step back from social media for the day and spend time educating themselves about racism, something which is unfortunately still so prevalent today.

An overwhelming amount of people took part by posting black squares to their social media accounts, but many warned of letting it become a ‘box-ticking, guilt-reducing’ exercise for white and other non-black people. To really understand and help to stamp out systemic racism, we must continue to strive to educate ourselves today and every day after that.

Films and TV are a fantastic resource for doing so – there are countless TV series, movies and documentaries out there that depict black history and the black experience – from Oscar-winning pictures to gut-wrenching documentaries and even TV shows. Here are just a few to consider in order to begin your visual education on racism, black history and the black experience.

Films

Selma

Selma is the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic struggle to secure voting rights for all people – a dangerous and terrifying campaign that culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and led to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Watch on Netflix

13th

The title of Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. In this extraordinary and thought-provoking film, scholars, activists and politicians analyse the criminalisation of of African Americans and the US prison boom.

Watch on Netflix

The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson

Marsha P Johnson was one of the icons of the gay rights movement in the 1960s, the self-described ‘street queen’ of NY’s gay ghetto and co-founded the Transvestites Action Revolutionaries. When Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River in 1992, police called it a suicide and didn’t investigate. In this documentary, trans activist Victoria Cruz seeks to uncover the truth of her death while celebrating her legacy.

Watch on Netflix

Just Mercy

Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson star in this powerful true story of young lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his battle for justice as he defends a man on death row despite evidence proving his innocence.

Watch on Amazon Prime

If Beale Street Could Talk

From acclaimed director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) comes this timeless love story set in 1970s Harlem, where a woman desperately scrambles to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime while carrying their first child.

Watch on Amazon Prime

The Hate U Give

Based on the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller by Angie Thomas, when Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer, she faces pressures from all sides of the community and must find her voice to stand up for what’s right.

Watch on Amazon Prime

Hidden Figures

The incredible and inspiring true story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three women at NASA who were instrumental in one of history’s greatest operations – the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

Watch on Amazon Prime

Self Made: Inspired by the life of Madam C. J. Walker

Starring Octavia Spencer and Tiffany Haddish, Self Made is the true story of an African American washerwoman who rises from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire.

Watch on Netflix

Green Book

 

Set in America in 1962, Green Book tells the heart-warming true story of Dr. Don Shirley, a highly-educated classical pianist, and working-class Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip, who Shirley hires as his chauffeur for his concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. The ‘Green Book’ is their guide to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans.

Watch on Amazon Prime

Dark Girls

This emotional and heartfelt documentary goes underneath the surface to explore the prejudices and cultural bias that dark-skinned women face throughout the world and how it affects the lives of women on the receiving end.

Watch on Amazon Prime

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 compiles a treasure trove of 16mm material shot by Swedish journalists who came to the US, drawn by stories of urban unrest and revolution. Gaining access to many of the leaders of the Black Power Movement, the filmmakers captured them in intimate moments and remarkably unguarded interviews.

Watch on Amazon Prime

American Son

Based on the acclaimed Broadway play, American Son is an emotional depiction of modern day race dynamics and systemic tensions. Kerry Washington plays a mother in an estranged interracial couple as they await news of their missing teenage son.

Watch on Netflix

Strong Island

‘The police had turned my brother into the prime suspect in his own murder’: this shocking quote sums up this gut-wrenching, Oscar-nominated documentary, where filmmaker Yance Ford explores the murder of his brother, William Ford, and the devastation and lingering pain that has stayed with the family.

Watch on Netflix

Detroit

John Boyega stars in Detroit, which tells the gripping story of a police raid in Detroit in 1967, which resulted in one of the largest citizen uprisings in the United States’ history.

Watch on Amazon Prime

TV

When They See Us

From Ava DuVernay comes this powerful miniseries, which documents the notorious true story of the Central Park Five – five Harlem teenagers of colour who were wrongly convicted of a rape they didn’t commit.

Watch on Netflix

Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap

This 16 minute episode of Netflix’s Explained sees Cory Booker and others discuss how slavery, housing discrimination and centuries of inequality have compounded to create a racial wealth gap.

Watch on Netflix

Black and Scottish

What does it mean to be black and Scottish? In this seminal, identity-defining film, director Stewart Kyasimire seeks out a range of black Scots from all generations and diverse backgrounds to hear some compelling answers.

Watch on BBC iPlayer

black-ish

Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife, four kids, and a colonial home in the suburbs. But has success brought too much assimilation? With help from his dad, Dre sets out to establish a sense of cultural identity for his family.

Watch on Amazon Prime

Dear White People

Students of colour navigate the daily slights and slippery politics of life at an Ivy College that’s not nearly as ‘post-radical’ as it thinks in this comedy drama series.

Watch on Netflix

#blackAF

From the creator of black-ish, Kenya Barris, comes #blackAF, a mockumentary where Kenya plays a fictionalised version of himself. The series takes a look at 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.

Watch on Netflix

Reggie Yates: Life and Death in Chicago

In 2016, against a backdrop of unprecedented gun violence, Reggie Yates travels to Chicago to investigate gun crime in President Obama’s adopted hometown. There were 468 murders in 2015, and in 2016 the murder rate has soared by 72 per cent. With many of the victims being young African-American men, who is to blame?

Watch on BBC iPlayer

Little Fires Everywhere

Based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestseller, Little Fires Everywhere follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and a working-class single mother, Mia (Kerry Washington), and daughter, Pearl. In the book, Mia and Pearl’s races weren’t specified, however casting them as black in the show adds another layer to the central conflict between Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) and Mia, which is exacerbated by Mia’s race.

Watch on Amazon Prime