Want to Learn More About Racism in America? Add These Films to Your Watchlist

Watching these works by black directors is one small step allies can take in furthering their understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement
films racism watchlist
Activist Angela Davis is among the prominent individuals that appear in director Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th.” // Photograph courtesy of Netflix

As protesters make headlines across the country, those supporting the fight against systemic racism and police brutality are wondering how to continue the movement well beyond daily demonstrations and, for many white people, how to be a better ally to the black community. One way to start is by furthering your understanding of the issues the Black Lives Matter movement stems from. Here, we share 15 films — plus, one show — directed by black filmmakers that revolve around race relations in this country. If you wish to engage more in the movement, there are plenty of organizations to support and donate to during this time as well.

13th

This 2016 Netflix documentary by director Ava DuVernay is a good intro to systemic racism and mass incarceration — issues the Black Lives Matter movement fights to end. It explores how slavery, which was abolished by the 13th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, is still being carried out through mass incarceration in our prison system. The documentary features interviews with many prominent individuals, including activist Angela Davis, politician Cory Booker, and author Michelle Alexander. Stream on Netflix.

BlacKKKlansman

This 2018 film, based on a true story, is about an African-American police detective (John David Washington) in the ’70s who goes undercover as the Grand Wizard, David Duke, to join the Ku Klux Klan, with the help of his colleague­ (Adam Driver). Directed by Spike Lee, the film confronts racism, poverty, and political issues head-on with social commentary and lots of humor. Stream on Hulu and HBO Max.

Do The Right Thing

Another treasure by Lee is this 1989 film, set in Brooklyn, that focuses on a character named Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) who is upset when he sees that the wall of fame at his local pizzeria only exhibits Italian actors when it should be displaying black actors because of its location in a black neighborhood. Tensions rise in the neighborhood, and police brutality is put on full display. Available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes.

Get out

Awarded Best Original Screenplay by the Academy, this 2017 horror movie directed by Jordan Peele is sure to make you think. Chris (Daniel Kluuya) and girlfriend, Rose, (Allison Williams), tackle being an interracial couple when the day comes for Chris to meet his girlfriend’s white family. What once started out as a normal weekend getaway with her family, turns into the thriller of a lifetime when the issue of racism takes the forefront. Available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.

The Hate U Give

Based on the 2017 bestselling young adult novel by Angie Thomas, this movie from director George Tillman Jr. follows the life of 16-year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a black student in a majority white private school who witnesses her friend get fatally shot by police in an incident that makes national headlines. It’s the perfect coming-of-age story with relevant cues to the society we live in today within the Black Lives Matter movement. Stream on Hulu.

I Am Not Your Negro

Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, this 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary explores Baldwin’s personal account of the killings of his three close friends. Director Raoul Peck takes it on himself to finish the last 30 pages of Baldwin’s book by connecting the civil rights movement to the Black Lives Matter movement. Stream on Amazon Prime.

 If Beale Street Could Talk

This film, directed by Barry Jenkins, is adapted from Baldwin’s 1974 novel with the same name. The story centers on a young black couple in Harlem who grew up together and fell in love. But their relationship faces issues from racism and policing. Based in the 1970s, this tale of black American life is still relevant today. Stream on Hulu.

when they see us watchlist
“When They See Us” — the one show featured on this list — is based on the true story of the Central Park Five. The series is also directed by DuVernay. // Photograph courtesy of Netflix

LA 92

This documentary shows real footage from the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal of the four police officers whose beating of Rodney King, a black motorist, were found on tape. Directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay, this film puts the emotional scenes of unrest and hopelessness shown by days of protests, violence, and looting on full display. Stream on Netflix.

Malcom x

Denzel Washington plays black activist and leader of the black liberation movement Malcom X in this biographical drama. This film, also by Lee, guides viewers through his rise to leadership to his assassination in 1965. Stream on Netflix.

Moonlight

This Best Picture Academy Award-winning film tells the story of how a young gay black man grapples with his own identity. Another film by Jenkins, Moonlight follows the man at three stages of his life, and it tackles racism and LGBTQ+ issues in an extremely contemporary way. Stream on Netflix.

Selma

This biographical film directed by DuVernay depicts Dr. King’s (David Oyelowo) march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, that propelled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibit racial discrimination in voting. This fight towards the end of racial discrimination is echoed by the Black Lives Matter movement that we see today. Stream on Vudu, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, and Amazon Prime.

Sorry To Bother You

The beautiful cinematography is just the cherry on top for this inventive film that follows the success and corporate oppression of black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) once he adopts a “white voice.” The film is directed by Boots Riley. Stream on Hulu.

Strong Island

In this 2017 documentary, director Yance Ford tells the story of his brother, William Ford Jr., who was murdered by a white man­­ in 1992. The man was never indicted for the killing. Strong Island explores how William’s family dealt with the tragedy of his loss. Stream on Netflix.

When They See Us

This show from DuVernay is based on the true story of the Central Park Five. The show follows five teens from Harlem who are falsely accused of a brutal attack that happened in Central Park. This film covers the commonality of injustice that black people have always been too familiar with. Stream on Netflix.

Whose Streets?

This documentary from director Savaah Folayan is about the 2014 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer and the Ferguson uprising that sparked a global movement. The story is told by the activists and leaders who lived and breathed this movement of justice, following the inception of the Black Lives Matter just a year before with the murder of Trayvon Martin. Stream on Hulu.

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