Whether you’re out protesting or looking to support the Black Lives Matter movement at home, it’s worth taking some time in the coming weeks to watch these Black history documentaries. Of course, it’s not the only way to become better informed. Before we weigh in on films, let’s run through some of the other ways to continue your support today and always:
From reading anti-racist books and donating to racial justice organizations, to buying Black (and rehauling your makeup collection in the process), there are so many ways to make the work of anti-racism a part of your everyday life. Not all of it will be easy, though—and that’s the point. Reckoning with racism and the broken systems that have resulted in the deaths of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more, is a lifelong effort. And that’s because saying you’re “not racist” isn’t enough in a society where everyone is conditioned by racist institutions, practices, and behavior every day.
If you have the privilege of needing to learn about racism in the first place, consider yourself lucky. That same benefit was not afforded to people killed as a result of police brutality—and it’s why we all must show up. So, sign that petition demanding justice for George Floyd if you haven’t already, engage with Black voices on the daily, and restructure your everyday life to revolve around race. When it feels exhausting, consider that nearly every other person of color, especially Black people, already live their lives reckoning with race to begin with.
One way to start the journey is with these documentaries. While this list is in no way the end-all, be-all, we hope it’s a manageable start. Keep on reading for five documentaries about Black history to stream on Netflix, Hulu, and more.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
Gay liberation today owes much to Marsha P. Johnson, a pioneering Black transgender woman who fought for change during the Stonewall uprising of 1969. While many are finally beginning to know her name, fewer know the story of Johnson’s suspicious death in 1992. Her friend, the Afro-Indigenous activist Victoria Cruz, investigates the truth in this important documentary.
LA 92 (2017)
Directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin (the first mixed-race Black man to win the Academy’s award for Best Documentary) paint a never-before-seen picture of the Los Angeles uprising that took place after 1992’s Rodney King trial. Using previously unseen footage and archival materials, the visuals of LA 92 should feel familiar to today’s news cycle. Eerily so.
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
James Baldwin’s words are always relevant. Director Raoul Peck recognized this and so decided to deliver a film version of the book Baldwin never finished, Remember This House. The result is a journey through time in Black history—from today’s very own Black Lives Matter movement, to the civil rights era that Baldwin himself lived through.
If you thought slavery really ended in America over 400 years ago, think again. Ava DuVernay’s documentary is named for the 13th amendment that supposedly put an end to enslavement—but the work of scholars and activists reveals a new form of slavery continues in the form of prisons and our education system. Watch and learn how criminalization disproportionally affects Black citizens, for reasons far beyond the crime itself.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)
From being called a “Black extremist organization” by the FBI, to “virulently racist” toward white citizens, the Black Panther Party has seen its fair share of misunderstanding. Perspective matters, and director Stanley Nelson Jr.’s documentary tells a different one. This revolutionary group changed history for Black Americans, providing communities with the tools and protection they needed to resist the police state. With over 25 interviews from members, FBI informants, journalists, scholars, and more, consider this your official reintroduction to the group you learned about in school.
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