The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police triggered a new wave of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. For those wanting to learn more about America’s history of systemic racism, resources are available all over the internet. And here are just a few of the many films and TV shows that display the intricacies of race in America.
“Dear White People” (2017; TV-MA): Set in a fictional Ivy League school, this comedy-drama series based on Justin Simien’s 2014 satirical film details the story of Samantha White (played by Logan Browning), a Black college radio host who exposes a Blackface party happening on campus. The show has ample examples of both explicit and implicit racism — the characters are forced to deal with white people who adopt their slang, mimic their body language, ask why their hair looks the way it does, etc. Over the show’s three seasons, racism, wealth, sexual assault and more are discussed in length. Plus there’s a secret organization, romance and mystery. (Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Netflix, YouTube, Vudu)
“Malcolm X” (1992; PG-13): This Spike Lee film depicts the life of Black activist Malcolm X (Denzel Washington), whose beliefs, political position and religion are often wildly misconstrued. But this three-hour biopic highlights the key events in Malcolm X’s life, from his incarceration to his conversion to Islam to his eventual assassination. It is an important insight into one of America’s most powerful civil rights leaders. (Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube)
“13th” (2016; TV-MA): The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and indentured servitude “except as a punishment for crime.” This documentary by director Ava DuVernay explores mass incarceration and how that exception in the 13th Amendment has led to the unjust criminalization of Black people, particularly men. Especially now, as the criminal justice system comes under fire and the idea — fed in part by media, political parties, entertainment and more — that Black is dangerous and must be taken care of with an iron fist comes under scrutiny, this documentary is essential viewing. In order to dismantle the unjust system, there must be an understanding of it. (Netflix)
“When They See Us” (2019; TV-MA): This Netflix limited series, also from DuVernay, depicts how five boys’ lives were changed forever after they were convicted of a horrific crime they did not commit. In 1989, a woman was assaulted and raped in Central Park. Five Black and brown boys were arrested and convicted of the crime despite a lack of physical evidence, and were sentenced to five to 15 years in jail. The series spans a quarter of a century, from when they were first questioned about the crime to their exoneration and when they received a settlement from the city of New York in 2014. (Netflix)
“Fruitvale Station” (2013; R): This film, Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut, follows the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old father killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle in the first hours of 2009. Michael B. Jordan depicts Grant over the last 20 hours of his life. In the movie, Grant is trying to clean up his life: He loves his girlfriend and his daughter but is unable to get his job back at the grocery store. He considers continuing to sell weed but ends up dumping his stash. Fruitvale Station is heartbreaking and raw. Grant is not just a martyr — he’s a father, a boyfriend, a son who gets ripped away from his family for no reason. (Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)