14 of the best films and documentaries to educate yourself on racism and Black oppression

Isabella Silvers
Photo credit: 20th Century Studios/eOne/Lionsgate/Netflix/Illustration: Shyvonne Thomas/Digital Spy

From Digital Spy

Since the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more Black people by white American police officers, the world has seen an outpouring of anger at systemic racism both in the US and in our home countries.

While Black people struggle with their grief and hurt, non-Black people have been showing support on social media and wondering what we can do to make a difference.

To Digital Spy's Black readers: obviously we're not trying to educate you about your own oppression. This is a starting point, a general guide for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of Black oppression, either to understand the historical context better or to be a better ally.

As well as protesting, writing to our MPs to demand justice and donating to anti-racist causes, it's the responsibility of non-Black people to educate themselves about the history of racism and how little has changed in 2020. The more we understand systemic racism, the more we can use white privilege to dismantle it.

If you're not sure where to start, here are 14 films and documentaries you can watch right now. Covering topics from death row to police brutality, these movies might be hard to watch, but it’s much harder still to fear for your life because of the colour of your skin. It’s up to us all to take a stand, now more than ever.

13th


This Emmy award-winning documentary from Ava DuVernay (Selma, When They See Us) explores the inequality of the US prison system, where Black prisoners are hugely overrepresented.

While the film is named after the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the United States in 1865, DuVernay argues that slavery has taken on a new form with the mass incarceration of Black people.

WATCH 13TH ON NETFLIX

The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson

Photo credit: Netflix

Marsha P Johnson was an American gay liberation activist and self-identified "transvestite and drag queen" who used she/her pronouns. She was also a key player in the 1969 Stonewall uprising. Though her untimely death was initially ruled a suicide, this documentary sees activist Victoria Cruz try to find justice for her friend.

As we mark Pride month, it's important to remember that the gains that have been made for LGBTQ+ people come off the back of protests and sacrifices from trans women of colour.

WATCH THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON ON NETFLIX

Just Mercy

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Telling the true story of lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B Jordan), Just Mercy is a heart-wrenching look at the overrepresentation of Black men on death row.

Sentenced to death despite no evidence or just because they "looked guilty", this film will make you understand how, for many, being Black is enough of a crime to die for.

WATCH JUST MERCY ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Injustice

Photo credit: Migrant Media

Originally released in 2001, this documentary is sadly just as relevant 19 years later.

Focusing on the struggles for justice by the families of people who have died in police custody, beginning with the British case of David Oluwale in 1969, this film shows the wall of secrecy, bureaucracy and lies the grieving families are met with.

Today, not much has changed; Black people are still dying disproportionately in police custody.

WATCH INJUSTICE ON VIMEO

Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap

Photo credit: Netflix

At 16 minutes long, this episode of season one's Explained looks into how slavery, housing discrimination and systemic inequality can cause a significant racial wealth gap.

WATCH EXPLAINED: THE RACIAL WEALTH GAP ON NETFLIX

Black and Scottish

Photo credit: BBC

Racism is not just an American issue, as this BBC watch proves.

Featuring the likes of Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education) and other prominent Black Scots, this short documentary sees film-maker Stewart Kyasimire ask, 'what does it really mean to be Black and Scottish?'

An important look into Black British identity, no matter where you live.

WATCH BLACK AND SCOTTISH ON BBC iPLAYER

Shame In The Game

Photo credit: BBC

Racism in football is rife, with Black players subjected to racist chants and intense criticism if they choose to walk off the pitch.

This documentary calls for drastic action, featuring moving interviews with players at all levels of English football and shocking undercover footage, urging every football fan to do more to kick racism right off the pitch (visit kickitout.org for more information).

WATCH SHAME THE GAME ON BBC iPLAYER

The Hate U Give

Photo credit: 20th Century Studios

Based on Angie Thomas's YA novel of the same name, The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, who witnesses her friend shot dead by police after reaching for his hairbrush. While friends and family from Starr's neighbourhood take to the streets to protest, her predominantly white private school friends and boyfriend struggle to understand.

An important watch for how not to use your white privilege.

WATCH THE HATE U GIVE ON NOW TV

When They See Us

Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

Another important watch from Ava Duvernay, this miniseries tells the story of the Central Park 5 – five young Black men falsely accused and prosecuted for the sexual assault of a white woman.

With no evidence or DNA, the group still served sentences ranging from six to 13 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit; another damning story of systemic racism in the judicial system.

WATCH WHEN THEY SEE US ON NETFLIX

Selma

Photo credit: 20th Century Studios

1965, Selma, Alabama.

As Black residents peacefully march for their rights to vote alongside Martin Luther King Jr (played by David Oyelowo), police attack and murder the protestors, using both batons and legislation against them. A telling look into the many, many ways Black people are oppressed.

WATCH SELMA ON AMAZONE PRIME VIDEO

I Am Not Your Negro

Photo credit: Spirit Entertainment

Best watched after reading Remember This House, Samuel L Jackson narrates this documentary inspired by author and activist James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript.

The film explores the history of racism in the US through Baldwin's recollections of his friends Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers.

WATCH I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

12 Years A Slave

Photo credit: E1

Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar for her role in this Steve McQueen drama. Based on Solomon Northup's memoirs of being born a free man then sold into slavery in 1841, this film doesn't hold back on the brutal, degrading and fatal reality of slavery.

The way racism and oppression manifests in society may have changed, but the scars of slavery are important to understand.

WATCH 12 YEARS A SLAVE ON NETFLIX

If Beale Street Could Talk

Photo credit: Entertainment One

Based on James Baldwin's novel of the same name, this moving story follows a young woman (KiKi Layne) as she fights to clear her lover Fonny's (Stephan James's) name before the birth of their child.

Falsely accused of raping a woman, If Beale Street Could Talk might make you better understand how innocent Black men end up behind bars, while shining a further spotlight on the factors that can lead to false confessions.

WATCH IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Farming

Photo credit: Lionsgate

In '60s and '70s England, Nigerian parents who were working or studying would pay white families to foster their children.

In this complex film, based on the life of actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Suicide Squad, Game of Thrones), we follow Enitan (played by Damson Idris) as he's handed to Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale). As Enitan grows up, he internalises the racism of '80s England and joins a skinhead gang. An important look at the sometimes contradictory Black British experience.

WATCH FARMING ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

For more information on how you can support Black Lives Matter, please visit its official website or donate here. Readers can also donate to the UK anti-discrimination group Stand Up To Racism, and the Unite Families & Friends Campaign, which supports those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody.

Digital Spy now has a newsletter – sign up to get it sent straight to your inbox.

Looking for more TV recommendations and discussion? Head over to ourFacebook Group to see new picks every day, and chat with other readers about what they're watching right now.

You Might Also Like