Here Are 7 Movies To Learn More About Racism And Black History

These movies tell stories of the United States' racist past and present.
James Baldwin in "I Am Not Your Negro."
James Baldwin in "I Am Not Your Negro."

This is a time, for white people in particular, to listen and learn.

As someone who makes streaming recommendations each week, I believe in the teaching ability of a well-made movie. If nothing else, they can be an educational starting place.

To that end, Warner Bros. just made the 2019 movie “Just Mercy” available to rent for free through June. That film stars Michael B. Jordan as civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who created the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989. The Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy organization that fights for criminal justice reform, has scored a rare 100% and 4/4 stars from the nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator. If you’re looking for places to donate, you should consider EJI.

Below, I’ve recommended seven more movies to help you understand this country’s dark history of racism, economic inequity and police brutality. They’re available on a range of platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Read on for the list and trailers. And if you want to stay informed on streaming recommendations every week, subscribe to the Streamline newsletter.

“I Am Not Your Negro”

Premise: Filmmaker Raoul Peck uses an unfinished James Baldwin project about Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to tell a story about entrenched racism in America. All three men were close friends of Baldwin’s and were ultimately assassinated.

The documentary juxtaposes photographs and footage from Baldwin’s time with visuals of contemporary racism, such as ongoing police brutality.

Samuel L. Jackson narrates Baldwin’s words.

Watch: Amazon Prime or rent

Director: Raoul Peck

Debut date: Feb. 17, 2017

Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes

“13th”

Premise: After making the Martin Luther King Jr. movie “Selma,” Ava DuVernay’s next major project was this documentary about a clause in the 13th Amendment that allows involuntary servitude if it’s punishment for a crime.

After abolishing slavery, the U.S. has disproportionately imprisoned Black citizens, often for questionable crimes and with questionable sentences. These actions have created a jailed Black workforce.

Watch: Netflix, but you can also watch the full movie above on YouTube

Director: Ava DuVernay

Debut date: Oct. 7, 2016

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes

“Notes From the Field”

Premise: Anna Deavere Smith wrote and performed this one-person play about the school-to-prison pipeline. Smith based the story on over 200 interviews with those involved in this system, which disproportionately sends young Black children to jail.

The play also features real-life footage on the stage that depicts police brutality against children.

Watch: HBO’s various services

Director: Kristi Zea

Debut date: Feb. 24, 2018

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

“Crime + Punishment”

Premise: This documentary focuses on racism within the New York Police Department. The story follows Black and Latinx cops within the department who attempt to stop racist policing quotas.

This documentary shows that the NYPD has been arresting minorities without cause to meet performance requirements, knowing that people in these communities would have little power to stop them.

Watch: Hulu

Director: Stephen T. Maing

Debut date: Aug. 24, 2018

Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes

“Against All Odds: The Fight for a Black Middle Class”

Premise: Journalist Bob Herbert created this documentary about the often doomed pursuit of the American dream for Black families. This story focuses on how much less wealth Black families tend to have compared to white families and why that’s the case.

This film is part of a series called “Chasing the Dream,” which reports on “poverty, jobs, and economic opportunity in America.”

Watch: PBS

Director: Bob Herbert

Debut date: Oct. 13, 2017

Runtime: 1 hour, 17 minutes

“Rodney King”

Premise: Roger Guenveur Smith performs this one-person show about the life of Rodney King. The Los Angeles Police Department beat Rodney King nearly to death on March 3, 1991.

Smith’s spoken-word performance focuses heavily on the aftermath of the event, telling the story of what the country expected from King.

Watch: Netflix

Director: Spike Lee

Debut date: April 28, 2017

Runtime: 52 minutes

“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975”

Premise: This documentary resurfaces found footage of interviews conducted by Swedish journalists with members of the Black Power movement. The film gives snapshots of different facets of Black culture from activism to artists.

These old interviews are combined with archival footage from the period and contemporary commentary from people such as Erykah Badu and Questlove, who also has a scoring credit.

Watch: Rent

Director: Göran Olsson

Debut date: April 1, 2011

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes