13 Documentaries About Race You Need to See If You Haven't Yet

These powerful documentaries of the past will educate you about the current Black Lives Matter protests.

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If you feel helpless in the fight against racism in the U.S., one of the best places to start is by educating yourself. Of course, it can be daunting trying to figure out where to start. But watching these extraordinary documentaries is one of many great ways you can work on gaining a better understanding of the plight that Black people are often subjected to. Here are 13 documentaries about race that will help give you some insight and hopefully change any apathy to empathy. And for more ways to help, check out 7 Charities That Need Your Donation More Than Ever Right Now.

1
Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement

Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement documentary
BET via YouTube

Where to watch: YouTube

Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement is a great place to start your education on the birth and life of the Black Lives Matter movement. If you're looking for more information on what exactly the movement stands for, this documentary will give you some insight through first-person accounts from activists, scholars, protesters, and journalists.

2
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992

Let It Fall documentary
Netflix via YouTube

Where to watch: Netflix

This documentary takes a look at the events that contributed to mounting racial tensions that eventually caused the Black community to erupt during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. All of the critical occurrences of the decade—from the beating of Rodney King to the rise of street gangs—is covered in this exhaustive documentary. Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 is essential viewing to prevent history from repeating itself this decade.

3
Slavery by Another Name

Slavery by Another Name
Public Broadcasting Service

Where to watch: PBS

If you believe that slavery ended in the U.S. with the Emancipation Proclamation, Slavery by Another Name is a must watch. This documentary illustrates how slavery persisted in the United States—with different nomenclature—through various means, from forced labor to arrests without crime present. And for more history lessons you didn't learn in school, check out 13 Fascinating Historical Photos We Wish Our Teachers Showed Us in School.

4
The Central Park Five

The Central Park Five documentary
Public Broadcasting Service via YouTube

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

The Central Park Five documentary by Ken Burns revisits the events of the Central Park jogger case of 1989, during which five Black and Latinx teens from Harlem were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City's Central Park. The documentary gives a voice to key players, including the five teenagers who spent years in the prison system. Netflix also developed a dramatized miniseries surrounding the case that's not to be missed called When They See Us.

5
13th

13th
Netflix

Where to watch: Netflix

This documentary by Selma director Ava DuVernay delves into the Thirteenth Amendment, which put an end to involuntary servitude in the U.S., except as a punishment for the conviction of a crime. But it also allowed for mass incarceration as a result. Through the words of scholars, activists, and politicians, this evocative, infuriating, and enlightening film analyzes the intersection of race, justice, criminalization of Black Americans, and the prison boom. And to learn about the amazing contributions by African Americans over the years, check out The Biggest Achievement African Americans Made the Year You Were Born.

6
16 Shots

16 Shots
Showtime

Where to watch: Showtime

16 Shots takes a look at the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago and the cover-up that followed. Journalists and activists fought to get their hands on footage of the event after the police stated the killing was justified. Political and community fallout followed and ultimately contributed to a guilty verdict against Van Dyke.

7
Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story

Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story
Cinemart via YouTube

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

This documentary—executive produced by Jay-Z—gives power to the life and legacy of Trayvon Martin, whose death at the hands of George Zimmerman sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. The film sheds light on Martin's life and death and re-examines Zimmerman's acquittal. People who were involved in the case discuss what they believe is fractured in the justice system, which led to Martin's death and Zimmerman's not guilty verdict.

8
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

Say Her Name: The Life and Death Of Sandra Bland
HBO

Where to watch: HBO

After being stopped at a routine traffic stop, activist Sandra Bland was taken into custody and subsequently found hanging in her jail cell three days later. Immediately following her death, filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner reached out to Bland's family, asking to film their fight to learn the truth about what happened. This documentary is a powerful compilation of a two-year quest for the truth.

9
Freeway: Crack in the System

Freeway: A Crack in the System
Novus Content via Amazon

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

This documentary chronicles the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic in the U.S. and details how the infiltration of the drug damaged inner-city neighborhoods. The film features stories from Freeway Rick Ross and journalist Gary Webb who brought to light the CIA's complicity in the crack epidemic. Freeway: Crack in the System illuminates the issues of mass incarceration in the U.S., the militarization of police, and the gangs that stemmed from the war on drugs.

10
Time: The Kalief Browder Story

Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Viacom Entertainment Group via YouTube

Where to watch: Netflix

Time: The Kalief Browder Story recounts the case of Bronx teenager Kalief Browder who—although never convicted of a crime—was arrested in 2010 and spent three years in jail, two of them in solitary confinement on Rikers Island. The six-part docuseries demonstrates the shortcomings of the criminal justice and penal systems in the U.S. and their lasting impact on the people they let down. Browder died by suicide in 2015.

11
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Sundance Selects via YouTube

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

While the Black Power movement of the '60s and '70s persisted, Swedish journalists kept cameras rolling. Thirty years later, their footage was embedded into The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a documentary highlighting key players and events from a perspective detached from American media. Additionally, current experts' voices are intertwined throughout the original footage to add a modern perspective.

12
The Innocence Files

The Innocence Files
Netflix via YouTube

Where to watch: Netflix

This documentary follows the Innocence Project, whose mission is to identify missteps and deceit within wrongful convictions, thereby exposing injustice in the judicial system. This Netflix docuseries focuses on eight people who have been exonerated and three cases of wrongful conviction. Through comprehensive efforts, those who work for the Innocence Project reveal "the use of flawed forensic science," "the misuse of eyewitness identification," "and prosecutorial misconduct" as they work to liberate innocent people behind bars.

13
Crime + Punishment

Crime + Punishment documentary
Hulu via YouTube

Where to watch: Hulu

Crime + Punishment delves into the landmark 2010 class-action lawsuit against illegal policing quotas and the efforts of whistleblower cops to put an end to the pressure to arrest young minorities in New York City. You'll watch as a group of officers and a private investigator work to eradicate the policies that had tarnished the city's police force for years.

Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
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