10 Movies and TV Shows about Race & Discrimination

It is apparent now more than ever that to be a part of this fight, you have to be an active participant. It is not enough to say you aren’t racist – you have to act anti-racist. This means that you use your voice when and where you can. You facilitate conversations with your family and peers about relevant, and perhaps uncomfortable, issues. And you need to educate yourself because unless you are Black, you cannot understand the depths of what they have faced, and what they continue to face every day. 

To my readers who do not live in the United States: this is still relevant to you. When you learn about the U.S., you learn only about the White experiences. Most don’t even realize that cultures between White and Black communities can be vastly different. Sometimes, they differentiate based on region. Always, they differ due to history. Movies and books help us learn about different cultures and different truths, and watching some on the list below will help you do just that. It will help you learn about Black experiences, Black culture, and Black truths. So give it a try because educating yourself is necessary, and moving beyond what you learn in school is required. 

To help, here is a list of 11 tv shows, documentaries, and movies discussing racial discrimination and prejudice against the Black communities.  

Dear White People | Netflix

Photo By: Netflix

Based on a film by the same name, this Netflix Original is a must-watch. Dear White People uses comedy and romance to highlight the prejudices commonly faced by Blacks everywhere, particularly by Black college students. Starring Logan Brown as the main protagonist, this show discusses the nuances of racial and systemic discrimination. We follow a group of Black students who attend a prestigious, fictional Ivy League University and live together in all-Black campus housing. Within this community, we are exposed to different views on how to fight day-to-day discrimination. Some characters believe that assimilating into the White culture is the only way to avoid potential life-ending repercussions. Other students believe that the only way to make a change is to actively voice their opinions. Neither group is wrong in their opinion, and that’s what is highlighted. With the fourth and final season set to release later this year (2020), Dear White People has discussed topics such as White privilege, performative activism, police brutality, and confronting those in power.

The 13th | Netflix

Photo By: Netflix

“We make them their crime.”

Another Netflix Original, The 13th is a documentary that discusses the effect of mass incarceration on the Black population, and in turn, the overall role of discrimination. The 13th amendment to the Constitution prohibits the use of slaves with one exception: those who have committed a crime. This provides a loophole that is exploited to this day by correctional centers and prison facilities. By adding this stipulation to the amendment, the Black community is left exposed to various laws and precedence that allows for them to be wrongly villainized and sentenced to jail-time. This film explores the progression of how the number of prisoners, specifically Black men, drastically increases from the 1970s when the “war on drugs” is declared by President Nixon. Also, we are educated on the ties that corporations have to our politicians and to our laws. Corporations influence our policies, implicit biases are reinforced as a result of those policies, and consequently, arrest rates within the Black communities increase. The political agendas of the “war on drugs” initiative and the involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement are analyzed and criticized for all presidents, including President Obama. The 13th, although only one side of the story, presents different perspectives and opinions on modern-day slavery based on statistical facts and social evolution. 

The Hate U Give | 20th Century Fox

Photo By: 20th Century Fox

This 2018 film is based on a book by the same name. The intent of this narrative is apparent by its name: written as an acronym, The Hate U Give spells out the word “thug” to depict the description often given to Blacks. We follow the character of Starr Carter, portrayed by Amandla Stenberg, who attends a private school primarily with White children. Throughout the story, we see Starr struggling to fit in with her high school friends and hide her “Blackness” while still being herself when outside of school. While at a party with some friends from her community, Starr reconnects with Khalil, a former friend, and leaves with him to go back home. On the ride back, they get pulled over by the police, leading to a series of events ending with Khalil being fatally shot in front of Starr. We see that this is clearly an accident on the cop’s part solely due to implicit biases. This begins Starr’s journey in addressing the issues of targeting, discrimination, and brutality by the police. Although fictional, this story depicts an accurate representation of how implicit bias and blatant discrimination is life-threatening for so many. It also portrays how protesting can begin peacefully and end violently through no fault of the protestors themselves.  

When They See Us | Netflix

Photo By: Netflix

This mini-series, directed by Ava DuVernay, premiered on Netflix in 2019. Based on the true story of the 1989 Central Park Jogger Case, this show portrays the journey of five Black individuals who were falsely convicted of rape and assault charges. The five young men who were sent to jail in 1989 were Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Raymond Santana. The jury for their cases were all White individuals, and the final sentence was to serve maximum time in prison for each man. All men were convicted for assault, four of them were additionally convicted of rape, and due to his age of 16 years, Korey Wise was tried as an adult and was held in adult facilities. In 2003, they filed a wrongful conviction suit and were finally awarded a settlement in 2014. We are shown not only the lives that these men were forced to face, but also how their loved ones carried on after this tragic event. When They See Us gives us a look into our justice system throughout the years and its horrifying truths and history. 

Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us is also available on Netflix in which Oprah Winfrey interviews the five exonerated males about their thoughts and experiences. This companion special premiered in 2019. 

If Beale Street Could Talk | Hulu 

Photo By: Hulu

An Academy Award winner, If Beale Street Could Talk is a romantic drama based on Jame’s Baldwin’s 1974 novel by the same name. This story takes place during the 1970s, a time when finding a place to live in New York City was close to impossible for Black individuals. We watch the love story between the two protagonists Tish and Fonny (Kiki Layne, Stephan James) unfold and grow through the trials they face. The story portrays the many biases Blacks, particularly Black males, encounter–– many of which land them in prison. This is seen through the struggles Fonny faces as he is wrongfully accused and convicted for raping a woman. His alibis are ignored, and the testimony of an officer, who has blatantly demonstrated his racist values on multiple occasions, is taken at face value. It later becomes clear the lengths at which the police department went to close this case and accuse a Black man, due to personal vendetta alone. If Beale Street Could Talk juxtaposes the beautiful love and life that Fonny and Tish had together with the cruel realities of the world that they live in. Directed by the formidable Barry Jenkins, this movie shows the effect of these unfair realities for people with darker skin on not only the individuals themselves, but also their family, their loved ones, and their community. Although this takes place in Harlem’s neighborhood, this is representative of what African-Americans face in every neighborhood across this nation and around the world.

I Am Not Your Negro | Amazon Prime Video

Photo By: Amazon Studio

Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, this documentary premiered on Amazon Prime Video in 2016. This memoir, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, uses archival footage as well as Baldwin’s notes to create a narrative on race relations in America. Baldwin wrote comments about his thoughts on the lives and assassination of three powerful and influential Civil Rights activists: Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. The film also depicts Baldwin’s observations and opinions on American history and, in particular, the role of Blacks in America. Through the footage, we can see the ties between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Movement of today and the societal impact these have had. This Oscar-nominated story depicts the progress this country has made in the fight against discrimination while adding a sobering reminder of how far we have left to go. 

Insecure | HBO

Photo By: HBO

This comedy-drama tv show stars Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji as the leads Issa Dee and Molly Carter. The show begins with a focus on the Black female experience as it explores the lives and friendship of Issa and Molly. Now in their late 20s, Issa and Molly have been friends since their days at Stanford. Together, they deal with problems with their friendships, their relationships, their African communities, and their own internal struggles. By poking fun at the stereotypes of Black females, Insecure creates an almost revolutionary voice in the sea of tv shows today. The show is raunchy, insightful, funny and unapologetic in the points it’s trying to make. Now renewed for a fifth season on HBO, Insecure continues to use its unique voice to show the cringe-worthy yet realistic events that occur in Issa and Molly’s lives. 

Black-ish | ABC 

Photo By: ABC

This ABC sitcom has been airing the perspective of a Black upper-class family since 2014. Over the years, we follow the Johnson family as they tackle the typical struggles parents face with their children, their parents, their in-laws, and their partners. Although a comedy at heart, this sitcom discusses topics such as Juneteenth, police brutality, micro-aggressions, and talking about discrimination with young children. Two spinoffs have also premiered, focusing on different aspects of growing up Black. Grown-ish follows the journey of Zoey Johnson, the eldest child in the Johnson family, as she navigates college and faces common obstacles. Although this show touches on discrimination Black college kids face, it focuses much more on broad topics such as drugs, relationships, and prioritizing responsibilities. A second spinoff, Mixed-ish, explores the childhood of Bo Johnson and her experiences growing up mixed race, having a Black mother and a White father. Black-ish follows the present-day life of Bo Johnson as she balances being a mother of five, a wife, a doctor, and a powerful, independent woman. You can watch Grown-ish on Freeform and Mixed-ish on ABC. 

Atlanta | FX

Photo By: FX

Atlanta is a critically acclaimed show that is created by Donald Glover, also known as rapper Childish Gambino. The series describes the journey of Earnest “Earn” Marks (Glover) as he manages his cousin Alfred’s (Brian Tyree Henry) rising rap career as “Paper Boi.” The show explores the daily life of Earn as he attempts to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend, who’s also the mother of his child, and his loved ones. Having dropped out of Princeton, we watch as Earn struggles with intermittent homelessness and poverty as he attempts this new career. Atlanta shows the racially-fueled experiences that Earn has in his day-to-day life by seamlessly interweaving comedy into the social world and the musical world in Atlanta. Not only does Atlanta promote the Black experience on screen, but it also employs an all-Black writing staff–– something almost unheard of in Hollywood. Renewed for a third and fourth season in 2021, Atlanta continues to make cinematic history with its writing staff and its light-hearted yet poignant creative masterpieces. 

The Last O.G. | TBS

Photo By: TBS

The Last O.G. is a comedy series created by the acclaimed Jordan Peele and John Carcieri. It depicts Tracy Morgan as the main lead Tray, and Tiffany Haddish as his ex-girlfriend Shannon, also known as Shay-Shay. The series follows Tray as he is released early from prison for good behavior after serving a 15-year sentence. Tray returns to his Brooklyn neighborhood to find that it’s now an affluent area, unlike when he grew up. He also discovers that he fathered twins with Shannon, who is now married to a successful White man. As the show progresses, Tray attempts to reconnect with his children but is unable to understand their world filled with private schools and money. Wanting to be better for them, Tray relies on the help of his cousin Bobby and the owner of a halfway house, Mullins. Using his old, and perhaps questionable, skills, Tray tries to make ends meet while reconciling the world he grew up in with the one he lives in now. Morgan and Haddish’s superb acting skills mixed with their talent for comedic timing creates characters you can’t help but love and want to keep watching. 

Like always, let me know what you think of these shows and movies! And if you have any more recommendations, I would love to hear them 🙂 

Happy watching!

20 thoughts on “10 Movies and TV Shows about Race & Discrimination

Add yours

  1. Thanks for this list! I’ve heard great things about all of these movies but I just don’t even turn on my TV anymore. I will start on the weekends!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I won’t lie, it took me a little bit to get myself to watch some of these because they’re so heavy, but once you start, you’ll be sucked in! Not only are they super educational, they are incredibly well-made. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. Such great recommendations! I have seen a few of these, and will definitely be checking out the others you suggested. Furthermore, I recommend watching Alt-Right…It was VERY hard to watch; however, brings even more attention to the racial divide that still exists (and sparks even more desire to be an active participant in fighting against racism).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched the 13th and it really opened my eyes. Busy watching When They See Us – heartbreaking but cannot be ignored. Thanks for sharing this list, will definitely check out more x

    Liked by 1 person

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