Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.
Anti-Black racism and disenfranchisement are real, and it is vital for those who benefit from them to meaningfully engage with their implications. One way to do this is by watching content that highlights how white supremacy is overtly and covertly ingrained in our society.
Below you’ll find a list of the five best shows and movies that you can stream Netflix to expand your understanding of these issues.
When They See Us (2019)
I watched When They See Us upon its release last summer and have been haunted by it ever since. Ava DuVernay’s gut-wrenching drama is based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five Black and Latino boys between the ages of 14 and 16 — who came to be known as the ‘The Central Park Five,’ and now, ‘The Exonerated Five’ — were falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of the sexual assault of a white woman jogger.
The series is not an easy watch — it is raw and left me sick to my stomach. By placing the boys’ individual experiences at the centre of the narrative, DuVernay paints a heartbreaking and painfully honest picture of racial injustice in America.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story (2017)
This biographical docuseries produced by Jay-Z explores the many ways in which the criminal justice system failed Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old who was arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack, and subsequently charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. He spent over three years at the Rikers Island prison, two of which were in solitary confinement, innocent and waiting for a trial that never came.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story is an upsetting eye-opener to the judicial system’s severe and disproportionate punishment of Black people, the jarring unfairness of the cash bail system, and the deep-seated culture of violence and intimidation that prison guards uphold. Browder’s story is devastating from the start: you know — as you watch him walk the city as a free man after his ordeal — that despite his warm smile and demure presence, he will ultimately die by suicide at 22 years old.
The second show on this list by Ava DuVernay, 13th is a thought-provoking documentary that analyzes the criminalization of Black people and the booming prison industry in the United States. It is a must-watch to understand how the country has transformed into a carceral state post-Jim Crow by taking advantage of a loophole in the thirteenth amendment. Ripe with information, the Academy Award-nominated film is both exhausting and whip-smart.
The Innocence Files (2020)
The Innocence Files takes an emotional look at eight cases of wrongful conviction that the Innocence Project — a nonprofit committed to helping people overturn their wrongful convictions — overturned. While not all of the personal stories chronicled by the true-crime docuseries are about Black experiences, they highlight how race often plays a role in America’s unreliable justice system.
Compelling on every level, the show has no need to resort to entertainment tactics in order to keep you interested. It is shocking in and of itself — witnessing how the systemic flaws of a racist judicial system condemn innocent people will outrage you, and change the way you view the entire system.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
Marsha P. Johnson’s legacy is particularly relevant during Pride month and the recent wave of protests demanding justice and freedom for Black lives across the globe. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson re-examines the circumstances of the death of the Black transgender activist and icon, who was one of the first instigators of the Stonewall Riots.
A sobering but necessary watch, the documentary gives a bleak depiction of police apathy in North America — an issue that still resonates today.