13th by Ava Duvernay: This movie explores the criminalization of African Americans and the prison boom in America. Available on Netflix and free rental on all U.S. digital platforms for the month of June.
American Factory by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert: In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. Available on Netflix.
Crip Camp by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht: No one at Camp Jened could’ve imagined that those summers in the woods together would be the beginnings of a revolution. Just down the road from Woodstock, Camp Jened was a camp for disabled teens. Directors Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht (a former Jened camper himself) deliver a rousing film about a group of campers turned activists who shaped the future of the disability-rights movement and changed accessibility legislation for everyone. Available on Netflix.
East Lake Meadows by Sarah Burns and David McMahon: Learn the history of East Lake Meadows, a former public housing community in Atlanta. Stories from residents reveal hardship and resilience, and raise critical questions about race, poverty, and who is deserving of public assistance. Available on PBS.
First Generation by Blair Underwood: An award-winning documentary narrated by Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, First Generation tells the story of four high school students — an inner city athlete, a small town waitress, a Samoan warrior dancer, and the daughter of migrant field workers — who set out to break the cycle of poverty and bring hope to their families and communities by pursuing a college education. Available on YouTube.
Flint Town by Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper, and Jessica Dimmock: This docuseries takes a look at the state of policing in America through the experiences of the Flint (Mich.) Police Department. Flint is consistently among the country’s most violent cities and its residents have little trust in law enforcement officials in the wake of the coverup of a citywide water contamination that brought the city into the national spotlight. In this series, filmmakers embed with FPD officers as they face infrastructure issues and decreasing resources while risking their lives to protect and serve the community of around 100,000 people. Available on Netflix.
The Force by Pete Nicks: At a powder keg moment in American policing, The Force presents a fly-on-the-wall look deep inside the long-troubled Oakland Police Department as it struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson, Missouri, and an explosive sex scandal. Filmmaker Pete Nicks embedded with the department over the course of two years to follow OPD’s serial efforts to recast itself. The film spotlights the new chief, hailed as a reformer, who is brought into effect reform at the very moment the Black Lives Matter movement emerges to demand police accountability and racial justice both in Oakland and across the nation. Available on Netflix.
Free CeCe by Laverne Cox and Jac Geres. On her way to the store with a group of friends, Chrishaun Reed “CeCe” McDonald was brutally attacked. While defending her life, a man was killed. After a coercive interrogation, CeCe was incarcerated in a men’s prison in Minnesota. An international campaign to free CeCe garnered significant support from media and activists, including actress Laverne Cox. Cox signed on as executive producer and committed to exploring the role race, class, and gender played in CeCe’s case. In the end, CeCe emerged not only as a survivor, but also as a leader. Documentarian Jac Gares pushed past the everyday narratives of victimhood surrounding the lives of transgender people, to spotlight the way CeCe and other trans people are leading a growing movement fighting for the rights of transgender people. CeCe’s powerful story highlights the groundswell of voices questioning the prison industrial complex and calling for its disassembly. Available on Vimeo On Demand or Amazon.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening by RaMell Ross: RaMell Ross’s Academy Award-nominated Hale County This Morning, This Evening, one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films, is a dreamy and intimate journey through the world of Hale County, Alabama, a richly detailed glimpse into life in America’s Black Belt. Full of sublime moments, the film immerses the viewer in the southern black American experience in a place where Walker Evans and James Agee once chronicled the lives of poor white sharecropping families in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in the 1930s, but today is an oft-misunderstood African American community. The film is “pure cinematic poetry” wrote A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Available on YouTube.
I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck: I Am Not Your Negro envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, a radical narration about race in America, using the writer’s original words, as read by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Alongside a flood of rich archival material, the film draws upon Baldwin’s notes on the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to explore and bring a fresh and radical perspective to the current racial narrative in America. Available on Amazon.
Just Mercy by Destin Daniel Cretton: Based on the bestselling book, this movie takes you inside America’s broken criminal justice system and compels you to confront inequality and injustice. It presents the unforgettable story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and the case of Walter McMillian (Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx), who was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. The movie is free to watch on all digital platforms during the month of June. Just Mercy website.
LA 92 by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin: Twenty-five years after the verdict in the Rodney King trial sparked several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles, filmmakers examine that tumultuous period through rarely seen archival footage. Available on Netflix.
Living Undocumented by Aaron Saidman and Anna Chai: The fates of undocumented families are like a roller-coaster as the United States’ immigration policies are transformed. Available on Netflix.
Paris is Burning by Jennie Livingston: A 1990 American documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Critics consider the film to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the “Golden Age” of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America. Available on YouTube.
Requiem for the American Dream by Jared P. Scott, Kelly Nyks, and Peter Hutchison: Using interviews filmed over four years, Noam Chomsky discusses the deliberate concentration of wealth and power found in the hands of a select few. Available on Amazon.
Reversing Roe by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg: Documentarists Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg interview several politicians, experts, and activists about the state of the abortion politics in the United States and about the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision Roe v. Wade. Available on Netflix.
Saudi Women’s Driving School by Erica Gornall: For many Americans, getting a driver’s license is a mundane rite of passage. But for women in Saudi Arabia, who were only allowed to drive legally starting in June 2018, it’s a critical step along the road to independence. Available on HBO.
Selma by Ava DuVernay and Paul Webb: Selma is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches initiated and directed by James Bevel, and led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams and John Lewis. Available on Amazon and free for the month of June on Amazon and Google Play.
Seven Seconds by Veena Sud: When 15-year-old black cyclist Brenton Butler dies in a hit-and-run accident — with a white police officer behind the wheel of the vehicle — Jersey City explodes with racial tension. This crime drama explores the aftermath of the accident, which includes an attempted cover-up by the police department and a volatile trial. Assistant prosecutor KJ wants to prosecute the hit-and-run as a hate crime, in addition to a negligent homicide. The longer the case drags on without a resolution, the more tense the situation becomes. Emmy winner Regina King stars as Brenton’s churchgoing mother, Latrice. Available on Netflix.
Spanish Lake by Phillip Andrew Morton: A documentary on white flight in the area of Spanish Lake, Missouri, a post WW2 suburb. The town experiences rapid economic decline and population turnover due to racism and governmental policies which support the white exodus. The themes of the film parallel America’s growing political divide, racial tension, and rise of anti-government sentiment. Available on Amazon.
Strong Island by Yance Ford: Strong Island chronicles the arc of a family across history, geography and tragedy — from the racial segregation of the Jim Crow South to the promise of New York City; from the presumed safety of middle-class suburbs, to the maelstrom of an unexpected, violent death. It is the story of the Ford family: Barbara Dunmore, William Ford and their three children and how their lives were shaped by the enduring shadow of race in America. A deeply intimate and meditative film, Strong Island asks what one can do when the grief of loss is entwined with historical injustice, and how one grapples with the complicity of silence, which can bind a family in an imitation of life, and a nation with a false sense of justice. Available on Netflix.
The Talk: Race in America by Sam Pollard: The Talk is a documentary about the increasingly necessary conversation taking place in homes and communities across the country between parents of color and their children, especially sons, about how to behave if they are ever stopped by the police. Available on Amazon.
They Call Us Monsters by Ben Lear: They Call Us Monsters goes behind the walls of the Compound, a high-security facility where Los Angeles houses its most violent juvenile criminals. To their advocates, they’re kids. To the system, they’re adults. To their victims, they’re monsters. The film follows three young offenders who sign up to take a screenwriting class with producer Gabe Cowan as they await their respective trials. Arrested at 16, Jarad faces 200 years-to-life for four attempted murders; Juan, also arrested at 16, faces 90-to-life for first-degree murder; Antonio was arrested at 14 and faces 90-to-life for two attempted murders. As the boys work with Gabe on their screenplay, their complex stories are revealed. Available on YouTube.
Two Spirits by Lydia Nibley: Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders. Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender. Two Spirits website.
When They See Us by Ava Duvernay: This movie depicts the true story of five African American teenagers falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Available on Netflix.
White Like Me: Race, Racism, and White Privilege in America by Tim Wise: This movie shows how white privilege has perpetuated racial inequality and race-driven political resentments in ways most white people simply aren’t aware of. Featuring Tim Wise, Michelle Alexander, Charles Ogletree, Imani Perry, Martin Gilens, John H. Bracey, Jr. and Nilanjana Dasgupta. Available for rent through Vimeo, with streaming options.
United Shades of America by W. Kamau Bell: United Shades of America follows comedian and political provocateur W. Kamau Bell as he explores communities across America to understand the unique challenges they face. Available on CNN.
Visible: Out of Television by Ryan White: A documentary miniseries about the representation of LGBTQ+ people in television, both on-screen and behind the camera. Available on Apple.
#APeoplesJourney: Monthly stories from the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Available on Youtube.
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation: In this Keynote lecture, Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor examines the politics of social liberation movements. Author of #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Taylor offers an examination of the history and politics of Black America and the development of the social movement Black Lives Matter in response to police violence in the United States. Available on YouTube.
What is systemic racism?: This eight-part video series, featuring Jay Smooth and produced by Kat Lazo, shows how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society: Wealth Gap, Employment, Housing Discrimination, Government Surveillance, Incarceration, Drug Arrests, Immigration Arrests, and Infant Mortality. Available at Race Forward.
Black Trans* Lives Matter, TEDxCSU, March 2019: Dr. D-L Stewart, higher education scholar, explores what their life and the world would look like if Black Trans* Lives mattered. Race, gender, social class, and disability all intersect to shape Black Trans* lives. How would social institutions, such as education, law, healthcare, religion, and family be different? Available on TED.
How to Deconstruct Racism One Headline at a Time, TED2019, April 2019: Emmy nominated writer, activist and comedian Baratunde Thurston explores the phenomenon of white Americans calling the police on black Americans who have committed the crimes of … eating, walking or generally “living while black.” Available on TED.
How We Can Make Racism a Solvable Problem – and Improve Policing, TED 2019, April 2019: When we define racism as behaviors instead of feelings, we can measure it — and transform it from an impossible problem into a solvable one, says justice scientist Phillip Atiba Goff. In an actionable talk, he shares his work at the Center for Policing Equity, an organization that helps police departments diagnose and track racial gaps in policing in order to eliminate them. Available on TED.
The Urgency of Intersectionality, TEDWomen 2016, October 2016: Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, is a leading authority in the area of civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law. Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term “intersectionality” to describe the phenomenon of the combination of race and gender bias ; as she says, if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both. Available on TED.
We Need to Talk about an Injustice, TED2012, March 2012: Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Available on TED.