Watch, Learn, Listen: 15 Documentaries, Podcasts, and Series to Tune Into This Black History Month
These powerful films, series, and podcasts cover a range of perspectives on what it means to be Black in America.
02.15.23 By Innocence Staff
Black History Month is a time for reflection, learning, and growth. And these powerful documentaries, narrative films and TV series, and podcasts — which provide a variety of perspectives on what it means to be Black in America both today and in decades past — are a great place to start learning this month and beyond.
Mass incarceration and wrongful conviction disproportionately impact Black people in the U.S. — over 50% of the 3,375 people who have been exonerated since 1989 are Black. This trend is also seen among death row exonerees, with 103 out of 190 people exonerated from death row being Black, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The movies, documentaries, series, and podcasts highlighted below dive into the history of racism in the U.S., spotlight activists like the late Rep. John Lewis and Equal Justice Initiative Founder Bryan Stevenson, and examine the modern-day impacts of slavery and Jim Crow era policies.
Unreformed: The story of the Alabama Industrial School of Negro Children
In Unreformed, journalist Josie Duffy Rice investigates the rarely told story of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children — today known as Mt. Meigs, a juvenile detention facility. The institution was billed as a “reform school” for Black children convicted of crimes, but those who went there (including Black children who had lost their parents or run away) have described it as a “slave camp.”
NPR’s Code Switch
Each week on Code Switch, journalists of color explore a different topic through the lens of race. With empathy and humor, they discuss the impact of race on everything from politics to food to entertainment.
WBEZ’s Making is a biographic podcast that focuses on influential Black figures, and looks at their journey to icon status. Season 1 followed Oprah Winfrey’s path to success, Season 2 focused on former President Barack Obama, while Season 3 put the spotlight on Beyoncé Knowles. Its most recent season features a different iconic Black figure each week, including history makers like Ida B. Wells, Jesse Owens, and Serena Williams.
Next Question with Katie Couric
In the episode, “Can one person change the criminal justice system?” of Next Question with Katie Couric, the celebrated journalist sits down with Equal Justice Initiative Founder Bryan Stevenson to discuss Stevenson’s inspiring personal journey. In this riveting conversation, they discuss criminal legal reform, mass incarceration, and his work securing justice for those wrongly convicted and unfairly sentenced.
If you couldn’t put down The 1619 Project from the New York Times Magazine — or you’ve always meant to pick it up but haven’t found the time to sit down and read it — 1619 takes an equally compelling look at the U.S.’ history and legacy of slavery in podcast form.
This podcast hasn’t been released yet, but we’re already eager to tune into this collaboration between WBUR & The Marshall Project this spring. The series follows the case of a 16-year-old who was convicted for murder, incarcerated for decades, released, and re-incarcerated, while examining “who pulls the levers of power in the justice system.”
The 1619 Project
In the newest iteration of The 1619 Project, this docu-series was just released on Hulu. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the six-part series features the perspectives of civil rights activists, people impacted by police brutality, journalists, historians, and entertainers.
Exterminate All the Brutes
Described by The New Yorker as “an illustrated lecture, or a cinematic podcast,” this haunting HBO docu-series examines the legacies of colonialism and racism, and how they’ve shaped our world and continue to plague our societies still.
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
In this enlightening and powerful lecture, civil rights attorney and founder of the Who We Are Project, Jeffery Robinson, traces the history of anti-Black racism and white supremacy in the US. The documentary is streaming on Netflix
John Lewis: Good Trouble
This inspiring HBO documentary about the life of Rep. John Lewis and his 60 years of inspiring activism was released just weeks before the icon’s passing. The title draws its name from the phrase the late civil rights champion often used to describe the work of activism: “Good trouble.” Streaming on HBO Max.
Between the World and Me
In this intriguing film adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me,” dozens of artists, actors, and activists bring the author’s letter to his teenage son, recapping his experience growing up as a Black man in Baltimore. The film examines the roles of schools, communities, police, and the criminal legal system in upholding racial injustice and violence against Black communities. Available to watch on HBO Max.
Narrative Films & Series
The Underground Railroad
This haunting series is adapted from Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The historical drama is a reimagining of the metaphorical “Underground Railroad” — a network of people working to free enslaved Black people — as a literal railroad system and follows fictional characters as they strive for freedom. Available to stream on Amazon.
Centered on a prison warden played by Emmy Award- and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard, this emotionally charged drama explores the psychological toll of carrying out the execution of a person with an innocence claim. In doing so, it also raises questions about the morality and ethics of the death penalty. Available to stream on Hulu.
The Hate U Give
In this drama, a teen trying to exist in two spaces — the poor, mostly Black community she lives in and the wealthy, mostly white school she attends — must navigate new dynamics after witnessing a police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend. The film portrays the many ways lives can be impacted by contact with the criminal legal system. Available to stream on Hulu.
This award-winning and critically acclaimed film is based on a true story and follows the last moments of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was tragically detained and killed by police at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, California, on New Year’s Day in 2009. Driven by a powerful performance from Michael B. Jordan, the biographical drama humanizes a life gone too soon and provokes necessary conversations about police brutality. Streaming on Hulu.
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