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16 Movies to Watch to Educate Yourself About the Black Experience in America

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The late, great Nina Simone once famously said in an interview, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Today we’re looking at movies created by Black artists — directors, writers, actors — that have reflected the Black experience in America over the years. The call to be anti-racist is urgent and these movies will undoubtedly serve as valuable resources in our continuing education to understand how deep racism runs in this country and how we can fight to end racial injustice. We encourage you to watch these movies and share them with friends and family as a way to stir up some much-needed conversations about how to become actively anti-racist. And of course, if you can, please donate to organizations fighting racial injustice.

1. Do The Right Thing (1989)

Stream: (Currently Unavailable)
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu

Synopsis: Salvatore “Sal” Fragione is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin’ Out, becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria’s Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin’ Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin’ Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.

 

2. 13th (2016)

Stream: Netflix
Rent: (Currently Unavailable)

Synopsis: An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

 

3. Dear White People (2014)

Stream: (Currently Unavailable)
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Redbox

Synopsis: Four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an “African-American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in ‘post-racial’ America while weaving a story about forging one’s unique path in the world.

 

4. Malcom X (1992)

Stream: Netflix
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Redbox, DIRECTV

Synopsis: A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his imprisonment in the ’50s, he became a Black Muslim and then a leader in the Nation of Islam. His assassination in 1965 left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride.

 

5. Just Mercy (2019)

Stream: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, DIRECTV
Rent: (Streaming for free for the month of June)

Synopsis: The powerful true story of Harvard-educated lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who goes to Alabama to defend the disenfranchised and wrongly condemned — including Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to death despite evidence proving his innocence. Bryan fights tirelessly for Walter with the system stacked against them.

 

6. Get Out (2017)

Stream: (Currently Unavailable)
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu

Synopsis: A young black man visits his white girlfriend’s cursed family estate. He finds out that many of its residents, who are black, have gone missing in the past.

 

7. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Stream: Amazon, Kanopy, Hoopla
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu

Synopsis: Working from the text of James Baldwin’s unfinished final novel, director Raoul Peck creates a meditation on what it means to be Black in the United States.

 

8. Moonlight (2016)

Stream: Netflix, Kanopy
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, DIRECTV, Redbox

Synopsis: The tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality.

 

9. BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Stream: HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO MAX
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, DIRECTV, Redbox

Synopsis: Colorado Springs, late 1970s. Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer, and Flip Zimmerman, his Jewish colleague, run an undercover operation to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.

 

10. Selma (2014)

Stream: FXNOW, Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, DIRECTV
Rent: (Streaming for free for the month of June)

Synopsis: “Selma,” as in Alabama, the place where segregation in the South was at its worst, leading to a march that ended in violence, forcing a famous statement by President Lyndon B. Johnson that ultimately led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

 

11. Mudbound (2017)

Stream: Netflix
Rent: (Currently Unavailable)

Synopsis: In the post–World War II South, two families are pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad.

 

12. The Hate U Give (2018)

Stream: MAXGO, CINEMAX, DIRECTV
Rent: Amazon, FandangoNOW

Synopsis: Raised in a poverty-stricken slum, a 16-year-old girl named Starr now attends a suburban prep school. After she witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed best friend, she’s torn between her two very different worlds as she tries to speak her truth.

 

13. Dope (2015)

Stream: (Currently Unavailable)
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, DIRECTV, Redbox

Synopsis: Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.

 

14. Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018)

Stream: HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO MAX, Kanopy
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu

Synopsis: Sandra Bland was a bright, energetic activist whose life was cut short when a traffic stop resulted in a mysterious jail cell death just three days later.

 

15. 12 Years A Slave (2013)

Stream: (Currently Unavailable)
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Redbox, DIRECTV

Synopsis: In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty as well as unexpected kindnesses Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

 

16. Fences (2016)

Stream: (Currently Unavailable)
Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Redbox, DIRECTV

Synopsis: In 1950s Pittsburgh, a frustrated African-American father struggles with the constraints of poverty, racism, and his own inner demons as he tries to raise a family.

 

If you have the means to donate once (any amount helps!) or set up a recurring monthly donation, here are 18 Organizations You Can Help Fight Racial Injustice.

Featured photo by Alex Litvin for Unsplash

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