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The Essential Movies and Series on Netflix That Examine Systemic Racism in America

black movies shows netflix
What to Watch On Netflix About Systemic RacismCourtesy

For decades, Black people have used art as a means of expression. One of the most exhilarating mediums is film and television, which allows writers, actors, and the audience to embed themselves in the Black experience. From shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Jeffersons, to historical films like Do the Right Thing and the newly revived musical The Color Purple, there’s plenty of options available if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Black art.

Now that Hollywood has grown to welcome diverse storytelling, the streaming world has even more shows and films to explore. Recently, Netflix acquired a host of titles that celebrate Black America through various exciting plots and perspectives. There are feel-good documentaries like We Are the Brooklyn Saints, historical dramas like Rustin, romantic romps like From Scratch, and so much more.

If you’re hoping to find something entertaining and enriching, look no further. We’ve compiled a list of the 25 best films and television series created by (and featuring) Black artists on Netflix.

Rustin

Rustin stars Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin, Dr. Martin Luther King’s trusted advisor. Rustin was instrumental in the civil rights movement,—but his contributions to Dr. King's campaign have been diminished due to his sexuality. As an openly gay Black man, Rustin was discredited by his peers, but his legacy lives on in this moving film.

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You Don’t Know Me

You Don’t Know Me is a jaw-dropping mystery about racial justice and romance. The film follows Hero, a young Black man who is on trial for murder. Though all the evidence points to him as the killer, Hero stands by his innocence—and uses his closing argument to recall an affair that might piece the whole case together.

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The Last Dance

The Last Dance might just be one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made. Focusing on Michael Jordan, the docuseries takes viewers back to 1997—when the Chicago Bulls won their sixth NBA championship The series features exclusive footage from the squad's 1997-98 season, in addition to chronicling Jordan's rise to fame from a talented high school athlete into an international superstar.

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Trial 4

Trial 4 is a gripping documentary based on a true story. In 1993, a teenager named Sean K. Ellis was charged with the murder of a police officer in Boston. Ellis's trial gained national attention when his legal team exposed police misconduct within the judicial system and questioned the prison industrial complex.

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From Scratch

From Scratch is a TV adaptation of Tembi Locke’s best-selling memoir. The Netflix film follows Amahle “Amy” Wheeler, a young Black woman who moves to Italy for a study abroad program. During her stay, she falls for a Sicilian chef, and together, they face an unexpected health crisis that brings their family and cultures together.

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We Are: The Brooklyn Saints

We Are the Brooklyn Saints is a feel-good story about a community sports organization. This docuseries follows an inner-city youth football team based in Brooklyn, New York. Each episode highlights the rambunctious players, their loving parents, and their coaches as they train for a new season.

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Seven Seconds

Seven Seconds tells the story of Brenton Butler, a 15-year-old Black boy who is killed in a hit-and-run incident with a police officer. When it’s revealed that the cop was white, Butler’s death divides Jersey City. Some residents side with the Butler family, while others side with the police department, resulting in fervent racial tension.

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Passing

Passing is a film adapted from Nella Larsen’s novel of the same name. Set in 1920s New York, the film follows two friends, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), who unexpectedly run into each other. When they reconnect, Irene realizes that Clare, a light-skinned Black woman, has spent her adult life passing as white.

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Concrete Cowboy

Inspired by the real Black cowboys of North Philadelphia, Concrete Cowboy follows a teen, Sefer, who’s sent to live with his father for the summer. During his stay, he meets a group of city-cowboys who change the trajectory of his life.

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She’s Gotta Have It

She’s Gotta Have It is a television series based on Spike Lee’s film of the same name. The reimagined version stars DeWanda Wise as Lola Darling, a Brooklyn-based artist who’s trying to find love. With three eligible bachelors wrapped around her finger, Lola has to decide what she really wants in a relationship.

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Blood & Water

Blood & Water is a mystery series set in Cape Town, South Africa. The show follows a teenage girl who tries to uncover a young swimmer's origin story. If her suspicions are correct, the star athlete might be her long-lost sister.

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All American

This teen drama follows Spencer James, a talented football player living in Crenshaw, California. His life changes when a coach from Beverly Hills invites him to leave his neighborhood and play for his team. In order to do so, he moves in with the coach and his wealthy family. All American tracks James’s struggles to acclimate to his surroundings without forgetting where he came from.

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The Lovebirds

Leilani and Jibran, a young couple in New Orleans, are seconds away from breaking up when they become the key suspects in a murder-mystery. In order to survive—and prove their innocence—they have to put their relationship-drama behind them. (At least until the morning.)

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A Jazzman's Blues

Tyler Perry’s A Jazzman’s Blues follows an unlikely courtship that threatens to destroy two families. Set in the deep south, the film follows a whirlwind romance that occurs alongside a mysterious murder investigation.

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Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé

I mean. C'mon.

One incredible Coachella performance spawned a whole documentary that traces the inspiration of the show stopping performance to its roots. For those in the know, the documentary might be more of a love letter to culture and inspiration. For those unaware, Homecoming is a must-watch music doc and a whole lesson in how Beyoncé draws her inspiration and communicates her passion.

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Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods tells the story of four Black soldiers who served in Vietnam, who have returned to the country to find the remains of a fellow soldier they hope to finally lay to rest. Not only is it an oft-overlooked narrative in war epics, but it also features incredible performances from Delroy Lindo and the late Chadwick Boseman.

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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Denzel Washington knew what he was doing when he tapped into August Wilson's playbook for Fences. In this, he serves as producer, while Viola Davis ascends to the lead role in a story about Jazz era Chicago. Playing the brazen Ma Rainey, the George C. Wolfe-directed film brings Wilson's stage play to life on screen and shines one hell of a light on Davis' acting chops.

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Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam CJ Walker

The Netflix miniseries about Madam C. J. Walker may be a bit fictionalized (with some slight inaccuracies, thanks to creative liberty), but it cannot alter the fact that Walker was America's first documented self-made millionaire. Played to critical acclaim by Octavia Spencer, the story about the entrepreneur whose hair care products changed the course of the industry and the Black businesswomen who would follow her.

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When They See Us

Twenty years after five young men of color were wrongfully prosecuted when a female jogger was sexually assaulted in Central Park, Ava Duvernay’s miniseries examines the story of the Exonerated Five. With Jharrel Jerome’s Golden Globe-winning performance, When They See Us shows exactly how the flaws—and racism inherent—in our criminal justice system can keep someone wrongfully incarcerated for decades.

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13th

Before she told us America’s story of mass incarceration through the eyes of the Exonerated Five in When They See Us, Ava Durvernay took it on in 13th. Featuring interviews with Van Jones, Grover Norquist, and Lisa Graves, 13th compares our criminal justice system to American slavery—showing how for-profit systems have corrupted our jails, with corporations making money from the mass incarceration crisis.

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All Day and a Night

Throughout All Day and A Night, the narrator, Jahkor Lincoln (played by Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders), says, “Slavery taught Black people how to survive, but not how to live. And that’s what we pass on to each other. My father taught me how to take my fucked-up life out on everyone else.” The rest of the film—which shows Lincoln’s struggle not to follow the fate of his father, who is serving life in prison—explores the painful refrain, showing the cycle of tramua Black men face in America.

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Dear White People

Netflix’s Dear White People is based on the film of the same name, created by Justin Simien. The critically acclaimed series follows several Black students as they make their way through an Ivy League university. The Netflix series skewers all the normal conventions and stereotypes of racism and opens up the gray area that comes between “I have so many Black friends!” and “I’m not a racist!”

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What Happened Miss Simone?

Nina Simone is one of the most towering figures in music history. What Happened Miss Simone? looks into her incredible life and career, using archival footage to trace the paths she took as a multi-genre artist and civil rights activist. The 2015 Netflix documentary looks at all sides of Simone: the powerful activist, the civil rights leader, and perhaps her most-widely regarded moniker, the legendary chanteuse whose style is often imitated, but never matched.

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The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson

Stonewall was a riot first and foremost. Those with an interest in the LGBTQ rights movement know that on that fateful June day in 1969, it was Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman of color, who threw a brick and helped launch the Stonewall riots into the annals of history. What most don’t know is that her suspicious death in 1992 has gone unsolved, and the NYPD has neglected to provide answers for her untimely end. The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson looks into the mysterious passing and all the stones left unturned by those who were responsible for solving her murder.

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Becoming

Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s first memoir, Becoming, was an instant success and New York Times bestseller, so it’s no surprise that her documentary of the same name is equally compelling. The Netflix original documentary takes viewers on a deeper dive of her life, beginning in the Southside of Chicago through her time as First Lady. Living under a microscope, she accurately notes that much of the world only knows her for the eight years she spent living in the White House. Becoming seeks to offer the truths of what happened on her way there.

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