White People, We Need To Watch These Documentaries About Race

You Watched ‘Tiger King’ — Now Watch This

You-Watched-Tiger-King-Now-Watch-This-1
Netflix and Warner Bros.

It was the phenomenon that drew a fearful nation together after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It sparked a national conversation we could all get into that had nothing to do with the words pandemic or lockdown or deadly virus.

It was Netflix’s Tiger King, and we all watched and laughed at the memes and found a reason to take a breath from the nightmare playing out in hospitals and emergency rooms across the world.

Now, the nation faces another pandemic—one that’s been long simmering: the pandemic of racism and racial injustice. And just like the first time we came together around a television show to create a national conversation, we can do the same for this much more important cause. Although this time, the purpose won’t be to distract and laugh, but to reflect and learn — and then to use that knowledge to enact lasting change.

Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement

Black Lives Matter has been called a civil rights movement and a terrorist organization. It’s grown from a grassroots social media hashtag to a movement on the streets in cities across America. This documentary explains the origins of Black Lives Matter and–through first person accounts from activists, protestors, celebrities, and more–explains how the movement evolved and what it’s truly about.

The 13th

Ava DuVernay’s documentary delves into the Thirteenth Amendment and how it has led to the mass incarceration of black boys and men in for-profit prisons. Nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar and winner of a Best Documentary BAFTA, three Critics Choice awards, an NAACP Image Award, and a Peabody award, DuVernay’s documentary explores the history of inequality in the justice system, and explains the coded language behind phrases like “tough on crime” and “law and order.”

When They See Us

This miniseries, also by Ava Duvernay, is based on the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and the Exonerated Five (previously known as the Central Park Five), who were a group of black and Latino teens who were falsely accused of and then wrongfully convicted on charges of rape and assault. The conviction was overturned in 2002 when the real assailant came forward. The case serves as a study in how the news, public, and criminal justice system convicted the boys despite true evidence.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

When Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, was found dead in the Hudson River, the police labeled the death a suicide. Twenty-five years later, her friend, and fellow activist, Victoria Cruz is working to tell Marsha’s story, in this documentary, which also explores why her death was never fully investigated.

Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story

A docuseries about the case that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story explores the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black boy, by George Zimmerman and the racial tension that followed.

America to Me

A ten-part documentary by Academy Award nominated filmmaker Steve James, America To Me follows twelve students in Oak Park, Illinois. It takes a close look at racial, economic, and class issues in American education, particularly exploring why white students’ grades climbed while black students’ grades did not.

Let It Fall

This documentary, which was timed with the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles uprisings that erupted after the verdict clearing police officers of the beating of Rodney King was announced, explores the conflict between the police and the black community beginning a decade before the uprising. With exclusive interviews with eyewitnesses and those directly involved in the events, Let It Fall looks at the roots of civil unrest and the simmering racial tensions of a city.

Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

Questions swirled when twenty-eight year old Sandra Bland, an outspoken activist, was arrested for a traffic violation and found hanging in her jail cell, supposedly by suicide. The documentary looks into the suspicious circumstances of her death and her family’s battle with law enforcement.

Time: The Kalief Browder Story

This six-episode docuseries tells the story of Kalief Browder, a sixteen-year-old boy who was accused of stealing a backpack. Because his family couldn’t afford bail and the jail system had no other place for him, Browder spent three years on Riker’s Island, two of which were in solitary confinement—without ever being convicted of a crime.

Slavery By Another Name

A 90 minute documentary that asks the question: did slavery really end with the Civil War? Through discussions with black history scholars, Slavery By Another Name looks at the systematic ways newly freed black people were re-enslaved, through a system of arrests and forced labor.

Dark Girls

With a focus on what it means to be a dark skinned woman in America, through conversations and interviews, the documentary aims to shed light on the concept of black beauty, the perceived biases of dark versus light skin, and the historical and psychological roots of those deep-rooted beliefs.

Just Mercy

Just Mercy is based on the true story of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson who defends a wrongfully convicted black man on death row in Alabama for the murder of a white woman. Among other issues, the film considers justice system imbalances and the inherent danger of being black in America. Warner Bros. has made this film available to rent for free on most streaming services.

Because social causes can’t wait, and because states are opening up, we, as a country, may not be home as steadfastly as we were in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re not watching as much television, but we nevertheless should come together for a national conversation. If we could do it for Tiger King, it’s our absolute duty to do it for racial injustice.