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Understanding America’s History of Racial Injustice Through Film

    • Understanding America’s History of Racial Injustice Through Film

      Five movies that shed light on the U.S. criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and policing.

      The American criminal justice system has a context, a history, a past. To understand the policies, ideas, people and decisions that have created the conditions for what you see today—police brutality, mass incarceration, unequal systems of justice, and the pervasive racism throughout these systems—these films are a start.




      Just Mercy

      An inside look at America’s broken criminal justice system, told through the story of Bryan Stevenson and his client Walter McMillian.

      When They See Us

      A story of the wrongful incarceration of five Black teenagers from Harlem who were falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park.


      A thought-provoking documentary analyzing the criminalization of African Americans and mass incarceration.

      I Am Not Your Negro

      A journey into Black History through the life and work of James Baldwin.


      The story of a movement. The story of the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.


      While you’re here check out…


      When They See Us: Media Bias and Data Analysis

      “When They See Us” chronicles the wrongful arrest and incarceration of the five young Black men known as the Central Park Five. Explore the series and the underlying story more deeply with this new learning companion and field study lesson.

      Confronting America’s History of Racial Injustice

      To change the future, we must begin with an honest reckoning with our past. The Equal Justice Initiative gives eloquent voice to the harrowing and shameful history of racism in America, beginning with slavery and continuing through the systemic injustices of today.

      Anti-Racist Reading List and Resources

      Books and resources to add to your antiracist education.

    • Eyes on the Prize
      School Daze
      Boyz N the Hood
      Roots (the 1977 one)
      The Hate U Give
      The Help
      Malcolm X
      Do the Right Thing
      The Color Purple

    • MEN OF HONOR about Carl Brashear, first African American master diver in U.S. Navy

      SOMETHING THE LORD MADE about Vivien Thomas, who designed life-saving procedure at John’s Hopkins Hospital in the 40s

      RED TAILS about the Tuskegee Airmen

      FRUITVALE STATION – 2009 police brutality

    • Fruitvale Station is an incredible film and was incredibly hard for me to watch!  I’d add Rosewood to this list as well to provide a rich historical perspective to life under Jim Crow in the South.

    • You included a number of my favorite – you mentioned my favorite historical series – Eyes on the Prize.  We watched the documentary faithfully, in its entirety, every year during middle school and high school in New Orleans.  I’d love to add to your incredible list:

      • Reconstruction: America after the Civil War –> Dr. Henry Louis Gates explores the transformative years following the American Civil War


      • King in the Wilderness (HBO) –> Documentary of the last year before Dr. King’s assassination with lots of archival footage


      • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman –> life in Jim Crow south


      • Miss Evers’ Boys –> Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment


      • Let the Fire Burn –> Police bombing of the MOVE organization


      •  Glory –>  54th Mass. Infantry Regiment (Civil War)


      • I Am Not Your Negro –> James Baldwin in his own words


      • The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross –> PBS documentary by Dr. Henri Louis Gates


      • 4 Little Girls –> Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where four young church members were killed
    • This is a really good article from the Zinn Education Project-
      Two Thumbs Up: Movies and Documentaries to Use (and Avoid) When Teaching Civil Rights

    • This is the best list (crowdsourced from everyone here) that I’ve seen on this topic. I’ve definitely got a few more to add to my list. My daughter is 8 and we’ve been watching some of these films together. We recently finished Hidden Figures. Many of the films listed here are too old for her at this time. Does anyone have other ideas on films that teach about Black history and racial injustice that are good for her age group?

    • There are a few that I absolutely love:

      • The Watsons Go to Birmingham –
      • The Color of Friendship – the story of friendship about two girls (1) African-American girl in the US and the other a white, South African girl (who grew in apartheid SA) who learn about tolerance and friendship.
      • Polly – featuring Keisha Knight Pulliam – a remake of classic Pollyanna story with lots of music and discussions about how racial intolerance can impact an entire community
      • Tell Me Who I Am – Princess Nia from 14th century Timbuktu and her magical friend Funzi use a time-traveling pyramid spaceship to 21st-century America.  There travel through time, learning about different African historical figures while trying to escape from the evil wizard, Komo
      • Ruby Bridges – real-life story of one of the first African-America children to attend school in the deep south.
    • Thanks for these great responses @nwilliamsnola and @katelynsilva!


    • Thanks for these great responses @nwilliamsnola and @katelynsilva!


    • It’s my pleasure.  This is an awesome, curated list!

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What films have shaped your own understanding of America’s history of racial injustice?

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