6 Documentaries To Watch To Educate Yourself On Systemic Racism

While we are showing support for and standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and many of us are donating if we are able, it’s important to be as educated as possible on why this fight against police brutality and systemic racism is so important. Sadly, for many of us, our formal education on racism and civil rights stopped at the 1960s, and probably wasn’t nearly comprehensive enough to begin with, leaving out decades of important information.

As most of us are still spending a lot of time at home right now, this is the perfect time to get to work on being a more educated ally. Luckily, the streaming services you already spend all your time on have some amazing documentaries readily available. In the last few days, many activists like Dom Roberts and Kota Lovette have used their platforms to make some suggestions on what to watch. Of course, watching these movies is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of being a good ally, but here are some recommendations for where to get started.

’13th’ – Netflix


In this deeply unsettling doc, Ava DuVernay examines how, since the end of the Civil War, our country has perpetuated slavery through racist mechanisms like segregation and the War on Drugs. DuVernay explains why these structures have led to an enormous mass incarceration problem, and how corporations profit from keeping black people behind bars. While not an easy watch by any means, 13th does an unflinching job of illustrating how our legal system is rigged against black people.

‘I Am Not Your Negro’ – Amazon Prime

Writer and activist James Baldwin was a crucial voice in the Civil Rights Movement, and the film I Am Not Your Negro uses his own words to powerfully depict the ongoing struggle for equality in our country. Along with archival footage and recordings, Samuel L. Jackson narrates from one of Baldwin’s unfinished works, and the final result is a fascinating look at both James Baldwin’s life and his views on race. His words may be from decades ago, but they’re just as timely today.

‘LA 92’ – Netflix

You’ve probably heard a lot of references to the Rodney King riots, or the LA riots from the ’90s, but a lot of us don’t really have the proper context. Perhaps they should teach this stuff in schools? In 1992, protests broke out in LA in response to four police officers being found not guilty of using excessive force in a brutal arrest and beating of Rodney King. The whole thing was caught on video, and people were outraged that the officers were acquitted. More than 50 people were killed in the days of riots that followed, and many more were injured, and this documentary does an excellent job of teaching us about this landmark event.

‘O.J.: Made In America’ – Hulu

OJ Made In America

You probably know the general details of the O.J. Simpson trial, but this epic seven-hour documentary is an absolute must-watch. Of course, there’s the true crime element, which is incredibly interesting, but director Ezra Edelstein weaves O.J.’s story seamlessly with the background of what was happening in Los Angeles at the time. This includes the 1992 riots, and other events that led to an incredibly volatile relationship between the black community and the LAPD. This film is really a staggering feat of storytelling, and no matter how much you know about O.J., there’s plenty more to learn.

‘Knock Down The House’ – Netflix

Knock Down The House

The events happening now don’t exist in a vacuum—they’re the product of hundreds of years of racist policies and attitudes. If we are going to make meaningful changes moving forward, we have to have a government that will work for us, and Knock Down The House follows the efforts to make that a reality. The film follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other female grassroots candidates on their 2018 Congressional campaigns, and the institutional challenges designed to keep people like them out of power. I rewatched this over the weekend, and it’s one of the few things that has actually made me feel hopeful for the future.

‘The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson’ – Netflix

Marsha P. Johnson

As we move into Pride month, it’s extremely important to remember that we owe the entire Pride movement to queer black people rioting for their rights. Marsha P. Johnson was an activist and trans woman who is known for being a primary figure in the Stonewall Riots of 1969. She was an icon in the queer community, until she died under mysterious circumstances in 1992. This documentary is both a celebration of her life, and an attempt to find justice for her death. If you plan on celebrating Pride this month, this should be on your viewing list.

There are no shortage of documentaries, movies, books, TV shows, and podcasts on important topics like these, so keep searching for resources to learn as much as possible. In this post, activist Dom Roberts shared some more recommendations of things to watch, all of which are great options.

It’s on all of us to do our part right now, and the least we can do is learn about why this fight is so important. If you have other movies, books, or shows you’ve found helpful, please leave them in the comments.

Images: Clay Banks / Unsplash; Courtesy of Netflix (4); ESPN Press Room; domrobxrts / Instagram

Dylan Hafer
Dylan Hafer
Dylan Hafer has watched over 1000 episodes of Real Housewives because he has his priorities in order. Follow him on Instagram @dylanhafer and Twitter @thedylanhafer for all the memes you could ever want.