Mandatory Staff Picks: Social Injustice Documentaries That Will Show You a New Way of Thinking
Movies aren’t just for entertainment. They also educate and enlighten. This is especially true of documentaries. Now more than ever, some of our screen time should be dedicated to consciousness-raising films. These social (in)justice documentaries and docuseries will not only awaken you to issues you didn’t realize other people face, they’ll motivate you to seek justice for the populations depicted. From educational disparities to mass incarceration to serial killings, these films focus on the ways American society has failed its citizens of color. Watch these films and open yourself up to new ways of thinking.
Cover Photo: Hulu
'I Am Not Your Negro'
Based on author James Baldwin’s unfinished work, Remember This House, this documentary takes a closer look at the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, this critically acclaimed documentary now on Netflix examines the mass incarceration of black Americans and how prison has essentially become a new form of slavery.
'Crime + Punishment'
This award-winning film exposes how black and Latino cops in New York City are pressured by those at the top to make questionable arrests simply to meet quotas – and how the officers are punished if they don’t conform.
'Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children'
At least 30 black children, teens, and young men were murdered in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. This in-depth docuseries explores how race played a major part in the media attention – or lack thereof – that the cases received, as well as which suspects law enforcement pursued, including members of the KKK, local pedophiles, and a 23-year-old black man, Wayne Williams, who was ultimately convicted for two of the murders.
'Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement'
The biggest modern movement fighting racial inequality in the United States is the subject of this timely BET documentary.
'Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story'
Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch zealot George Zimmerman in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, is the subject of this six-episode docuseries.
'Owned: A Tale of Two Americas'
This film fest favorite reveals how black folks have been unjustly denied home ownership – and the freedom it imparts.
Photo: Section Perspective
'The Central Park Five'
This documentary unpacks the egregious injustices done to the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teens from Harlem who were unjustly accused and convicted of brutally raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. All were exonerated in 2002 after the real rapist confessed.
'America to Me'
One of the country’s most diverse public schools is the subject of this documentary that follows a year in the students’ lives to show how race and class impact education.
Photo: Kartemquin Films
Based on Raymond Arsenault's book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, this documentary sheds light on a six-month period in 1961 when more than 400 black and white Americans traveled through the Deep South together on buses and trains to challenge Jim Crow laws.
Photo: Firelight Films