To think that someone could get treated poorly because of their race unfortunately speaks volumes about the cruelty of the world that we need to address, and the resulting pains that we need to heal. The world has always operated and still operates as a hierarchy, which often means that the downtrodden face habitual abuse in their everyday lives at school or work. The abuse could become overwhelming or life-threatening. From antisemitism to slavery, racism overarches like a giant spiderweb. Colorism has been a fundamentally disheartening reality and a major problem throughout of history, not only in the United States, but also in other parts of the world.
White supremacy, discrimination laws, and violence have been persistent problems that Black and brown individuals have had to deal with. At present, the situation cannot be dismissed, and it is still very much alive, despite the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented a major improvement towards ending discrimination based on race, color, religion, and origins. Notwithstanding, racism has become a systematic issue, deeply embedded in the hierarchy of the United States, that still needs to be addressed and eradicated. The following documentaries offer a glimpse of the harsh realities that these polluted ideologies have created, to the detriment of different human beings around the world.
11 Eyes on the Prize (1987)
Eyes on the Prize is a powerful documentary that zooms in on the Civil Rights Movement from 1952 to 1965. It was created by Henry Hampton and touches upon the most striking events of the movement and the leading figures who have fought hard for it. The piece is one of the most comprehensive documentaries on the history and politics of the United States of America. It contains actual footage of certain events and eye-opening interviews from people who were truly involved.
Due to its richness, it is almost like an encyclopedia of the fight for freedom that took place. It is both deeply heart-wrenching and hopeful. It shows that fighting for what’s right – even though it can be dramatically, physically, and emotionally taxing, can build a better future, and that makes it all worth the while. Some of the interviewees in the documentary are Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, and John Lewis. Today, this documentary is a precious production that contains treasures that cannot be replicated.
10 13th (2016)
Directed by Ava DuVernay, 13th takes an in-depth look at the prison system in America and the underlying racism present therein, as it is disproportionately filled with Black Americans. While exploring the issue, the documentary highlights how this came to be, by looking at the issue of race in America from a historical point of view. It successfully looks at the business-industrial complex and the many laws that were formulated to increase the profits of these institutions. Seemingly subjective in many parts, and needing more in-depth exploration to bring out the truthful answers to what it is suggesting, this documentary presents an interesting narrative about racism in America today.
9 Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland is about Bland, who was a civil rights activist and often criticized police brutality. In 2015, Sandra Bland was stopped by police officer, Brian Encinia because she did not signal a lane change. After a heated confrontation with the officer for apparently not putting out a cigarette, she was abruptly arrested and taken to jail on suspicion of assault, where she was found dead only three days later.
The saddening and mysterious event led to endless questions about Sandra; was she killed, or did she kill herself? Was she emotionally pushed beyond the limits of what she could endure? Her death remains a mystery, but her story is a very crucial one that emphasizes the issue of racist police brutality, which is a reoccurring problem in America.
8 The Central Park Five
The Central Park Five investigates the case of five Black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of sexually assaulting a white woman in Central Park with little evidence. At the time, New York was facing endless waves of crimes every day. Years later, after each of them spent years in prison, the original offender came forward and proved that they were all innocent of that crime. The narratives bring out the injustice of the legal system, and the hasty judgment of the police, thereby demonstrating the gravity and injustice of racial profiling and how emotionally destructive it can be, robbing people of their lives. The exoneration was not a result of justice, but a result of the mere conscience of the offender.
It’s important to note that while the guys were guilty of other crimes, they were not guilty of THAT crime, and if justice was the priority, they should have been arrested for their crimes, not someone else’s. In addition, the Central Park Five claimed that they were forced to admit a crime they did not commit after facing savage treatment, which is alarming because, as evidence shows, they never did it. The documentary is layered and insightful. A retelling of the story in another dramatic format was produced in the form of a show that aired on Netflix called When They See Us,in which the lead actors gave harrowing performances.
7 Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Time: The Kalief Browder Story is yet another heartbreaking story about the ways in which the criminal justice system failed miserably to carry out its duty. It tells the story of Kalief Browder, who was convicted when he was just 16 years old. He was arrested based on the alleged offense that he stole a backpack (which he never stole) and awaited his trial for three years. He refused to plead guilty and was sent to solitary confinement for the first two years. He was also severely abused during his time there. Kalief penned an essay on the painful side effects of solitary confinement, which raised awareness about the issue and stirred activism efforts that advocate banning the practice across US prisons.
6 I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro is filmmaker Raoul Peck’s effort to bring the unfinished book of James Baldwin to life. Before his death, James Baldwin, the prominent writer and poet, started a project called Remember This House, which attempted to chronicle the lives of three of his close revolutionary friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, who were all killed. The book intimately dives into race in America.
The gifted writer leaves behind his artistic and compelling narratives on the American condition as a whole, which make up this documentary. You also get to see how eloquent of a speaker James Baldwin is, and you get to see his presence on the screen like never before. All the individuals that were featured in this documentary cared about the same thing, the truth, and it was their deep empathy for others and their concern for tomorrow that made them speak up so loudly.
5 Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Who We Are : A Chronicle of Racism in America provides a mixture of interviews and lectures that provide extensive information about racism in America. It is heavily based on Jeffery Robinson’s work, who has been a trial lawyer for more than four decades. His work involves extensive research on the history of racism in America, with a deep focus on white supremacy. In the documentary, he breaks down the many struggles that Black Americans face to build a secure future for themselves. Some of the struggles that the documentary touches upon are: the struggle to build wealth, equal employment opportunities, education, and access to healthcare.
4 O.J.: Made in America
Oscar winning-documentary O.J.: Made in America covers the murder trial of celebrity O.J. Simpson in a five-part series. The captivating documentary has managed to be one of the most influential pieces of media, as it offers a commentary on a wide range of themes. Race tensions, celebrity culture, domestic violence, and poverty are all explored in the film. It does so by documenting everything surrounding the trial, Simpson’s successful sports career, his marriage, how divided the nation was, and Los Angeles at the time of the trial.
3 What Happened Miss Simone?
What Happened Miss Simone is a documentary about Nina Simone, who was a remarkable singer, pianist, and civil rights activist. Her musical talent was something else, and the film highlights the struggles she encountered before she was ever able to become a jazz musician. However, as the film depicts, Simone was torn between her musical responsibilities and her deep desire to be more involved in the civil rights movements. Many of her songs discuss the issue of race in America, and one of her songs (“Mississippi Goddam”) was even banned when it was released.
2 When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts thoroughly investigates the kind of support people got after the city of New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katarina in 2005. It shows the utter lack of support that the less privileged individuals in the city received. It is moving and disturbing. The film expresses the grief and the aftermath of the devastating events through vivid imagery of the incident that depicts the scale of this tragedy. At its core, it asks, “Why did this tragedy happen in the first place, and could it have been prevented?”
1 Hoop Dreams
Hoop Dreams is a fine piece of production that documents the hopes and dreams of two Chicago boys from poor households, who aspire to become professional basketball players. Filmed over the course of five years, the documentary feels like a journey, as we follow the trials and tribulations they go through. Their families are also featured, which adds more context to their story. What makes this documentary special is how real it feels and how invested it gets you in these people. Through its coverage of their lives in real time, we see the many obstacles they face, such as sports injuries, family issues, and racism from their communities.