As we celebrate Black History Month in February of 2021, we cannot help but look back at 2020 and the lessons we have learned. It was an intense year of social, political and economic disorder, much of which still thrives. The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the true state of U.S. injustice, and in response to police brutality, health disparities and countless other societal issues, we saw a powerful and necessary rise in activism.
At the start of this new year, many have gone down a path of educating themselves, understanding their biases and critiquing their lifestyles. This month especially, people are considering how best to support the Black community and to understand our fight for equity and justice. With such a wide range of complex information already in existence, the question becomes, where to start? Especially if you are an ally, it can be difficult to build on your knowledge of a community encountering racism, prejudice and systemic injustices that are not part of your lived experience.
Well, you have come to the right place.
Thankfully, there is an increasing number of platforms promoting Black history and the spread of accessible civil rights information. Netflix in particular has a great selection of documentaries, films and shows. More than many other platforms, they have provided content with accessible language, gripping plots and most importantly, reliable information. Even if you do not have access to their platform, it can be a place to get ideas for what topics to explore on your own.
Over the past year, I have compiled a list of my favorites that I feel are authentic and captivating. They do justice to our Black history and should be added to your watch list this month.
The first of my picks is the documentary, “Uppity,” which covers the true story of Willy T. Ribbs, the first Black man to qualify for the Indy 500. The story gives an inside look into the world of racing, the relationships Ribbs builds with prominent figures in/out of this environment, and the racism and prejudice he encounters along the way. Before watching this, Willy T. Ribbs was a name I had never heard. If you love hearing first-persons accounts, this fascinating documentary is for you.
The next selection for my list is an amazing documentary titled, “The Black Godfather.“ It follows the life and accomplishments of Clarence Avant, as he makes waves in the entertainment industry, and as he discovers and brings successful acts to fame. If you are a fan of Black music and artists, looking to expand your knowledge, this film is a must-see.
Similar to “The Black Godfather,” my third pick, the documentary “Quincy,” recounts the successes and tells of the ongoing life of Quincy Jones, one of the most successful and influential record producers of our time. Once again, if your interests lie in music production and prominent Black artists, this documentary will become one of your favorites.
This next one is a well-known, but equally important watch. “13th“ is a powerful documentary that examines the criminalization of the Black community, and presents the harsh realities of U.S. mass incarceration, or as they call it, the “modern day slavery.” It explores the ways prison has furthered oppression of the Black community, plaguing us with generational trauma, racial wealth gaps, and more.
If you found the contents of “13th“ especially interesting, this next selection, “CRACK: Cocaine, Corruption, and Conspiracy” is the documentary you should watch next. This new addition to Netflix is great at breaking down the intersection of the war on drugs, the U.S. government, and prison systems in creating one of the worst epidemics to hit the Black and Brown community. This documentary additionally includes facts specific to the war on drugs that are often omitted from existing media.
Despite the fact this pick will be leaving Netflix on Feb. 28, “LA 92” is a documentary that deserves attention. It is a gripping account of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and both the social and economic impacts these events had on the civil rights movement. The documentary is filled with real video footage and captioned text, making it an extremely accurate portrayal.
As we near the end of this list, my second to last recommendation is the film “They Gotta Have Us.” This selection showcases Black film and its emergence. It gives great inside looks into other prominent Black films such as “Hollywood Scuffle“ and furthermore examines and criticizes the entertainment industry’s stereotyping of Black actors.
Last, but far from least, we have the film, “I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO.” This selection is the film adaptation of James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir, “Remember This House.” In this specific work of Baldwin’s, we see the assassinations of his close friends, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers, told through his account. For those who are beginning to explore activism, civil disobedience and the ins and outs of the civil rights movement past what you have been taught in school, this is an amazing film that will make you question everything.
Black history is extensive and oftentimes erased, so gaining access to accurate, digestible information can be a tough task. These selections are my suggestions, a place for you to start, an opportunity to build a base in your understanding of Black history. But I leave it here with hopes that you will continue to actively search out and consume authentic content, whether it be in the form of a documentary, a podcast, a book or something else. February is 28 days of honoring Black history, but there is so much more to be done in the 306 days of 2021 that will remain afterwards.
Written by Nailah-Bena Chambers, Global Studies Major and Chinese Minor, class of 2023.