The traumatic events of the last week have rocked the world, at a time when we are still being rocked by COVID-19. As a black woman, I’ve made my stance and my feelings about the treatment of black people, in both the US and here in the UK, very clear and have been energised to see others speaking up, educating people, and sharing links to donations and petitions.
At my core I’m most passionate about telling people what to watch, so whilst I look forward to wittering on once more about yet another show with people clamouring to win something, I also felt it important to share some Netflix documentaries and TV shows that can help in highlighting the issues raised and allow for some perspective.
Explained: The racial wealth gap
Part of Vox’s excellent Explained series, this episode takes a look at the racial wealth gap in America. In just 16 minutes this episode explains the creation of a wealth gap in the US as a result of slavery and the resulting decades of Jim Crow laws and redlining that have contributed to the racial divide we see today. This episode takes complex information and breaks it down simply and clearly.
Directed by Ava Duvernay, this Oscar-nominated documentary, explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the disproportionate number of African Americans who occupy the nation’s prisons. This is an unflinching look at how the 13th amendment, designed to criminalise slavery, has in fact been used to turn slavery into a profitable and exploitative prison system.
Time: The Khalief Browder story
Khalief Browder was 16 when he was accused of stealing a book bag in The Bronx, New York back in 2010. He maintained his innocence. As a result, he was charged as an adult and sent to Riker’s Island where he remained awaiting trial until 2013. The abuse and trauma Browder suffered in prison, much of which was spent in solitary confinement, changed him forever. This documentary isn’t an easy watch, but a story that needs to be told and listened to.
Trial by Media (episodes 2 and 3)
This relatively new series looks at a range of famous court cases that are believed to have their outcome affected by extensive media coverage. Two episodes within this fascinating series, executive produced by George Clooney, look at the cases of Bernard Goetz and Amadou Diallo. Goetz became known as the ‘subway vigilante’ after he shot four black teenagers on a New York subway in apparent retaliation for an attempted robbery. Also in New York, Diallo was a 23-year-old unarmed black man gunned down by four white officers after being shot at 41 times. Both cases illustrate the deadly outcome of when weapons meet racist preconceptions, police and citizens alike.
This documentary examines the tumultuous period following the verdict in the Rodney King trial in 1992. Despite gruesome and unquestionable video evidence, four police officers were acquitted of beating black motorist Rodney King. This decision triggered riots in the streets of LA. This was a landmark case in terms of police relations with the black community, as well as what some point to as the reason for the controversial OJ Simpson verdict just two years later.
When They See Us
This powerful mini-series is based on the real-life story of the Central Park Five. In 1989 five young boys accused of the rape and assault of a jogger and subsequently charged. Directed by Ava Duvernay, the series exposes the assumptions, falsehoods, and lapse in policing that saw the Five spend years fighting the conviction in order to become the Exonerated Five. More than simply moving, this series features an exceptional cast, with an Emmy winning performance from Jharrel Jerome (Moonlight), who became the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy for acting in his role as Korey Wise.
Lastly, I want to mention some great shows about the black experience that also show the joy, the fun, the silliness, the chaos, the normality. Black people are not just subjects of trauma and violence. Black people are not just sources of entertainment. Too often we aren’t seen on screen for the nuance, complexity and duality we have.
The following shows do look at being black, as it is not something we have the privilege of being untangled from our daily lives, but that isn’t the only thing going on here. As much as you need to watch the shows above to understand the realities of racism against the black community, you should also be watching acclaimed shows like Atlanta (FX), Insecure (Sky Atlantic), Black-ish (Amazon Prime) and Dear White People (Netflix) to understand us as people.