Learning about others and deconstructing your own biases and assumptions is critical in any sort of activist work. There are books, films, television shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, and so much more that cover a wide range of issues and topics. Some films and television shows to watch in this current era include:
13th – this documentary from Ava DuVernay highlights the thirteenth amendment of the US Constitution and the mass incarceration of black and brown folks. With only 5% of the world’s population, the United States hosts close to 25% of the world’s prison population and black and brown folks disproportionally make up that same group. With interviews from people like Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow), Angela Davis, and many more, the film goes through much of the history around mass incarceration and even highlights the clear parallels of the violence from white people during the civil rights movement to Donald Trump and his now successful campaign for the presidency.
- However: while many have praised this film, there are some critiques. One of the biggest being that it primarily focuses on black men and erases the stories of incarcerated black women.
- Dear White People – I’ve written about this film before but soon there will be a related Netflix show with the same time. This film, while a fictionalized story, highlights the very real struggle between students of color (particularly black students) and white students/administrations of various colleges around the United States.
Bill Nye Saves the World – this show hasn’t come out yet but will be released on Netflix in April 2017. In an era where the current US presidential administration is filled with former oil tycoons and climate change deniers, it’s important now more than ever to learn about science and push back on the narrative that the Trump government will inevitably push through.
- A side note: I loved watching Bill Nye the Science Guy as a kid and I’m so excited for this new show. And apparently there’s supposed to be a new Magic School Bus coming out on Netflix too – it’s as if my scientific childhood heroes are coming back to life!
- Hidden Figures – this recent film features the story of three black women who worked at mathematicians, engineers, and computers at NASA in the 1960s. The film is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly and while the film isn’t completely accurate, it does an amazing job of telling the otherwise untold stories of Mary Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine G. Johnson. Films and shows with a variety possibility models are vital for supporting and inspiring the next generation and the popularity of Hidden Figures only shows that black women can be the leading characters of blockbuster movies.
- Major! – this is another film I’ve written about and definitely recommend. It’s a documentary about Miss Major Griffin Gracy, a black trans woman who was a veteran of the Stonewall Riots, a survivor of Attica State Prison, former sex worker, and community leader/activist. There are interviews from Miss Major herself and the community around her.
- Her Story – this show is written, produced, and features trans women. It’s about the dating lives of trans and queer women and challenges the ways in which we think about trans romance.
- Do I Sound Gay? – this is another film that I’ve written about and while not perfect, Do I Sound Gay? looks into the stereotypical ‘gay voice’. David Thrope talks to researchers, vocal coaches, friends, strangers and celebrities about the gay voice. While this film isn’t perfect, it does challenge the ways in which we stereotype others and try to be something we’re not.
- Out in the Night – I haven’t seen this documentary yet but it tells the story of a group that had been labeled a “gang of killer lesbians” in the media and labeled as the “New Jersey 4” by activist circles. The group of women had out one night in August 2006 in New York City, where they were eventually followed and violently harassed by an older man. A fight breaks out between the group of women and the man, leading to the women being arrested and charged with gang assault, assault, and attempted murder. The documentary takes a look at how race, gender identity, and sexuality becomes criminalized in the media and legal system through the four women.
- Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution– this is a full-length documentary about the Black Panthers and goes through the party’s history and what happened. But as a warning, it does show graphic images of the kinds of abuse and killings that black people have gone through in history at the hands of white American and white supremacy.
- 1971 – this film is about when eight ordinary people broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office, stole hundreds of secret files, and then shared them with the public. While doing so, these citizens also discovered COINTELPRO and that the FBI had been spying on and intimidating Americans for exercising their first amendment.
- 21 Social Justice Documentaries on Netflix to Watch – Johnny Brayson
- (A Highly Subjective) Top 10 LGBT Documentaries for Pride Month – Shelby Biggs