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Black History Month: Movies, TV shows and books on systemic racism

To celebrate the annual observance, and in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, here are materials to help educate all ages about the fight for racial justice.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
  • Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has three times been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Abrar Al-Heeti
9 min read

Books for Black History Month on display at the Elmont Memorial Library in Elmont, New York.

Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Each February brings Black History Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans, and their central role in shaping American society and history. It's also an opportunity to recommit to better understanding and combatting systemic racism and oppression.

The struggle for racial justice is far from over. After the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last year sparked protests around the world, many shared resources to help others better understand long-standing racial inequities and learn how to be better allies to Black Americans. Dozens of books, novels, films and TV series addressing the discrimination that people of color face circulated online, some recommended by libraries like the Chicago Public Library and the Oakland Public Library. One Twitter thread of antiracist children's books, shared by teacher Brittany Smith, went viral. And a Google doc compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein also shared recommendations of what to watch and read. Netflix now showcases TV shows, movies and documentaries addressing racial injustice and the Black experience.

For Black History Month, here are recommendations pulled from those lists and crowdsourced from CNET staff. If you can't get to your local library or bookstore, here's some information on e-readers. If you're struggling with how to stream, read more about the best streaming devices and streaming services.

Nonfiction books

The New Press

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: This book challenges the idea that President Barack Obama's election welcomed a new age of colorblindness.

Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks: This work explores issues such as the impact of sexism on black women during slavery and racism among feminists.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Framed as a letter to his son, Coates pursues the question of how to live free within a black body in a country built on the idea of race, a falsehood most damaging to the bodies of black women and men.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X: In this classic text, Muslim leader Malcolm X shares his life story and talks about the growth of the Black Muslim movement.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo: This book explores how white people uphold racial inequality when they react a certain way to their assumptions about race being challenged. 

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde: Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Lorde shares a collection of essays and speeches exploring sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and class.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis: The activist and scholar shows the link between several movements fighting oppression and state violence.

One World

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: The author's debut memoir explores themes like loneliness, bigotry and love.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon: This text explores the period following the Emancipation Proclamation in which convicts were brought back into involuntary servitude.

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: The historian chronicles how racist ideas have shaped US history and provides tools to expose them.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: This book tells the story of the migration of black Americans who left the South seeking better lives.

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation by Daina Ramey Berry: This text explores how in early America, slaves were commodities in every phase of life.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson: The historian addresses the forces opposing black progress in America throughout history.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi: The founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center uses history, science, class, gender and his own journey to examine racism and what to do to fight it in all forms.


Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.: The author explores the war on crime starting in the 1970s and why it had the support of several African American leaders in urban areas.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper: In a world where black women's anger is portrayed as negative and threatening, Cooper shares that anger can be a source of strength to keep fighting.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon: This memoir explores the impact that lies, secrets and deception have on a black body and family, as well as a nation.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad: This book asks readers to address their own biases, and helps white people tackle their privilege so they can stop harming people of color, even unconsciously.

The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics by George Lipsitz: This text looks at white supremacy and explores how the concept of "whiteness" has been used to define, bludgeon and control the racialized "other."

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts: This book illustrates how America systemically abuses Black women's bodies.

Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America's Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing by Dr. Joy DeGruy: This book explores the impact that repeated traumas endured across generations have on African Americans today.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois: In this influential collection of essays, Du Bois, who played a critical role in shaping early 20th-century black protest strategy, argues that begging for rights that belong to all people is beneath a human's dignity, and accommodating to white supremacy would only maintain black oppression. 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo: The author provides a blueprint for everyone on how to honestly and productively discuss race and shares ways to bring about change.

Fiction books

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: This novel follows a young slave's desperate journey toward freedom.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Two boys are sentenced to reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow era.

Passing by Nella Larsen: This novel explores the fluidity of racial identity through the story of a light-skinned woman who's married to a racist white man who doesn't know about her African American heritage.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: The book tells the story of two half-sisters born in different villages in 18th-century Ghana and their descendants, with one sister later living in comfort and the other sold into slavery.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A young couple leaves Nigeria for the West, each following a different path: She confronts what it means to be black in the US, while he lives undocumented in Britain. They reunite 15 years later in Nigeria.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: The 1937 classic follows the journey of an independent black woman, Janie Mae Crawford, in her search for identity.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley: This novel is based on Haley's family history, and tells the story of Kunta Kinte, who is sold into slavery in the US.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith: This novel tells the story of an interracial family impacted by culture wars.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: A nameless narrator describes growing up in the south, going to and being expelled from a Negro college, moving to New York and, amid violence and confusion, ultimately going to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he sees as himself.  

The Sellout by Paul Beatty: This satire follows a man who tries to reinstate slavery and segregate the local high school, leading to a Supreme Court case.

TV shows and films

13th (Netflix): Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores racial inequality in the US, with a focus on prisons.

When They See Us (Netflix): Ava DuVernay's gut-wrenching -- and essential -- miniseries is based on the true story of the falsely accused young teens known as the Central Park Five.


Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement (BET): This documentary explores the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dear White People (Netflix): Based on a film of the same name, this series shows the biases and injustices that a group of students of color face at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college.

American Son (Netflix): An estranged couple meet at a police station in Florida to try to find their teenage son.

If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu): Based on the James Baldwin novel, this Barry Jenkins film centers on the love between an African American couple whose lives are torn apart when the man is falsely accused of a crime.

Blindspotting (Hulu with Cinemax): Collin needs to make it through three more days of probation, and his relationship with his best friend is tested after he sees a cop shoot a suspect during a chase.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (available to rent): A young black man dreams of reclaiming his childhood home in a now-gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco.

Fruitvale Station (available to rent): Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the biographical film tells the story of Oscar Grant III, who was killed by a white police officer in 2009.


Selma (available to rent): Directed by Ava Duvernay, the historical drama follows civil rights demonstrators in 1965 as they marched from Selma to Montgomery.

The Hate U Give (Hulu with Cinemax) -- Based on the young adult novel by Angie Thomas: The story follows Starr Carter's struggle to balance the poor, mostly black neighborhood she lives in and the wealthy, mostly white school she attends. Things become more complicated after she witnesses a police officer killing her childhood best friend.

16 Shots (Showtime): This documentary investigates the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago.

Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story (Paramount): This six-episode series follows the life and legacy of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in 2012 in Sanford, Florida.

America to Me (Starz): The documentary series provides a look into a year at Chicago's Oak Park and River Forest High School, one of the nation's top performing and diverse public schools.

Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas (HBO): Comic and writer Wyatt Cenac explores the police's excessive use of force in black communities and discusses solutions with experts in this late-night talk/comedy series. The show is currently free to watch on YouTube.


Do the Right Thing (available to rent): Salvatore "Sal" Fragione, an Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn, and neighborhood local Buggin' Out butt heads after Buggin' Out becomes upset that the restaurant's Wall of Fame only shows Italian actors. Tensions flare up as the wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to others in the neighborhood. 

BlacKkKlansman (HBO Max): Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to work in the Colorado Springs Police Department, sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.

The Wire (HBO): This show explores Baltimore's narcotics scene from the perspectives of both law enforcement and drug dealers and users.

Black Lives Matter: Movies and TV show that put racism in the spotlight

See all photos

Children's books

It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr: This book shares the importance of acceptance, understanding and confidence.


Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz: Written by Malcolm X's daughter, this book tells the story of the boy who became one of the most influential leaders.

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester: Lester tells his story and discusses what makes us all special.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander: The award-winning picture book, based on a poem by Alexander and with illustrations by Kadir Nelson, chronicles the struggles and triumphs of black Americans.

Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney: This book tells the stories of courageous black women who fought against oppression, including Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles: This tells the story of the first African American child to integrate a school in New Orleans.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard: The story follows a white family and a black family discussing a police shooting of a black man in their town, and aims to answer children's questions about these kinds of events and to inspire them to challenge racial injustice.

My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera: When a girl named Mackenzie is taunted by classmates about her hair, a neighbor shows her the true beauty of natural black hair.

Magination Press

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh: Nearly 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, an American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage was denied entry into a "whites only" school, which led her parents to organize the Hispanic community and file a lawsuit. This ultimately ended segregated education in California.

Blended by Sharon Draper: This story about 11-year-old Isabella's blended family explores themes like divorce and racial identity.

Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock by Aslan Tudor, Kelly Tudor and Jason EagleSpeaker: A few months after 8-year-old Aslan came to North Dakota to try and stop a pipeline, he returned to find the world was now watching.

My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope by Diane Guerrero and Erica Moroz: Actress Diane Guerrero tells the story of her undocumented immigrant parents being taken from their home, detained and deported when she was a child in Boston.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson: Two girls form a friendship atop a fence that separates the segregated African American side of town from the white side. The book is illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell: A citizen of the Cherokee Nation tells the story of modern Native American life.

Dottir Press

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford: This book tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, who loved to collect books, letters, music and art from Africa and the African diaspora and to shed light on the achievements of people of African descent. His collection ultimately made it to the New York Public Library, and is now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi: When Lailah is enrolled in a new school in a new country, she's worried her classmates won't understand why she isn't joining them in the lunchroom during Ramadan.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson: The book, with art by Rafael López, is about how to be brave and find connection with others, even when you feel alone and scared.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis: This classic tells the story of a boy's journey to find his father.

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council and Carolyn Choi: Nine characters share their stories and backgrounds in this book celebrating allyship and community.

Black Lives Matter. Visit blacklivesmatter.carrd.co to learn how to donate, sign petitions and protest safely.

CNET's Anne Dujmovic contributed to this report.