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.
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Abrar Al-Heeti is a video host and producer for CNET, with an interest in internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. Before joining the video team, she was a writer for CNET's culture team. 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.