30 things to watch on Netflix that put black people front and centre

Posted by for Life

From Ava DuVernay’s 13th to The Incredible Jessica James.

The death of George Floyd has sparked protests and calls for justice around the world. As well as donating to those in need and signing petitions, many have turned to books, films, documentaries, and TV shows in a bid to better educate themselves about racism and white privilege.

However, as many have pointed out on Twitter, black identity is far more multi-faceted.

“Please read happy Black books too,” tweeted comedian Athena Kugblenu, in a post which has been retweeted by more than 26,000 people.

“We don’t just write about slavery and colonialism. Consume Black history and art about anything. It all helps to decenter whiteness.”

Continuing this theme in her own Twitter feed, journalist Sarah Shaffi added: “Part of our self-education is to not think about stories by black writers (and writers of colour more generally) only in terms of how much they can ‘teach’ us.

“Our self-education should also be about stories that focus on life in all its facets.”

Both Kugblenu and Shaffi are 100% correct, of course. And with that in mind, then, Stylist’s Under Her Eye team has worked together to curate a list of shows, documentaries, and films available to stream on Netflix right now. 

Some are educational, some are entertaining. All, however, are well worth your time.

See You Yesterday

Produced by Spike Lee, See You Yesterday tells the story of two teen prodigies, Claudette “CJ” Walker (Eden Duncan Smith) and Sebastian Thomas (Dante Crichlow), who develop the technology to time travel. The duo’s science project, however, soon becomes CJ’s only hope at saving her brother Calvin (Astro) from being shot and killed by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity.

13th

Ava DuVernay’s documentary explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. It takes its title from the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery but left a significant loophole: involuntary servitude can still be legally used as a punishment for crime in the USA. And, as DuVernay’s film explores, this clause has been exploited throughout the course of American history.

She’s Gotta Have It

Spike Lee revisits his original film of the same name in this TV series, which follows Brooklyn-based artist Nola Darling as she divides her time between her friends, her job, and her three lovers.

A still from Ava DuVernay’s 13th on Netflix
A still from Ava DuVernay’s 13th on Netflix.

Becoming

This entertaining and inspiring documentary sees former first lady Michelle Obama discuss her life, hopes, and connections with others.

Fruitvale Station

This compelling film, starring Michael B. Jordan, is based on the events leading to the death of Oscar Grant, a young man who was killed in 2009 by police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale district station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in Oakland.

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

Will Smith basically plays himself in this heartwarming sitcom, which sees our eponymous character’s mum send him away from his rough Philadelphia neighbourhood to live with his wealthy Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian (along with his cousins Carlton, Hilary and Ashley) in their lavish Bel-Air home.

Jewel’s Catch One

In this documentary, filmmakers explore the history of the oldest black-owned disco in America and of its owner, LGBTQ+ and human rights activist Jewel Thais-Williams.

Watch the trailer for yourself below:

Who Killed Malcolm X?

Historian, activist and investigative journalist Abdur-Rahman Muhammad helms this deep dive into Malcolm X’s murder, speaking to those who knew the activist best, as well as others connected to the killing at New York’s Audubon Ballroom in February 1965.

The Incredible Jessica James

Fancy something fun and uplifting? This romance sees aspiring NYC playwright Jessica (Jessica Williams) get over a painful breakup by bonding with Brooke (Chris O’Dowd), a man who has also been spectacularly dumped.

Dear White People

Based on the acclaimed film of the same name, this Netflix Original series follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college.

Jharrel Jerome in When They See Us
Jharrel Jerome in When They See Us

When They See Us

Ava DuVernay’s powerful miniseries dramatises the true story of the Central Park Five, five boys who were wrongfully convicted of rape and assault in 1990 and spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit as a result of police corruption and racism.

Isoken

Single at 34, Isoken is maneuvered by her mother toward a relationship with a black entrepreneur. As is the way with any good romcom, though, her mother’s best-laid plans run awry when Isoken soon finds herself drawn to a white photojournalist.

The Pursuit Of Happyness

In this heartfelt biopic, Chris Gardner takes up an unpaid internship in a brokerage firm after he loses his life’s earnings selling a product he invested in. His wife leaves him and he is left with the custody of his son. Will Smith and his real-life son, Jaden Smith, star.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

This award-winning documentary, which opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, uses never-before-heard recordings, rare archival footage, and her best-known songs to tell the story of legendary singer and activist Nina Simone.s

Self-Made

Self Made brings the inspiring story of trailblazing African American entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker to our screens for the first time. For those who don’t know the name, Walker is the very same woman who built the haircare empire that made her America’s first female self-made millionaire, so go in expecting nothing but inspiring energy.

Nappily Ever After

In this big-hearted romcom, a soulful barber helps a woman piece her life back together after an accident at her hair salon makes her realise she is not living life to the fullest.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Based on a true story, this film sees a 13-year-old boy thrown out of the school he loves when his family can no longer afford the fees. Against all the odds, though, he invents an unconventional way to save his village from famine.

Strong Island

Boasting a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Strong Island explores themes of grief, loss, and racial inequality as filmmaker Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of his brother, William Ford Jr.

Atlantics

Atlantics is a beautifully made and haunting love story about Ada (Mama Sané) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), two teenagers living in Dakar. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that this Senegalese film is actually an eerie and unforgettable fable about ghosts and star-crossed lovers.

Barack Obama named Atlantics as one of the best movies of 2019.

Mudbound

Based on the novel of the same name. Mudbound (starring an unrecognisable Mary J. Blige) sees two Mississippi families – one black, one white – confront the brutal realities of prejudice, farming and friendship in a divided World War II era.

Time: The Kalief Browder Story

Kalief Browder was 16 when he was arrested in the spring of 2010 for a robbery he insisted he had not committed. He spent three years in prison without being convicted of a crime, waiting for a trial that never happened. Tragically, he killed himself after his eventual release. This powerful documentary uses first-person accounts, archival footage, and cinematic re-creations of key scenes from Browder’s to offer a comprehensive look at the case, and explore how this teenager was repeatedly failed by the criminal justice system.

Cook Off

Cook Off – which recently made history for becoming the first-ever Zimbabwean film to air on Netflix – tells the tale of a single mother with a passion for cooking. When her son signs her up for a top reality cooking show, she’s initially thrown. Quickly, though, she realises that the TV show is offering her a chance at the better life she’s long been yearning for.

Top Boy

This drama series takes viewers into the housing estates of east London, exploring the tension between the drug gangs that operate almost openly and those who strive to live honest lives against the odds in the crime-riddled area.

Always A Bridesmaid

Get ready to feel seen in this tale about a serial bridesmaid who wonders if she’s destined to be single forever. Only time will tell, though, as Corina (Javicia Leslie) throws caution to the wind and finally dives into the dating pool.

Orange Is The New Black

In the fourth season of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, the show saw the women of Litchfield Penitentiary demand justice after Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was suffocated by a prison guard in her cell.

Barry

In this dignified biopic, which focuses its attention on a pivotal year in the future president’s life, a young Barack Obama arrives in New York in the fall of 1981 to attend Columbia University.

Black Lightning

Love superhero movies? In Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce (a vigilante with the power to harness electricity) is forced to come out of retirement and fight the increasing crime in his neighbourhood when a gang threatens his family.

The Innocence Files

This nine-episode series is composed of three compelling parts – The Evidence, The Witness and The Prosecution. These stories expose difficult truths about the state of America’s deeply flawed criminal justice system, while showing when the innocent are convicted, it is not just one life that is irreparably damaged forever: families, victims of crime, and trust in the system are also broken in the process.

12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American who is promised a fortnightly job by Brown and Hamilton. However, after arriving in Washington DC, he realises that he has been sold into slavery.

Raising Dion

In this family drama unlike any other, struggling mother Nicole (Alisha Wainwright) struggles to figure out how to raise her suddenly superhuman son Dion (Ja’Siah Young), all while job-hunting and mourning her dead husband Mark (Michael B Jordan).

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Images: Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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