Documentary Recommendations Part 1: Anti-Black Racism and African American Heritage (for New International Students in the US)

Migration Policy Institute. International Students in the United States

To celebrate Black History Month☺️, I would love to curate documentaries about the civil rights movement and Anti-Black racism. Sometimes, international students who haven’t grown up in the US have difficulty grasping the historical context of certain social issues (at least I did, as a person who came to the US for the doctoral program). As reported, many international students experience confusion about racial identity and race relations when they come to the US (Yu, 2022; Yeo et al., 2019), especially if they are from “racially homogenous societies” and/or they are the racial majority in their home country (Yao et al., 2019). However, it’s also not easy to ask questions during class discussions or feel uncomfortable or excluded during conversations. If you are interested in learning more, the international student office at some schools (like NYU: Antiracism Education for International Students) offers anti-racism education, despite it is not common for schools to provide educational programs or spaces dedicated to international students (see this article). Today, as a documentary film enthusiast, I would love to curate and present a list of documentaries for you to easily follow (I have watched all of them, so trust me✌️!).


* Note: I tried to include the full-version documentary available on YouTube, but some are available only for Netflix / Hulu or YouTube subscribers.

1. Understanding the history of Anti-Black Racism, Civil Rights Movement, and the Amendments

What makes America “American,” and how has it been shaped historically? This can’t be fully understood from what I learned in World History in middle school – the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Founding Fathers, the Boston Tea Party, etc. It takes the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent Amendments to understand the core values that make up the United States today. This blog post summarizes the 27 amendments to the US Constitution. However, the background and its impact on the present are much more complicated than a few sentences. This is a history of struggle, resilience, and solidarity beyond a history of systematic discrimination.

It is necessary to learn about the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, as they are in themselves a result of the African American Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement was aimed at achieving justice and equality between the 1950s and 1960s. It was a struggle against the systemic discrimination faced by African Americans after the abolition of slavery. I recommend watching the 13th first, then the amendment documentary series explaining the other important amendments. If you would love to learn more, you can watch the documentaries on the Civil Rights Movement; I Am Not Your Negro and Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.

▶️13th: In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.

13TH | FULL FEATURE | Netflix

▶️Amend – The Fight for America: Will Smith hosts this look at the evolving, often lethal, fight for equal rights in America through the lens of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Amend: The Fight for America | Episode 1 | Netflix

▶️I Am Not Your Negro: Master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, Remember This House. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.

I Am Not Your Negro

▶️Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America (Netflix): Through a powerful lecture and archival film, civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson draws a sobering timeline of anti-Black racism in the United States.

WHO WE ARE | Official Trailer (2022)

The podcast below also delineates the intersection between the Black Power Movement, African American Identity, and their relationship with Asian American advocacy. If you are interested in Black-Asian advocacy and solidarity in the United States, please listen! [Podcast] Rediscovering Black Power With Professor Jeffrey Ogbar

You can learn more about this topic in this New York Times article: NYT_Asian and Black Communities Have a Long History of Shared Solidarity. I found a recent documentary on Asian and Black relationships in the South, such as (Blurring The Color Line), but it is not available online for the full film yet (I am waiting for them!).

As a side note, if you are interested in learning more about the amendments, I recommend visiting The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia (if you have a chance to visit). Although this museum is less known to tourists than the “Liberty Bell” right in front of it, it offers special exhibitions on the amendments, not only the 13th amendment on the abolition of slavery and the 19th amendment on women’s rights to vote.

2. How Historical Racism Remains and Constructs the Inequality

After understanding history, it’s important to learn how it has impacted the United States where we live now. Let’s start with “Explained – Racial Wealth Gap,” which delves into the background of the racial wealth gap between Black and White Americans, including racial segregation and systemic discrimination in finance. Next, I recommend watching the Vox YouTube Original series “Glad You Asked Season 2.” This series explores the impact of systemic racial discrimination in various areas such as education, healthcare, and housing. This series will provide a perspective with the evidence from the current research. I feel bad that it is only for YouTube subscribers, and I hope this series becomes available to the public.

▶️Explained – Racial Wealth Gap: Cory Booker and others discuss how slavery, housing discrimination, and centuries of inequality have compounded to create a racial wealth gap.

Explained | Racial Wealth Gap | FULL EPISODE | Netflix

▶️American segregation, mapped at day and night: If you would love to learn more about residential segregation, I also recommend the short video on racial segregation created by Vox.

American segregation, mapped at day and night

▶️Glad You Asked Season 2: YouTube Originals presents Vox’s Glad You Asked, an ensemble-led exploration of topics driven by our curiosity about the world around us. Hosts Cleo Abram, Joss Fong, Lee Adams, Fabiola Cineas, and Christophe Haubursin share in their reporting as they examine timely questions around the impact of systemic racism on our communities and in our daily lives. From revealing how housing segregation affects our futures to the impact of racism on our bodies, their intersecting journeys will reveal just how crucial and empowering racial justice is to our entire society.

How Racist Am I?

To learn more…

✔️Education: ▶️’63 Boycott tells the story of the protest against the Willis Wagons and segregation in Chicago Public Schools. This 30-minute documentary is available to watch here: If you are interested in learning more about public/private schools and school segregation, I highly recommend listening to the podcast series ▶️Three Miles. It shows the trajectory of two students in two schools (one is public, and the other is private) within three miles of each other. You can see the short story about this in the NY Times article as well.

✔️Housing/Urban: Do you want to learn more about this segregation and discrimination? If so, I recommend this documentary ▶️Jim Crow of the North, about Redlining.

Jim Crow of the North | Redlining and Racism in Minnesota | Full Documentary

✔️Healthcare/Medicine: To learn more about racial discrimination in the health and medical field, I recommend the documentary ▶️Medical Racism. This documentary reveals the shocking history of racial discrimination in the United States. Government health inspectors and private drug companies conducted human experiments on African Americans.

Medical Racism: The New Apartheid – Medical Racism

If you want to learn more about the medical system, I recommend ▶️Aftershock. Unfortunately, it is only available on Hulu. Aftershock is a 2022 American documentary film directed and produced by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee. It follows Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre, whose partners died due to preventable childbirth complications, as they fight for justice.

AFTERSHOCK | OFFICIAL TRAILER | Onyx Collective | ABC News Studios | Hulu

I also recommend watching this short video on healthcare and maternal health in Black communities.

The US medical system is still haunted by slavery

3. Mass Incarceration and Criminalization

Although the United States makes up only 4.2% of the world’s population, it is estimated that it holds around 20% of the world’s prisoners. This rate has been decreasing since 1995, but it is still high. So who is being incarcerated? You may have already gained an understanding of the US prison system from the documentary <13th> that I introduced at the beginning. The documentaries listed below further illustrate how some are unjustly incarcerated (<The Kalief Browder Story> and <The Innocence Files>), while others commit murder and are not punished (<Strong Island>). You could see the system from the perspective of the police <Crime + Punishment> or Black human rights lawyer <True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality>. Finally, the <Crack> explains the relationship between drugs and criminalization in the US.

▶️The Kalief Browder Story (Netflix): This series traces the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a Black Bronx teen who spent three horrific years in jail (Rikers) despite not being convicted of a crime.

TIME: The Kalief Browder Story Trailer

▶️The Innocence Files (Netflix): The Innocence Files is a true crime documentary miniseries about wrongful convictions and how they can affect the lives of the involved. The series is based upon the work of the Innocence Project, which is committed to exonerating individuals who it believes to have been wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Files | Official Trailer | Netflix

▶️Crime + Punishment: This film chronicles the real struggles of a group of NYC whistleblower cops as they fight back against the illegal arrest quotas they’re pressured to abide by.

Crime + Punishment • A Hulu Original Documentary

▶️Strong Island: The forces of family, grief, and racial injustice converge in this Oscar-nominated documentary exploring the murder of filmmaker Yance Ford’s brother.

Strong Island | Full Feature | Netflix

▶️True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality: For more than three decades, Alabama public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has advocated on behalf of the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned, seeking to eradicate racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. An intimate portrait follows his struggle to create greater fairness in the system. It shows how racial injustice emerged, evolved, and continues to threaten the country, challenging viewers to confront it.

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight For Equality – Full Film

▶️Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy (Netflix): In the early 1980s, the crack epidemic tore through America’s inner cities like a tsunami, ravaging all in its wake. Decades later, the destructive effects on people’s lives, families, and communities are still deeply felt. Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy examines not only the personal devastation caused by the drug but also the shadowy origins of the crisis and the resultant, ongoing marginalization of Black and Brown people trapped by the U.S. prison and healthcare systems.

Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy | Official Trailer | Netflix

4. Culture and Heritage of African / Black Americans

Let’s look beyond the heartbreaking history to see how profoundly black culture and their heritage have impacted American culture today. The culture is also related to the history of oppression and the resistance of Black Americans. Nevertheless, your eyes and ears will be delighted☺️ while watching this series of documentaries! You can start with the food, then the music — Blues, Hip-hop, and Jazz.

▶️High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (Netflix): Food, community, culture, resiliency. Based on Jessica B. Harris’ award-winning book, High On The Hog, traces the moving story of a people’s survival and triumph via the food that has knit generations together and helped define the American kitchen. From Gumbo to fried chicken, our culinary journey stretches from Africa to enslavement, to the Harlem Renaissance, up to our present day; we celebrate the courage, artistry, and resourcefulness of the African American people. This is not just an African American story; it’s an American story. A feast for all the senses.

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America | Official Trailer | Netflix

▶️What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix): The Oscar-nominated documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is the story of Nina Simone’s life and career. Through archive interviews and extensive performance footage, alongside new interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, it paints a fascinating portrait of this complex and challenging artist.

What Happened, Miss Simone? - Trailer legendado - Netflix [HD]

▶️Hip-Hop Evolution (Netflix): Interviews with influential MCs, DJs and moguls trace the genre’s dynamic evolution from the 1970s through the ’00s in this documentary series.

Hip-Hop Evolution Series Trailer

▶️Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Netflix): Unpack the mythology of Miles Davis and learn the true story of a jazz legend with never-before-seen footage and celebrity interviews.

Official Trailer | Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool | American Masters | PBS

Learn more…

If you love taking a lecture rather than a documentary, the YouTube Channel Crash Course provides the ▶️Black American History series. This series consists of 51 videos, each of which is around 10 minutes. This is easy to watch and learn!

Crash Course Black American History Preview

The Podcast Series by NY Times, ▶️1619 is an audio series on how slavery has transformed America, connecting past and present through the oldest form of storytelling.

Last but not least, a newsletter called ▶️Anti-Racism Daily delivers various information about racism to you every day. This newsletter contains more inclusive racial/ethnic information as well as anti-black racism.

Anti-Racism Daily (

Even though there are many other great documentaries I would love to include, I realized that this list is already lengthy (I hope you are not overwhelmed!).

Throughout the year, I would love to introduce documentaries about (2) the Women’s rights movement (in March for Women’s History Month), (3) the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (in May for AAPI Heritage Month), (4) LGBTQ rights movement in the US (in June for Pride Month), and (5) the Hispanic/Latinx history with the focus on US immigration system (in September for Hispanic Heritage Month). Stay tuned 🙂

  • February 1, 2023