Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Movies, TV shows and books on systemic racism
is a chance to celebrate the life and achievements of the late civil rights leader. It’s also an opportunity to recommit to better understanding and combating systemic racism and oppression.
After the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last year sparked protests around the world, many to help others better understand and learn how to be 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 addressing racial injustice and the Black experience.
For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 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 someon . If you’re struggling with how to , read more about the and .
Jump to the recommendations:
by Michelle Alexander: This book challenges the idea that President Barack Obama’s election welcomed a new age of colorblindness.
by bell hooks: This work explores issues such as the impact of sexism on black women during slavery and racism among feminists.
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.
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.
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.
by Audre Lorde: Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Lorde shares a collection of essays and speeches exploring sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and class.
by Angela Y. Davis: The activist and scholar shows the link between several movements fighting oppression and state violence.
by Maya Angelou: The author’s debut memoir explores themes like loneliness, bigotry and love.
by Douglas A. Blackmon: This text explores the period following the Emancipation Proclamation in which convicts were brought back into involuntary servitude.
by Ibram X. Kendi: The historian chronicles how racist ideas have shaped US history and provides tools to expose them.
by Isabel Wilkerson: This book tells the story of the migration of black Americans who left the South seeking better lives.
by Daina Ramey Berry: This text explores how in early America, slaves were commodities in every phase of life.
by Carol Anderson: The historian addresses the forces opposing black progress in America throughout history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
by Dorothy Roberts: This book illustrates how America systemically abuses Black women’s bodies.
by Dr. Joy DeGruy: This book explores the impact that repeated traumas endured across generations have on African Americans today.
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.
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.
by Colson Whitehead: This novel follows a young slave’s desperate journey toward freedom.
by Colson Whitehead: Two boys are sentenced to reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow era.
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.
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.
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.
by Zora Neale Hurston: The 1937 classic follows the journey of an independent black woman, Janie Mae Crawford, in her search for identity.
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.
by Zadie Smith: This novel tells the story of an interracial family impacted by culture wars.
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.
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
by Todd Parr: This book shares the importance of acceptance, understanding and confidence.
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.
by Julius Lester: Lester tells his story and discusses what makes us all special.
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.
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.
by Robert Coles: This tells the story of the first African American child to integrate a school in New Orleans.
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.
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.
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.
by Sharon Draper: This story about 11-year-old Isabella’s blended family explores themes like divorce and racial identity.
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.
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.
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.
by Traci Sorell: A citizen of the Cherokee Nation tells the story of modern Native American life.
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.
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.
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.
by Christopher Paul Curtis: This classic tells the story of a boy’s journey to find his father.
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.