Happy Juneteenth, everyone!
On this special day that we commemorate the end of slavery here in America — well, Lincoln actually abolished it officially two and a half years earlier, but that’s another story! — there’s no better way to celebrate than by educating yourself. No, you don’t have to sign up for a crash course in Black History at your local community college or read books on the matter until you can recite every civil rights pioneer to ever exist. Instead, why not just sit back and soak it all in by watching a good documentary?
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For some of you, this Juneteenth will look a little different given that a good chunk of the world is spending a lot more time at home. If that’s your plan — keeping things “quarantine clean” until we’re all 100% in the clear from COVID-19 is very understandable — we put together a Black-centric watch party list filled with 10 documentaries that tell our history through the lens of everything from food and haircare all the way to the unfortunate burning of Black Wall Street that occurred 100 years ago this month.
Take a look at these 10 Black History documentaries you can watch for Juneteenth that each tell our stories as a race from many different perspectives, whether it be the inspirational story of a Queens-bred project kid that went on to be a rap king or a Black trans queen that became a martyr for LGBTQ visibility in Black culture.
1. ‘Good Hair’ (2009)
Black girls and women have struggled for centuries with accepting their naturally kinky hair, so it was very well-welcomed when Chris Rock brought a little comedy to the conversation with Good Hair. Incorporating testimonies from some of your favorite celeb ladies and real-life everyday women alike, this doc is definitely one to watch with any little Black princess in your life that needs to see just how beautiful her roots are.
2. ‘Freedom Riders’ (2010)
PBS always kills it with the documentaries, but there was something extra special about the extensive detail that went into Freedom Riders. While you do have to get through a handful of chapters, every bit of the two-hour documentary is worth watching in order to understand the sheer brutality Black people in the Deep South faced for six months in 1961 just for daring to ride a public bus.
3. ‘Dark Girls’ (2011)
Complexion is one of the core issues we face in Black culture, so much so that rap king Kendrick Lamar made a whole song about it on his GRAMMY-winning 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. The powerful Dark Girls doc takes a in-depth look into the issue, which shows the identity crisis starts from infantry. Watch this one with the entire family for sure.
4. ‘The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975’ (2011)
In addition to finding a link to the full doc — you’re very welcome! — we wanted to add The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 simply for the mass amount of iconic African American artists, activists, musicians and scholars included throughout. From Angela Davis to Huey P. Newton, and many powerful black figures in between, this doc should probably be consider required viewing.
5. ‘Nas: Time is Illmatic’ (2014)
Sometimes you just need an inspiring story of a Black creative, and it doesn’t get much inspirational than Queens’ own rap vet Nas. His story of going from public housing to platinum-selling hits is nothing short of amazing, and he’s still killing in the rap game which makes this even more of an entertaining watch. Escobar season h̶a̶s̶ ̶r̶e̶t̶u̶r̶n̶e̶d̶ never left!
6. ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’ (2017)
The erasure of LGBTQ struggles in the Black community has been a very pressing issue, but in recent times we’ve come to understand that all Black lives matter — gay, lesbian, trans and the whole spectrum of queer sexuality should be included in that. To see the story of a pioneer in gay right activism who sadly became a martyr for change, definitely do yourself a favor and watch this compelling story on OG drag sensation Marsha P. Johnson. Rest well, queen!
7. ‘Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am’ (2019)
Released roughly six months prior to her death, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am stands as a final gift of insight on the Black experience from one of the most compelling Black people to ever live. From your journalistic prowess to those iconic locs that aged with absolute beauty, we miss you daily Miss Morrison.
8. ‘Black Stories Presents: Your Attention Please’ (2020 – )
It’s always great to learn about the past, but what about those pushing the future of Black History forward? That’s where Your Attention Please comes in, and the fact Hulu was able to get a comedian like Craig Robinson to host just makes it an even more pleasurable viewing experience. We threw in episode 1 from last year’s debut season to get you all started.
9. ‘High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America’ (2021)
If there’s one thing that has always remained a source of love and community in Black culture, that would hands-down be the food of our culture. For the foodies and those that just want to see how “soul food” came to be, we definitely recommend this delectable doc.
10. ‘DREAMLAND: The Burning of Black Wall Street’ (2021)
One of the most recent docs was also one of the most hard-hitting on this entire list. With 2021 marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, this CNN doc proved to be both timely and thought-provoking when comparing what happened then to what we’re dealing with now in the Black Lives Matter movement. Important viewing if you have the time, for sure.