Films on Racism

See Also:  Films on Civil Rights

Spies of Mississippi

Documentary 2014 TV-PG 52m. In the 1960s, the state of Mississippi formed a secret agency that employed black spies to infiltrate and take down civil rights organizations.  I had heard about the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, but I wasn’t aware it was anything on this scale. 160,000 pages, with insiders traveling all over the US to infiltrate. And then its involvement in the Cheney, Goodman, Schwermer murders. That said, this is an excellent documentary that should be shown in every school in America. Not just as a lesson on racism, but as a lesson about power, how power works, and how power corrupts. This is an important film.

By the People
The Election of Barack Obama

Documentary 2009 NR 116 minutes. Filmed during the historic 2008 presidential election campaign, this documentary goes behind the scenes to trace the journey of Barack Obama from his seat in the United States Senate to his inauguration as America’s first biracial president. Filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams offer candid footage of Obama and his aides from inside the campaign and also examine the fervent grassroots movement that helped propel Obama to the White House. See Full Review

A Moment in History
The Inauguration of Barack Obama

Documentary 2009 NR 78 minutes. Revisit the historic events of Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. president before thousands of enthralled spectators on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. ABC News compiles its coverage of the all the day’s happenings, including the inaugural speech; outgoing president George W. Bush’s helicopter exit; the president and first lady sharing their first dance at the star-studded Neighborhood Ball; and more.

Kevin Durant’s NBA MVP Acceptance Speech

Documentary Youtube 2014 11 min. Kevin Durant, NBA Oklahoma City Thunder star, was honored with his first NBA MVP trophy in 2014, averaging 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists on the season. Durant then gave one of the more memorable acceptance speeches in quite some time, with a shout out to his mother at the end that will surely make you tear up. This is Durant’s seventh season in the NBA, and again, this is one trophy that has eluded him on his path to becoming a future Hall of Famer. Now with this MVP award in the bag, Durant has given posterity an awesome speech to go along with it that will be remembered forever. Link to watch Durant’s unforgettable MVP acceptance speech:

Unprecedented:  The 2000 Presidential Election

Documentary 2002 UR 49 minutes. Filmmakers Joan Sekler and Richard Ray Perez rehash the dramatic events of the 2000 presidential election, exposing a chain of incidents they claim led up to the battle for the presidency in Florida and the undermining of democracy in America. Narrated by Peter Coyote, this revealing documentary examines an allegedly suspicious pattern of irregularities, injustices and voter purges — all in a state governed by the winning candidate’s brother. See Full Review

The Central Park Five

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 58m. This documentary examines the case of five teenagers, all African-American or Latino, who were falsely accused and convicted of the brutal rape of a white woman in 1989. The facts are revealed that the entire police brass, DAs, politicians and especially the NYC media was complicit in railroading these youths. Modern forensics exonerated them with the help the actual perpetrator who eventually confessed. When I heard Ken Burns was involved in producing this film, I immediately wanted to see it. See Full Review

Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 31m. Prompted by a son’s wish to honor his filmmaker father, this documentary uncovers the impact of a bold decision made by an African American waiter to expose the true state of race relations in Mississippi in the turbulent 1960s.

The Loving Story
(Long Way Home: The Loving Story)

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 17m. This documentary profiles Mildred and Richard Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for breaking Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage.

The Human Family Tree

Documentary National Geographic 2009 TV-PG 1hr 32m. Charting human history from its ancient roots in Africa to its startling evolution over time, geneticist Spencer Wells and his fellow scientists with National Geographic’s Genographic Project uncover fascinating truths about the commonalities of man. The program focuses on a diverse group of New Yorkers, using samples swabbed from the inside of their cheeks, as a starting point for analyzing their origins.

American Blackout

Documentary 2006 NR 92 minutes. In this award-winning indictment of the election process, guerilla journalist Ian Inaba follows the efforts of Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to expose disturbing tactics that systematically disenfranchise black voters and silence dissent. A passionate advocate for civil rights, McKinney calls on all citizens to question the political machinery and protect democracy from the institutionalized racism imperiling the country.See Full Review

The Help

Docudrama 2011 PG-13 146 minutes. In 1960s Jackson, Miss., aspiring writer Eugenia Phelan crosses taboo racial lines by conversing with Aibileen Clark about her life as a housekeeper, and their ensuing friendship upsets the fragile dynamic between the haves and the have-nots. When other long-silent black servants begin opening up to Eugenia, the disapproving conservative Southern town soon gets swept up in the turbulence of changing times. See Full Review


Docudrama 2008 PG-13 1hr 46m. A dark-skinned girl born in the apartheid era to white Afrikaners struggles to find a sense of identity as she’s rejected blacks and whites alike.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Drama 1962 NR 130 minutes. Southern comforts abound in this big-screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel as lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning role) defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice. Meanwhile, with help from a friend (John Megna), Finch’s children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), set their sights on making contact with a reclusive neighbor (Robert Duvall). See Full Review

12 Years a Slave

Docudrama 2013 R. The autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted from New York state and sold into slavery in the mid-1800s, serves as the basis for this historical drama. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup, and Brad Pitt plays an abolitionist.

Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northup’s Odyssey
(Half-Slave, Half-Free)

Docudrama 1984 NR 117 minutes. Based on the autobiography Twelve Years a Slave, this gripping drama tells the true story of Solomon Northup (Avery Brooks), a black man living in Washington, D.C., in the mid-19th century. Northup, born a free man, works as a carpenter and musician. But one day in 1841, he’s kidnapped by a Louisiana slave owner and forced into slavery. Northup spends a dozen years enduring harrowing hardships, while his family desperately searches for him.

Koch Brothers Exposed

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr. Koch Brothers Exposed reveals that the Koch Brothers have launched a large network attacking American values — from their environmental pollution, to their efforts to dismantle social security for working Americans. This revealing film investigates the richest 1% in America at its very worst — the Koch brothers’ racist, and anti-environmental, and anti-middle class politics. The Koch brothers’ net worth tops $50 billion, and they pledged to spend $60 million to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. See Full Review

Erasing Hate

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 31m. This documentary presents a first-person look inside the dark world of racist skinheads, but offers hope in the story of one man’s redemption.

RFK in the Land of Apartheid
A Ripple of Hope

Documentary 2009 NR. This inspiring documentary examines the visit made by Senator Robert F. Kennedy to South Africa in 1966 — when the U.S. civil rights movement was a beacon for those suffering under apartheid — and his championing of banned ANC leader Albert Lutuli. Rare archival footage of Kennedy’s tour is interwoven with excerpts of his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech (given at the University of Cape Town) and interviews with current politicians and historians.

American Violet

Docudrama 2008 PG-13 102 minutes. Inspired by true events, this penetrating drama centers on Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie), a 24-year-old mother of four who’s forced to take on a corrupt district attorney (Michael O’Keefe) when she’s unjustly prosecuted in a large-scale drug case. Directed by Tim Disney, the inspiring tale also stars Alfre Woodard as Dee’s mother, Alma, Tim Blake Nelson as ACLU attorney David Cohen and Will Patton as retired narcotics officer Sam Conroy.

The Great Debaters

Docudrama 2007 PG-13 124 minutes. At all-black Wiley College in 1935, an activist professor pushes his debate team to a level of excellence that nets them a chance to take on Harvard University — the reigning national champs — in this inspiring drama based on a true story.

The Injustice System in America

Documentary 2006 NR 80 minutes. This compelling documentary explores inequities in America’s justice system, focusing on the higher rate of incarceration experienced by minorities and the disparate conviction rate for African-American drug offenders. Interviews with experts including San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi; Stanford Law School’s Michelle Alexander; and Vernell Critendon of San Quentin Prison shed light on this disturbing issue.

Giuliani Time

Documentary 2005 NR1hr 58m. Rudy Giuliani catapulted to international fame (that had even Queen Elizabeth fawning over him) upon helming the post-9/11 relief effort. The former mayor of New York City is also credited with cleaning up the streets of the Big Apple during the 1990s. But Kevin Keating’s exposé tells a different story — one of First Amendment transgressions and police brutality — through interviews with legal experts, activists and even the homeless.

Glory Road

Docudrama 2006 PG. Director James Gartner’s inspiring drama tells the true story of Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), a high school basketball coach who, in 1962, took the reins of the Texas Western Miners, an underdog NCAA Division One team, and decided to shake things up. Haskins’s insistence on recruiting the best players available to him, regardless of the color of their skin, revolutionized the sport … and changed the course of history.

The O.J. Verdict

Documentary Frontline 2005. On October 3, 1995, an estimated 150 million people stopped what they were doing to witness the televised verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial. For more than a year, the O.J. saga transfixed the nation and dominated the public imagination. Ten years later, veteran Frontline producer Ofra Bikel (The Plea, Innocence Lost), revisits the “perfect storm” that was the O.J. Simpson trial. Through extensive interviews with the defense, prosecution, and journalists, Frontline explores the dominant role that race played in the most controversial verdict in the history of the American justice system.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Drama 2005 TV-14 113 minutes. Halle Berry stars in this version of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, adapted for television and produced by Oprah Winfrey. The story centers on Janie Crawford (Berry), a free-spirited woman who lives her life on her own terms. Refusing to accept her place as a black woman in the 1920s, Crawford lives life to its fullest and experiences a journey filled with great joy and unbearable heartache. Ruby Dee and Ruben Santiago-Hudson also star.

Crash (2005)

Drama 2005 R 113 minutes. In post-Sept. 11 Los Angeles, tensions erupt when the lives of a Brentwood housewife, her district attorney husband, a Persian shopkeeper, two cops, a pair of carjackers and a Korean couple converge during a 36-hour period.

Howard Zinn
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Documentary 2004 NR 78 minutes. Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn’s commitment to social change through archival materials, commentary from Zinn and interviews with contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker, among others. See Full Review

Bush Family Fortunes
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Documentary 2004 NR 61 minutes. This is a documentary by Greg Palast, a reporter and filmmaker who tailed the political clan, especially George W. Bush, from the highly contested 2000 presidential election win in Florida to the purported influence they exerted on behalf of the bin Ladens. Palast also treads on the same ground that the iconic Michael Moore covered, connecting the dots between the Bushes and the House of Saud.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Documentary 2004 R 122 minutes. Michael Moore’s hard-hitting documentary addresses the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, outlining the reasons the United States (and, in turn, thousands of innocent Americans) became a target for hatred and terrorism. The film not only criticizes President George W. Bush’s response to the attacks but also reinforces Moore’s theory that the Bush Administration used the tragic event to push its own political agenda.See Full Review

Chisholm ’72:
Unbought and Unbossed

Documentary 2004 NR 76 minutes. Brooklyn-based Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm represented a series of firsts: She was the first African-American woman elected to Congress and the first black person and woman to run a serious, high-profile campaign in the U.S. presidential primary. She made further history when she vied for the presidency in 1972. And while her inspiring journey would have made headlines today, it was virtually ignored by the mainstream media at the time.

Unforgivable Blackness
The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Documentary 2004 NR 107 minutes. Long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, boxer Jack Johnson became the first African-American to obtain the world heavyweight title. This documentary tracks the life of the trailblazing boxer, from his early days as the son of former slaves to his rise through the ranks of a traditionally all-white sport, culminating with the 39-year-old’s achievement of the prestigious title in 1908.

CSA: Confederate States of America

Mockumentary 2004 PG-13 1hr29m.  Set in the fictitious, modern-day Confederate States of America, this satire imagines what it would be like if the South had won the Civil War.   The answer is that slavery would to this day be a way of life in this country, the Confederate States of America, affecting every aspect of life as we know it. The film is presented as if we’re watching a documentary on TV, complete with commercials and newsbreaks, which provide much humor in their overt racism.  See Full Review

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Docudrama 2002 PG 93 minutes. Australia had an official white supremacy program, which lasted for over 100 years until 1970. Australia’s aboriginal integration program of the 1930s took young aborigines from their families and placed in an abusive orphanage. Three girls resolve to make the 1,500-mile trek home, without food or water. Meanwhile, a well-intentioned tracker is trying to return the girls to the authorities. This story is true, and two of the girls (now old women) actually appear in the movie. See Full Review

An American Tragedy

Documentary American Experience 2000 NR 90 minutes. When two white women accused nine black teenagers of raping them on an Alabama train in 1931, their claims set off a chain reaction that eventually reached the Supreme Court — and launched the modern-day Civil Rights movement. Shot over five years on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, this fascinating installment of the “American Experience” series dissects the particulars of the case through the words of those who lived it.See Full Review

Heavens Fall

Docudrama 2006 PG-13 105 minutes. Inspired by the true events surrounding the “Scottsboro Nine,” this compelling drama follows the plight of nine young black men, unjustly sentenced to death in the spring of 1931, following the false accusations of raping two white women. Defended by New York attorney Sam Leibowitz (Timothy Hutton), the case became a watershed event in the history of the American legal system. David Strathairn and Anthony Mackie co-star.

Jefferson’s Blood

Documentary Frontline 2000. For years there existed a rumor that Thomas Jefferson had a long-standing relationship and several children by Sally Hemings, a woman who was his slave. Now, DNA tests all but prove the rumor true. An early hero of the anti-slavery movement, Jefferson wrote brilliantly of the corrupting influence of slavery on blacks and whites alike. Yet it is now apparent that he lived a dual life, sharing his house with his white daughter and grandchildren while his unacknowledged mistress and his children by her worked in the same house as slaves. In a personal essay, Frontline correspondent Shelby Steele examines Jefferson’s life and follows the descendants of Jefferson and Hemings as they undergo DNA testing, search out their family history, and try to sort out their place along America’s blurred color line.

American History X

Drama 1998 R 119 minutes. A California neo-Nazi gets sent to prison for murder and comes out a changed man. But can he atone for his sins and prevent his younger brother from following in his hate-filled footsteps?

Two Nations of Black America

Documentary Frontline 1998. Respected educator and author Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the many changes that black America has undergone in the years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s passing in this probing documentary from the award-winning PBS “Frontline” series. Interviewing thinkers such as Cornel West, Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis, Gates examines the persistent gap between the upper and lower classes, and why some blacks have been left behind by the civil rights movement.

Foreign Student

Docudrama 1994 R 1hr 35m. In 1955, Philippe travels from Paris to Virginia on a scholarship and encounters American football, jazz, romance — and violent racial prejudice.

Malcolm X

Docudrama 1992 PG-13 201 minutes. Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated drama illuminates the life of black nationalist Malcolm X (Denzel Washington), following him from his early days in prison to his conversion to Islam, marriage to Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) and discovery of Elijah Mohammad’s (Al Freeman Jr.) Nation of Islam writings. When Malcolm turns his back on the Nation of Islam (following a pilgrimage to Mecca), he becomes a murder target.

Romper Stomper

Drama 1992 88 min. White supremacist Australian skinheads quite literally make war on Asian immigrants in this frenetic, violent commentary on the conflict of cultures in Western coun­tries facing a tide of migration from the Third World. . Dir. Geoffrey Wright. With Russell Crowe, Daniel Pollock, Jacqueline McKenzie. English. Color.

Boyz N the Hood

1991 R 112 minutes. In this thoughtful drama, a South Central Los Angeles high schooler struggles to stay straight in a community polluted by drugs, violence and racism — and his cynical but devoted father will accept nothing less than the best from him.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Drama 1990 R 125 minute. Brian De Palma directs the film version of Tom Wolfe’s satire about race, politics and greed in 1980s New York. In it, Tom Hanks stars as Sherman McCoy, a wealthy Wall Street investor whose life takes a dark turn when his mistress (Melanie Griffith) hits a black youth with his car. When tabloid journalist Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) gets wind of the situation, he turns it into front-page news, inciting a racial incident in this game of dog-eat-dog.

Do the Right Thing

Drama 1989 R 120 minutes. What begins as an uproarious comedy evolves into a provocative, disquieting drama as director Spike Lee chronicles trivial events that bring festering racial tensions to the surface on a sweltering day in a largely black Brooklyn neighborhood.

A Dry White Season

Drama 1989 107 min. Palcy’s film documents the evil of apartheid and the gradual awakening of the conscience of white South Africans that contributed to the De Klerk­Mandela settlement. It reminds us that domestic issues resonate interna­tionally-in this case shaping global views of human rights. Dir. Euzhan Palcy. With Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman, Marlon Brando, Zakes Mokae. English. Color.

Cry Freedom

Docudrama 1987 PG 159 minutes. In segregated 1970s South Africa, black nationalist Steven Biko (Denzel Washington) and white newspaper editor Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) are unlikely friends with a common goal — ending apartheid — in this true story based on Woods’s books Biko and Asking for Trouble. When Biko’s beliefs lead him to prison and a deadly fate, Woods rallies to expose the injustice. Director Richard Attenborough’s film earned Washington his first Oscar nod.

Hamburger Hill

Drama 1987 R 110 minutes. The horrors — and futility — of the Vietnam War come brutally to life through the eyes of 14 American soldiers as they attempt to capture a heavily fortified hill under the Vietcong’s control in director John Irvin’s cinema verité drama.

Blazing Saddles

Satire1974 R 93 minutes. Politically incorrect and relentlessly funny, Mel Brooks’s take on Hollywood Westerns follows the tortured trail of freed slave Bart, who’s elected sheriff of the racist town of Rock Ridge. He must foil a land-grabbing governor (Brooks) with help from a washed-up, pot-smoking gunslinger (Gene Wilder).

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Drama 1973 TV-PG 110 minutes. Based on the novel by Ernest J. Gaines, this highly acclaimed TV drama follows the life of Jane Pittman, a black woman born into slavery in the South during the 1850s who lives long enough to see the genesis of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. In 1962, 110-year-old Jane (Cicely Tyson) tells her story to a journalist (Michael Murphy). The film won eight Emmy Awards, including Best Lead Actress for Tyson and Best Director for John Korty.


Drama 1971 NR. Horrific circumstances strand an urban brother and sister (Lucien John and Jenny Agutter) in the Australian outback, where they’re found by an aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who helps the pair return to their city. As they wander, the siblings survive danger with the help of their new friend. The bond between the three grows, but when they reach civilization, the aboriginal boy finds he’s unwelcome.


Stage Play 1971 NR 60 minutes. Racial tensions come out of the woodwork when an upper-class white couple (Jane Wyatt and Andrew Duggan) puts their suburban home on the market and the listing draws a pair of equally well-to-do African American buyers from Harlem. Fielder Cook directs this Broadway staging of playwright Arkady Leokum’s exploration of lingering racial prejudice in 1970s America. Cicely Tyson and Raymond St. Jacques also star.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Drama 1962 NR 130 minutes. Southern comforts abound in this big-screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel as lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning role) defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice. Meanwhile, with help from a friend (John Megna), Finch’s children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), set their sights on making contact with a reclusive neighbor (Robert Duvall).

The Murder of Emmett Till

Documentary American Experience 2003 NR 53 minutes.  This PBS “American Experience” documentary examines the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his killers. Considered a catalyst for America’s civil rights movement, Till’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world. While visiting the Deep South, Till whistled at a white woman, an act which led to his brutal killing. Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her mangled son. See Full Review

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till

Documentary 2005 PG-13 70 minutes.  When he visited family in Mississippi in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till never imagined he wouldn’t be coming home. But that was before he met Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who savagely beat and killed the boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This absorbing documentary from director Keith Beauchamp ultimately moved the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen the case in 2005, 50 years after the crime.

The Rosa Parks Story

Docudrama 2002 NR 90 minutes.  Angela Bassett stars in the story that sparked the birth of the modern civil rights movement in the late 1950s. Parks took the only available seat in the first row of the “colored” section on a city bus. But when a white woman boarded and the driver demanded that the black riders in her row move, everyone complied except Parks. This singular event threw Parks and her family into the Ku Klux Klan’s ring of hatred — and into the NAACP’s limelight. See also: The Long Walk Home.

The Long Walk Home

Drama 1990 PG 1hr35m. Miriam Thompson finds herself in the midst of a civil rights revolution when she helps her black maid during the infamous bus boycott of the 1950s.  The Long Walk Home is about as personal and realistic as you can get, and about as close as most people will ever come to understanding what life was like in the South back then. I know what it was like. In 1967, my Air Force father chose the Deep South as his next tour of duty after he got back from Viet Nam. The first thing I saw, riding into town, was a large billboard advertising some motel. I can still see those oversized words: “WHITES ONLY.” I didn’t get it. I asked my mom why a motel only let people named White stay there. I was horrified at her explanation. In my entire 13 years I’d only heard of two kinds of people: good people & bad people. Racism wasn’t subtle; it was ugly and in my face. The white kids hated this ‘Yankee, funny talkin’, race-mixin’ Air Force trash.’ The black kids were too afraid of retaliation to be my friends. if anything, the racism in this beautiful movie was far more subtle than anything I experienced. I was asked to leave a girl’s house for speaking to the maid as if she were a ‘real person’. There were a handful of people, like the character Sissy Spacek plays, who could no longer stomach what our society was like and stepped forward to do what they could to help…sometimes for very personal reasons and not all that political, but quite often very costly. The Long Walk Home is a great story, a good movie, a fable about discovering what is right, and a valuable history lesson…and maybe a soft tap on the shoulder for those of us living in modern times. The story, cast, acting, direction & cinematography are faultless. This is a movie that should NOT be missed. Highly recommended, especially to view with children. See also: The Rosa Parks Story and The Help.

Freedom Riders

Documentary, American Experience 2009 NR 111 minutes. Based on the award-winning book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, this documentary chronicles the daring and courage activists, black and white, who rode on interstate bus lines through the Southern states to challenge their segregation laws. Directed by Stanley Nelson (The Murder of Emmett Till), the film focuses on how the civil rights campaign was conceived, and how the movement eventually became a major concern for the Kennedy administration. See Full Review

Mississippi Burning

Docudrama 1988 R 126 minutes. When two civil rights workers and an African American boy disappear in 1964 Mississippi, two FBI agents with divergent investigative styles move in on a beautician who knows the truth about the local Ku Klux Klan’s actions. Mississippi Burning is an immensely powerful film about the real life investigation of the murder of three civil rights workers in the 1960s.

Black Like Me

Docudrama 1964 105 min. John Finley Horton (James Whitmore) is a White Americanjournalist who artificially darkens his skin and passes for a black man in the deep South, from New Orleans to Atlanta, where he encounters a great deal of racism from both white and black peoples. Based on the true story of a white reporter who, at the height of the civil-rights movement, temporarily darkened his skin so that he could experience the realities of a black man’s life in the segregated South. Based on the book of the same name.

In the Heat of the Night

Drama 1967 NR 110 minutes. Black Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs helps a redneck Southern sheriff solve a murder in this riveting study in racism that still strikes a chord. Rod Steiger won a Best Actor Oscar for his turn as the put-upon lawman who comes to respect Tibbs.

Black Klansman

Drama 1966 NR 1hr 26m. A light-skinned African-American impersonates a Caucasian to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan and get revenge on the bigots who killed his young daughter.

Passing Glory

Docudrama 1999 NR 94 minutes. Based on a true story set in 1960s New Orleans, Passing Glory stars Andre Braugher as Father Joseph Verrett, who sets up a match between his all-black high school’s undefeated basketball team and the top squad from an all-white prep school. In his attempt to stage the city’s first integrated basketball game, Father Verrett struggles to make sure his team is treated with respect while facing opposition from both black and white community leaders.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Drama 1967 NR 108 minutes.  Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn star as wealthy Californians who consider themselves progressive until their only daughter (Katharine Houghton) brings home her African American fiancé (Sidney Poitier) in this snapshot of race relations in the late 1960s. The film earned two Academy Awards (for Hepburn’s performance and William Rose’s screenplay) and eight other nominations. Stanley Kramer directs.

A Patch of Blue

Drama 1965 UR 105 minutes. Gordon Ralfe (Sidney Poitier), a handsome, hard-working black man, befriends Selina (Elizabeth Hartman, who received an Oscar nod), a blind white girl, and he introduces her to a whole new world. They soon fall in love, but given the current racial climate, Gordon withholds his true feelings. Her overbearing, bigoted mother (Shelley Winters in an Oscar-winning role) derides Selina’s relationship with Gordon, but they continue to grow even closer.

A Raisin in the Sun

Drama 1961 UR 128 minutes. Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee shine in this film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play about an inner-city black family. Poitier plays Walter Lee Younger, a chauffeur with a wife (Dee) and family to support. When a financial windfall puts Younger’s dream of starting his own business within reach, the family is plunged into conflict with one another and with the intolerant world around them.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Drama 1960 G 107 minutes. From chicken thief to cabin boy, riverboat pilot to circus performer, Huck Finn (Eddie Hodges) outsmarts everyone on his way down the muddy Mississippi. This 1960 movie was the first color version of the Mark Twain classic. The film features a cast of veteran Hollywood actors, including Buster Keaton (as a lion tamer!), Sterling Holloway, Andy Devine, Judy Canova and John Carradine. Michael Curtiz directs.

Children of Internment

Documentary 2013.  Children of Internment is a film by Kristina Wagner and Joe Krump. The decision to evacuate and intern Germans, Japanese & Italians in America began at least five years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. J. Edgar Hoover had begun to compile the notorious ABC list. This list was created with concerns over national security and was originally aimed at Communists, Fascists, and Nazis. By the end of 1939, it had evolved into wartime hysteria. It is a common misperception that only Japanese Americans were interned during WWII. The German American wartime experience remains largely overlooked by historians and generally unknown to most Americans. Nearly 11,000 German aliens were interned, and tens of thousands more suffered illegal searches, seizures, relocation, harassment, interrogation, family separation, scapegoating, deportation and repatriation. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the nation was clearly under threat and historically when there is a threat, a pattern occurs. Families around the world are at risk whenever government policy makers assume that ethnicity alone decides loyalty. While WWII internment was driven by racial bigotry, it is important to note that other factors could also label a group dangerous in times of national crisis. This is a relevant lesson, since today the Alien Enemies Act is still in use for the “War on Terror”. In this documentary, former internees and their families come forward to tell their heartbreaking stories. It is important to acknowledge, yet another, civil liberties violation that happened here on American soil.

The Jesse Owens Story

Docudrama 1984 G 174 minutes. This moving, made-for-television biopic chronicles the amazing life of track star Jesse Owens (Dorian Harewood), who astonished the world and infuriated Nazi leader Adolf Hitler by running away with an unprecedented four gold medals at Berlin’s 1936 Olympics. Owens set world records with his athletic prowess and deflated Hitler’s theories about Aryan superiority, inspiring generations of black Americans who would follow in his footsteps.

Jesse Owens

Documentary American Experience 2012 NR. This documentary details Jesse Owens’s early career; describes Adolf Hitler’s outsized ambitions for the 1936 Olympics; explores the movement in Western democracies to boycott the event; and explains the pressures on Owens to attend.

The Birth of a Nation

Drama 1915 NR 3hr 21m. The fates of two families intertwine in this controversial silent drama, a period saga that recounts the genesis of the U.S. Civil War, the destruction it wrought upon the populace and the ascent of the Ku Klux Klan in the war’s aftermath. Birth of a Nation is a complicated proposition: it’s important in the history of cinema, it’s a powerful piece of film making, and it’s racist. As for it’s importance, you need only to look at any movie made before (for example, The Last Days of Pompeii) to see what a leap Birth of a Nation was. Modern movie-making was essentially born with Birth of a Nation. But the racism is baldly obvious. The movie caused demonstrations against its horrific portrayal of African-Americans, even when the movie was brand new!  I couldn’t believe my eyes. **Spoiler Alert** Freed slaves taking power in the south? Reconstruction-Era whites powerless and oppressed? The KKK founded as a rebellion against the black’s tyranny? Wha…? That’s right, folks. This was the way Southerners of Griffith’s generation thought.


Jefferson’s Blood

Documentary Frontline 2000. For years there existed a rumor that Thomas Jefferson had a long-standing relationship and several children by Sally Hemings, a woman who was his slave. Now, DNA tests all but prove the rumor true. An early hero of the anti-slavery movement, Jefferson wrote brilliantly of the corrupting influence of slavery on blacks and whites alike. Yet it is now apparent that he lived a dual life, sharing his house with his white daughter and grandchildren while his unacknowledged mistress and his children by her worked in the same house as slaves. In a personal essay, Frontline correspondent Shelby Steele examines Jefferson’s life and follows the descendants of Jefferson and Hemings as they undergo DNA testing, search out their family history, and try to sort out their place along America’s blurred color line.

Secret Daughter

Documentary Frontline 1996. Frontline producer June Cross tells the intricate story of her own family through the prism of the changing face of race relations in America. Cross, born to a white mother and an African-American father in the early 1950s, was given away by her mother to live with a black family in Atlantic City when she was four. She only saw her mother and stepfather, TV star Larry Storch, on visits to Hollywood during school vacations. But Cross’s mother was afraid her husband’s career would be destroyed if the truth about Cross was discovered, so she kept her a secret. Frontline takes viewers on an epic journey across the racial divide, into the hidden world of Hollywood and deep into the complicated relationship between a daughter and the mother who gave her away.

The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson

Documentary Frontline 1996. Through five decades, Jesse Jackson has been trying to realize the promise of his own potential he first embraced as a boy in segregated Greenville, South Carolina. His life has been a headlong rush toward that end, fueled by a mix of personal aggrievement, ambition, his own vision of what America should be, and his quixotic but enduring belief that he might be able to change the country and the world. Drawn from journalist Marshall Frady’s biography, Pilgrimage, the program is not only a rare in-depth look at the man, but also offers a portrait of race and politics in post-war America.

School Colors

Documentary Frontline 1994. Integration. It was called the greatest social experiment of our generation. But 40 years after Brown v. Bd of Ed, many of our schools are still sharply segregated along color lines. America’s changing demographics have tested the limits of our racial and ethnic tolerance, leaving many of us to ask whether the nation’s diversity will e NR ich us or tear us apart. Follows one year in the lives of Berkeley CA students and principal.

LA is Burning
5 Reports from a Divided City

Documentary Frontline 1993. One year after Los Angeles’ three days and nights of beatings, looting, and burning, how well do we understand what happened there-and why? Frontline revisits Los Angeles to explore those questions through the eyes of five people who have thought and written about the city from the perspectives of its different communities, races, and classes.

Who is David Duke?

Documentary Frontline 1992. Correspondent Hodding Carter investigates the life and political career of presidential candidate David Duke-exploring Duke’s troubled childhood, his intellectual journey into the extremist ideology of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and the effort to reshape his image so he could run as a national figure in the Republican party.

The Color of Your Skin

Documentary Frontline 1991. An intimate journey into America’s great racial divide, reported by David Maraniss. For 16 weeks, behind a two-way mirror in a small room at the US military’s intensive race relations course, a dozen Americans-black, white, and Hispanic-confront each other with their racial anger, pain, and bewilderment. This group’s dramatic struggle poses the vital question: can America overcome its racial conflicts and make equality work?

Black America’s War

Documentary Frontline 1991. Nearly thirty percent of all US soldiers in the Gulf War were black Americans. But blacks were much more skeptical than whites about the decision to go to war. Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree leads a Frontline town meeting that explores the source of black attitudes and the impact of the war on the lives of black Americans.

Throwaway People

Documentary Frontline 1990. Correspondent Roger Wilkins investigates the economic and social roots of the black underclass, focusing on the struggle of young black men in one neighborhood in Washington, DC.

Running with Jesse

Documentary Frontline 1989. An inside look at the historic 1988 presidential campaign of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Frontline profiles the Jackson strategy, his relationship with the press and his difficulties with the Jewish community and New York’s Mayor Koch. The program chronicles the hopes and the hype of a campaign that became a crusade.

Racism 101

Documentary Frontline 1988. Frontline explores the disturbing increase in racial incidents and violence on America’s college campuses. The attitudes of black and white students reveal increasing tensions at some of the country’s best universities where years after the civil rights struggle, full integration is still only a dream.

The Bloods of ‘Nam

Documentary Frontline 1986. A high percentage of men on the frontlines in Vietnam were young, poor, undereducated, and black. By most accounts, they had the highest casualties. But these young men say they were fighting two wars-against the enemy and against discrimination. Correspondent Wallace Terry, the author of ‘Bloods,’ the national bestseller on which this film is based, talks with black veterans who fought discrimination in Vietnam and who later confronted disillusionment when they came home.

A Class Divided

Documentary Frontline 1985. Almost 20 years ago, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, a teacher in a small town in Iowa tried a daring classroom experiment. She decided to treat children with blue eyes as superior to children with brown eyes. Frontline explores what those children learned about discrimination and how it still affects them today.

The Struggle for Birmingham

Documentary Frontline 1984. This special election report focuses on Birmingham, Alabama, which was a key battlefield in the black struggle for civil rights in the 1960’s. Now, 20 years later, Birmingham is one of the new battlefields for a mature black political movement. Frontline correspondent Richard Reeves examines black political power today and the struggle for the heart and soul of the black voter.

In the Shadow of the Capitol

Documentary Frontline 1983. Frontline correspondent Charles Cobb journeys to a Washington, DC that tourists rarely see. The nation’s capital, seventy-five percent black, faces widespread poverty, yet it is run by some of the civil-rights movement’s most effective and militant organizers, including Mayor Marion Barry.

88 Seconds in Greensboro

Documentary Frontline 1983. On the morning of November 3,1979, five civil rights demonstrators were killed by a group of Klan and Nazi Party members in Greensboro, North Carolina. Correspondent James Reston, Jr.,investigates the role of a police informant who was with the group when the attack was planned and when it was carried out.


Jackie Robinson, One of the Greatest

Documentary 2008 NR 45 minutes. Recognized as one of the most influential figures of the civil rights movement, the achievements of Hall of Fame major leaguer Jackie Robinson have transcended the baseball diamond and become a source of inspiration for people all around the world. Explore the life of this true American hero, whose grace, talent and courage helped to pave the way for generations of African Americans who’ve followed in his footsteps.

Jackie Robinson

Documentary 2005 NR 60 minutes. The day Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the world of sports changed forever. Dodgers president Branch Rickey chose Robinson to integrate baseball and become the first African-American player in the major leagues. But the MVP and Hall of Famer’s influence didn’t end on the field. This A&E; biography also tells of Robinson’s work with civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., to fight racism.

Jackie Robinson, Breaking Barriers

Documentary 1997 NR. The legendary Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play baseball with a major league team when he took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This fascinating film captures that historic day and its impact on the once-segregated world of professional sports. Original newsreel clips, interviews with Robinson’s family and friends, archived game footage and photos document the pioneering athlete’s impressive career.

The Jackie Robinson Story

Docudrama 1950 NR 77 minutes. This 1950 biographical movie tackles the racial issues that elevated and threatened Jackie Robinson, the first baseball player to break the color barrier. The Hall of Fame Dodger plays himself with dignity (holding his own against Ruby Dee as his wife).


The Searchers

Docudrama 1956 NR 119 minutes.  After his entire family is viciously wiped out, hardened war veteran Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) embarks on a long journey to find his only surviving niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood), who has been captured by hostile Comanche Indians. Director John Ford’s richly scenic Western also stars Vera Miles, Hank Worden, Ward Bond and Jeffrey Hunter, as Edwards’s riding companion, Martin Pawley.  Loosely based on a true story.

See Also:  Films on Civil Rights


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Must-See Movies—For What You Need to Know