Documentaries to Watch @Home - BLM Edition

Documentaries to Watch @Home - BLM Edition

Documentaries to watch at home - here are our recommendations

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In these troubled times in America, many people have asked for documentary and film suggestions to help better understand some of the underlying issues.

16 Shots

Showing FREE on Showtime

In an effort to provide resources and raise awareness around the ongoing struggle against systemic racism in America, SHOWTIME has made the Peabody Award-nominated and Television Academy Honors recipient 16 SHOTS documentary free to all viewers.

When Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald 16 times — 15 of them after the teenager was already on the ground — the barrage was over in a matter of seconds. But the 2014 incident reverberated for years, ultimately bringing down the police commissioner, the state's attorney, and the mayor. They all might have survived, save for one lapse in the Chicago Police Department's cover-up.

That slip is at the center of writer-director Richard Rowley's 16 Shots, a cogent telling of the McDonald case. The police released dashboard-cam video of the shooting, perhaps inadvertently, to an attorney for McDonald's family. The footage contradicted the narrative contrived by the cops, who had intimidated witnesses and confiscated surveillance video from a nearby Burger King.

Rowley uses the blurry dash-cam vignette more than once in 16 Shots. He also has video of the trial, so that very little of the story — unlike in most documentaries that reconstruct controversial events — happens off screen.

In many ways, the 17-year-old McDonald's death mirrors several other high-profile recent killings of young African Americans by police officers. What's different is the outcome. The official account largely unraveled, and the cop who fired the gun was convicted of second-degree murder.

Although the policeman's conviction has been widely reported, 16 Shots still illuminates. The movie offers many pungent details, including a telling one it holds until the last moment, and is structured for maximum drama.

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Thank you Carys of Washington, DC

Streaming on Netflix

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." –Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution

When the 13th amendment was ratified in 1865, its drafters left themselves a large, very exploitable loophole in the guise of an easily missed clause in its definition. That clause, which converts slavery from a legal business model to an equally legal method of punishment for criminals, is the subject of the Netflix documentary “13th.”

Director Ava DuVernay’s takes an unflinching, well-informed and thoroughly researched look at the American system of incarceration, specifically how the prison industrial complex affects people of color. Her analysis could not be more timely nor more infuriating. The film builds its case piece by shattering piece, inspiring levels of shock and outrage that stun the viewer, leaving one shaken and disturbed before closing out on a visual note of hope designed to keep us on the hook as advocates for change.

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The Force

Showing on Netflix

Is the disconnect between police departments and the black community systemic, can it change? At a powder keg moment in American policing, The Force presents a fly-on-the-wall look deep inside the long-troubled Oakland Police Department as it struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson, Missouri, and an explosive sex scandal.  

Filmmaker Pete Nicks embedded with the department over the course of two years to follow OPD’s serial efforts to recast itself. The film spotlights the new chief, hailed as a reformer, who is brought into effect reform at the very moment the Black Lives Matter movement emerges to demand police accountability and racial justice both in Oakland and across the nation.

The Force also follows the journey of young cops in the Police Academy who are learning how to police in a new era of transparency and accountability. Out on the street, the camera gets up close as rookie and veteran officers alike face an increasingly hostile public where dueling narratives surround each use of force. Under scrutiny as never before, these officers respond to a constant flood of 911 calls, and the film reveals the wide gulf between how cops see themselves and how they are seen by the public.

Despite growing public distrust, the OPD begins garnering national attention as a model of police reform. But just as the department is on the verge of a breakthrough, the man charged with turning the department around faces the greatest challenge of his career when a scandal breaks out.

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Just Mercy

Streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Xfinity

Warner Bros. made Just Mercy free to stream for the entire month of June in an effort to educate viewers on the dangers of "systemic racism". This is not a documentary but is an excellent film that cover the subject well.

The courtroom drama tells the true story who appealed the 1988 murder conviction of an innocent black man, Walter McMillan (played by Jamie Foxx) unjustly convicted of a crime is put on death row, where he waits—until Harvard grad Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) goes to Alabama to provide legal aid to death row prisoners. Just Mercy is based on Bryan Stevenson's book of the same name.

“We believe in the power of story,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “Our film ‘Just Mercy,’ based on the life work of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systemic racism that plagues our society.”

The studio has made the film very easy to watch. It’s available for free via most services where you would normally pay to rent a film: YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and Google Play.

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I Am Not Your Negro

Showing on Amazon Prime

I Am Not Your Negro is a 2016 documentary film directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his personal observations of American history. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.

Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie will make you think again, and may even change your mind. Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, is a man who has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.

The film is a posthumous collaboration, an uncanny and thrilling communion between the filmmaker and his subject. The voice-over narration (read by Samuel L. Jackson) is entirely drawn from Baldwin’s work. Much of it comes from notes and letters written in the mid-1970s, when Baldwin was somewhat reluctantly sketching out a book, never to be completed, about the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

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Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

Showing on HBO Go/Now

In 2015, Sandra Bland, a politically active 28-year-old black woman from Chicago was arrested for a traffic violation in a small Texas town. Three days later, Sandra was found hanging from a noose in her jail cell. Though ruled a suicide, her death sparked allegations of racially-motivated police murder and Sandra became a poster child for activists nationwide, leaving millions to question, “What really happened to Sandra Bland?”

Ten days after Sandra's death, filmmakers, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner began working closely with the family's legal team, tracking the two-year battle between Sandra's aggrieved family and Texas authorities. With disturbing, never-before-told details about the case, the film is punctuated by Sandra’s own passionate and moving commentary.

Approximately 30 “Sandy Speaks” video blogs, which Sandra created herself, allowed the filmmakers to get to know Sandra Bland in a deeply personal way. Via these videos, Sandy herself emerges as a central voice in Say Her Name — an empowered, enlightened woman of color whose sharp, humorous, charismatic remarks address subjects from educating kids about black history to police brutality to the importance of natural hair.

Say Her Name takes viewers deep inside a story that galvanized activists across the country.

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Do NOT Resist

Showing on Amazon, YouTube ($2.99)

Watching scenes on TV this week, especially from Washington, police and security forces look more prepared for war than to protect and serve. DO NOT RESIST is a documentary that explores the militarization of local police departments- in their tactics, training, and acquisition of equipment- since 9/11.

Spending time on the streets where cops face protesters and in the private places where they acquire the tools and tactics of the military, the film listens to officials' defense of the status quo while letting events speak for themselves.

The director's father was a policeman for decades near Detroit, serving part of that time as a SWAT commander. But he retired in 2002, and policing has changed drastically in the years since. The filmmaker seems to indicate his natural sympathy for police in his opening footage, shot during Ferguson protests in 2014: There, a state trooper speaks calmly with an angry protester, assuring him they're both looking for the same answers. But then comes the tear gas, and combat-ready lawmen who look and behave nothing like that trooper.

The film sits in on a seminar by Dave Grossman, a crazy-eyed motivational speaker we're told is the #1 trainer of military and police officers in the U.S. "You are men and women of violence," he tells the crowd, before exhorting them to stop every now and then on a highway overpass, look down upon the city they protect, and feel the invisible superhero's cape snapping in the wind behind them.

Surely, good cops could use moral support in these troubled times; maybe just not the variety Grossman sells. Do they also need million-dollar armored vehicles? Do they need stockpiles of bayonets? Atkinson visits small communities like Concord, NH, a town of about 43,000 that has seen only two murders since 2004. There, a police chief wants to take a $250,000 grant from Homeland Security to buy a BearCat personnel carrier. After hearing from a slew of townspeople who object, the City Council gives him the go-ahead.

Most problematic is the mindset of many of those who put these big toys to use. A man learning SWAT tactics tells the camera what he's preparing himself to fight: ISIS, WMDs, and "unruly crowds" like the ones seen in Ferguson. Which of these things doesn't belong in the crosshairs of men with guns?

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Crime And Punishment

Thank You Jivonne of Newburyport

Showing on Hulu

An award winning documentary at the 2018 Newburyport Documentary Film Festival,

Not long ago, members of the New York Police force were expected to meet monthly quotas for arrests and summonses. Though the practice was outlawed in 2010, this film amasses evidence and testimony that it persisted. He focuses on a group of officers — known as the N.Y.P.D. 12 — who said in a lawsuit that they had been pressured to meet illegal quotas and punished when they refused to comply. Supervisors are recorded threatening reprisals against the officers, some of whom are then disciplined for trivial infractions, given undesirable assignments and blocked when they seek promotion.

“Crime+Punishment” follows these officers, who are mostly Latino and African-American, as they go public with their case, holding news conferences and sitting for television interviews. One of them, Edwin Raymond, was profiled in a cover story in The New York Times Magazine. The importance of the suit goes beyond the officers’ treatment by the departmental hierarchy. Quotas, to Mr. Raymond and his colleagues, are a symptom and a cause of the dysfunctional, antagonistic relationship between the police and the public, especially young, non white men.

The film is a powerful and suspenseful film, part detective story and part courtroom drama, fueled by a potent mix of curiosity and indignation and full of memorable characters speaking in the lively idioms and varied accents of New York. The film brings viewers into the daily lives of police officers, some of them veterans with decades of service behind them, who are willing to risk their careers for what they believe is right. They face fear, frustration and agonizing uncertainty as the case proceeds.

If “Crime+Punishment” were a scripted feature rather than a documentary, it would have a neater, and perhaps more unequivocally hopeful ending. You can extract a degree of optimism. Sometimes justice prevails. Sometimes politicians and judges listen. But never automatically, through the impersonal workings of the system. This film is about the work, risk and sacrifice — the combination of stubbornness, courage and decency — required to make the ideal of equal justice under the law anything close to a reality.

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When They See Us

Thank you Bryn of Montreal, Quebec

Showing on Netflix

This is a 4 part doc-series based on events of the April 19, 1989, Central Park jogger case and explores the lives of the five suspects who were prosecuted on charges related to the sexual assault of a female victim, and of their families. The five juvenile males of color, the protagonists of the series: Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk), Antron McCray (Caleel Harris), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse), Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome), and Raymond Santana (Marquis Rodriguez), were divided by the prosecutor into two groups for trial. Each youth was convicted by juries of various charges related to the assault; four were convicted of rape. They were sentenced to maximum terms for juveniles except for Korey Wise, who was 16 at the time of the crime and treated as an adult by the legal system. He had been held in adult facilities and served his time in adult prison.

They filed a suit against the city in 2003 for wrongful conviction and were awarded a settlement in 2014.[7]

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Documentaries (and more) on Netflix and how to find them.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of streaming entertainment to watch on Netflix. But it can sometimes be hard finding something good to watch. There is a trick that you can use on your computer or laptop.

Netflix has hidden codes to make your viewing experience even more personalized.

How to Crack the Netflix Code

Based on browsing categories like “British Crime Drama” or “Strong Female Lead,” you know Netflix is the master of organization. You can see hundreds more of these genres by typing

into a web browser, with the Xs being a unique Netflix code. Whether you want movies about soccer or films from Belgium. All you need is the code! So, if you want family-friendly movies for ages 0 to 2, use 6796. For book lovers, you can search for content based on children’s books (10056).

And Here are some codes for you to get started, and if you want even more, and want Controversial Social & Cultural Documentaries (1070) or Critically-acclaimed Quirky British Movies (1704), click here

Action & Adventure (1365)

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Documentaries (6839)

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Music (1701)

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy (1492)

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TV Shows (83)

If you have a recommendation for a documentary, a festival, or a local film showing, please share with the community