In light of the latest civil rights protests taking over not only the United States, but the entire world, Netflix has released a Black Lives Matter collection of films, TV shows and documentaries exemplifying important figures, crucial information, criminal justice system corruption and black filmmakers and actors.
Here are some important documentaries and series that educate on the racial injustice and corruption within the criminal justice system:
“13th” explores the evolution of systemic racism within the United States from slavery, to Jim Crow laws to mass incarceration. Beautifully executed by director, Ava DuVernay, the documentary displays compelling visuals and statistics regarding the rising prison rates.
It argues that with the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery, declaring all people free unless found guilty of criminal actions, bore the earliest acts of racism within the criminal justice system with incarcerating as many Black people as possible.
The documentary discusses important civil rights leaders and timelines along with various political acts such as the war on drugs, which heavily targets minority communities. Some of its most gripping scenes come with side-by-side videos from the Jim Crow era in comparison with the horrifyingly similar clips taken in recent years.
If you are looking for something filled with educational information regarding the racial disparity in the prison system and the earliest ideals on which it was based, “13th” will not disappoint.
Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story (2020)
Cyntoia Brown was only 16 years old in 2004 when she was sentenced to life in prison. Brown came across Johnny Allen, 42, in a Sonic parking lot, where he offered her $150 to have sex with him. After returning to his house, she feared for her life and ultimately shot and killed Allen with one of his many guns.
After spending 15 years in prison, a sentence reduction granted by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam allowed for Brown’s early release in August 2019.
The Netflix documentary displays authentic footage of every event from the time Brown entered juvenile detention to her release. Viewers see the heartbreaking moment she called her mother from jail to break the news of her life sentence. They also see her obtain an associate’s degree while in prison.
Brown’s story is just one of many where the system has failed children and the documentary sheds light on the hardships of being unfairly tried as an adult at 16.
When They See Us (2019)
“When They See Us” is a film series told from the perspective of the Central Park Five, now known as the Exonerated Five. In the spring of 1989, five boys aged 14 to 16 years old were arrested and wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a 28-year-old white woman who was jogging in Central Park. Each of them spent between five and 13 years in prison.
The four part series left me overwhelmed with emotion. The children were beaten and harassed by interrogation officers, some without the presence of their parents, and forced into giving false statements with the promise that they would go home. Despite there being no DNA evidence against the five young men, they were all ruled guilty.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana went to juvenile detention, while Korey Wise was 16 and tried as an adult. Wise had the longest and possibly the most gruesome prison sentence, where he served until a man named Matias Reyes confessed to the crime in 2002, exonerating all five men.
The series emphasizes the use of police coercion and how the prosecutors were seemingly more interested in being right about these boys than they were about catching the actual criminal, who was convicted just months after their arrest for a separate string of rapes and murder in the area. While the episodes are hard to watch, they are necessary to watch.
If the show intrigued you, Netflix also offers “When They See Us Now,” an interview between Oprah Winfrey, director Ana DuVernay, the cast of the show and the actual Exonerated Five.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story (2017)
Kalief Browder’s story is one with a heartbreaking ending. After being arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack as he was walking home from a party one night, Browder, who was 16 at the time, was placed at Riker’s Island, a maximum security adult prison in New York.
Despite having no evidence against him, Browder spent three years in the prison known for its high level of violence among inmates and correctional officers. He spent two of those years in solitary confinement.
The teenager maintained his innocence in the face of plea deals and ultimately had his case dropped when the prosecutors could find no evidence or witness to testify against him. Unfortunately, the effects of solitary confinement, constant beatings from officers and inmates and several failed suicide attempts carried on with Browder, leading to his suicide two years after leaving Riker’s Island.
The six episode series is filled with video evidence from Riker’s Island of Browder being wrongfully abused by guards and inmates, emotional interviews with Browder and his family and grueling statistics. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Rosie O’Donnell appear in the miniseries as they were particularly taken with Browder’s story and met with him on separate occasions.
Since it would be nearly impossible to name the millions that are wrongfully incarcerated and targeted, it is important to know and watch the few that we are presented with.
Netflix’s Black Lives Matter collection holds crucial educational material regarding the systemic racism and corrupt criminal justice system. While some of the films, documentaries and TV shows are hard to watch at times, it is a conversation that is essential in bringing about change in this country.