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As Black Lives Matter protests have rippled across the country, there’s been nationwide reckoning with how this country has dealt with race — or rather, not dealt with it. As individuals and corporations alike scramble to make statements pledging their support and vowing to better educate themselves on race and diversity, we’ve realized just how deep the roots of our failure to address racism go. Many of us have realized, looking back on our education, how shockingly little we were taught about the realities of slavery, let alone the atrocities that followed. And since we don’t expect curriculums to change overnight, we looked into what we could watch with our own kids right now to remedy that problem.
Before we get into viewing choices, let’s address the most common complaint about teaching young kids about slavery, mass incarceration, or the reality of Jim Crow America. Those in favor of keeping the history books sanitized argue that it’s inappropriate, or unnecessarily traumatizing for kids to learn about this violence — but the truth is, Black parents in America have never had the option of keeping these realities from their children. From a young age, Black kids are forced to learn that some will consider the color of their skin a threat, are given strict instructions on how to behave if they ever interact with a police officer, and are subjected to racist comments and opinions from the world around them.
If we want our children to grow up with a greater understanding of America’s true history and the long fight for racial equity ahead, we have to take it upon ourselves to educate them now. Movies like Harriet, Lincoln, and Slavery and the Making of America give more honest accounts of the suffering of Black people at the hands of slaveowners than most of us were taught in American schools, without relying on nightmare-inducing images or doing whatever it is Django Unchained was supposed to be doing. If we can raise the next generation to look at issues of race in America with a clear understanding of the need for change, we can build a better future. But before we get there, we have to address our past.
Here are some recommendations of movies and TV shows that don’t shy away from the truth about America’s history when it comes to slavery.
A version of this article was originally published in 2020.