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12 movies you should watch about the black experience in America

"Movies can create emotional responses in us. And we feel that if you watch enough movies and understand enough, then your heart will be changed."
Everett Collection

If the events of the last week have motivated you to educate yourself about racism and racial injustice, you've likely come across lists of books and podcasts to help expand your worldview. But you might be surprised to find some equally powerful tools for education on Netflix. That's where "The Grey Challenge" comes in.

Launched by NBA players Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver, Hoops and Christ founder Chauncey Hollingsworth, Active Faith founder Lanny Smith and rapper David "Dee-1" Augustin, the challenge is a response to the question they've been getting asked a lot lately: What can I do to help?

The challenge is intended to create a bridge for white Americans to understand the black American experience a little bit better. They started by sharing a list of 12 films to watch — each depicting a true story of racial injustice in this country, spanning from the 1800s up through present-day injustice.

"There's a reason why people cry after a movie. There's a reason why their hearts are changed, they feel angry or they feel sad," Temple told TMRW. "Movies can create emotional responses in us. And we feel that if you watch enough movies and understand enough, then your heart will be changed."

"We're all followers of Jesus Christ. And one of the guys said, 'You hear about Jesus getting tortured, but when I watched 'Passion of the Christ,' when I actually saw it and was able to see the type of things that they did, it hit differently."

Equally important is sharing in the challenge with others, according to Temple. Simply watching the films in solitude is a start, but sharing about the experience and telling other people in your circle to watch them too is even more powerful.

Read on for the full list of films.

12 movies to watch about the black experience in America

1. "Emanuel"

Now streaming on: Hulu, Starz and Amazon Prime

One of the few documentaries to make the list, "Emanuel" is produced by Stephen Curry and Viola Davis. It tells the story of the mass shooting that took place at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and examines the racial history of the city that serves as context for the tragic event.

2. "Amistad"


Now streaming on: Hulu, Starz, Amazon Prime

"Amistad" tells the story of the slave ship La Amistad that was overtaken by the people being held captive to be sold as slaves in America and the legal battle that followed when the ship was intercepted by the U.S. Navy.

3. "The Great Debaters"

Now streaming on: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Apple TV

Starring Denzel Washington as the coach of the Wiley College debate team, this inspiring film shows what life was like for black Americans living in the South during the Jim Crow era.

4. "Time: The Kalief Browder Story"


Now streaming on: Netflix

At 16, Kalief Browder was accused of stealing a backpack and was held in prison for three years, from 2010 to 2013, without trial because his family was unable to pay his bail. Browder was finally released when it was determined that his accuser had left the country and the charges would be dropped. Browder struggled with depression during his time in prison and died by suicide two years after being released. While this recommendation is a miniseries rather than a standalone film, its heartbreaking story is worth watching in full.

5. "12 Years a Slave"


Now streaming on: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Apple TV

This Oscar-winning pick recounts the journey of Solomon Northup, a violinist who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., sold into slavery in Louisiana and eventually found and freed to return back to his family.

6. "Selma"


Now streaming on: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Apple TV

Directed by Ava DuVernay, this film chronicles the 1965 voting rights marches that started in Selma, Alabama. In an election year, it's especially poignant to watch.

7. "Hidden Figures"

HIDDEN FIGURES, US poster art, from left, Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, 2016,
(C)20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection / 20th Century Fox Licensing/Merch

Now streaming on: Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

"Hidden Figures" shares the story of three black women mathematicians who worked at NASA during the space race in the 1960s. While their contributions are critical to the success of the organization's work, they still had to face the struggles of segregation.

8. "The Birth of a Nation"


Now streaming on: YouTube TV, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Apple TV

Set in the early 19th century, this film is based on the life of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia and was subsequently hanged for his actions. The epic tale shows just what lengths slaves had to go to in the pursuit of freedom.

9. "King in the Wilderness"

Now streaming on: Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Prime

This HBO documentary delves into the last year of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. Released just before the 50th anniversary of his assassination, the film includes never-before-seen footage that gives a glimpse into the mind of the civil rights icon before his death.

10. "Just Mercy"

Warner Bros.

Now streaming on: Free on Apple TV and iTunes

The most recent release on the list, "Just Mercy" tells the story of Harvard Law School graduate Bryan Stevenson as he sets out to overturn the wrongful conviction of a man who was accused of murder based on the unreliable testimony. The courtroom drama is as compelling as it is moving, and the real-life heroes are still fighting against injustice today.

11. "When They See Us"

Now streaming on: Netflix

This four-part miniseries debuted on Netflix last year to critical acclaim. It explores the 1989 case in which five teenagers were falsely accused of assaulting a female jogger in Central Park and the impact it had on the families of the men who were accused.

12. "13th"


Now streaming on: Netflix

Another piece directed by DuVernay, this documentary exposes injustice within the prison-industrial complex and explores how mass incarceration has become another way to enslave the black community in America.