The documentaries and factual TV shows to watch and stream for learning and educating yourself on race and racism

We round up the best documentaries and TV shows available to stream now on iPlayer and All4 on the subject of race, Black Lives Matter and privilege.

By Alex Fletcher Updated: 28 July 2020 - 11.20am
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Black Lives Matter

Documentary
Channel 4

The worldwide protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd have inspired many of us to better educate ourselves on the subject of race, the history of racism and our understanding of privilege.

The TV industry is often guilty of ignoring and doing the bare minimum when it comes to telling the stories of Black people and issues they face.

However, recent events have given most broadcasters an urgency to promote and publicise the programming the historical documentaries, factual series and investigative journalism exploring these subjects.

Here are just a small sample of the must-watch documentaries, TV shows and specials that are essential viewing for anyone looking to dig a little deeper into racial injustice and Black history.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer

Anthony

Toheeb Jimoh as Anthony - Available now on BBC iPlayer BBC

Anthony Walker was a Liverpool teenager with a devout Christian faith and a love of basketball.

Known to his family and friends for his humour, intelligence and compassion, Anthony was halfway through college with dreams of visiting America and studying Law at university.

In July 2005 in Huyton, Merseyside, Anthony was murdered in a racist attack. He was 18 years old.

Inspired by conversations with Gee Walker, Anthony's mother, about the boy Anthony was and the man he was to become, this is the story of the life he could have lived.

Explaining how he came to make the drama, the legendary writer Jimmy McGovern said: "How could I, an old white man, tell the story of Anthony Walker, a young black man? I couldn’t. I shouldn’t.

"But Gee Walker, Anthony’s mum, had asked me to do it and nobody in Liverpool says no to Gee Walker. I knew I had to do it.

"I’d been thinking about the First World War, about how the powers-that-be kept everybody fighting right up to the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

"Even though everyone knew the war was over they kept on fighting and between dawn and eleven o’clock on the eleventh day, thousands died. I would argue that every single death in the First World War was pointless but those that occurred on that final day were the most pointless of all.

"I kept asking myself, 'How many of those men who died that day would have achieved great things had they lived? Discovered a cure for a virus perhaps, written a great book, painted a beautiful picture?'

"That got me thinking about Anthony’s hopes and dreams. Had he lived, would he have achieved them? That question lies at the very heart of this drama."

Black and British: A Forgotten History

Presenter David Olusoga BBC
Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners - generics

This series first aired on the BBC in 2016, but had been repeated and returned to iPlayer this summer.

The charismatic historian David Olusoga reveals how Black British history has been whitewashed and goes about correcting many false preconceptions and commemorating forgotten communities.

From the African Romans who guarded Hadrian's Wall in the 3rd century AD to the Black trumpeter of the Tudor courts, Olusoga uncovers a history that is as surprising as it is revealing.

Black Hollywood

It still feels like we’ve got a long way to go in reaching some level of equality in the movie and TV industry, but this three-part series does allow for reflection on how far we’ve come.

The series starts with the Best Picture Oscar victory for Moonlight, and then takes viewers on the near century struggle to reach that moment.

Covering significant moments such as Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar victory for Gone with the Wind to the career of Sidney Poitier and the trailblazing work of Spike Lee, the series hears from an impressive list of contributors including Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, David Oyelowo, John Boyega, David Harewood and Whoopi Goldberg,

Sitting In Limbo

Patrick Robinson in Sitting In Limbo BBC
Sitting In Limbo

This one-off drama about one man’s ordeal during the Windrush scandal deserves recognition when the TV awards season comes around.

Patrick Robinson plays Anthony Bryan in this upsetting, quietly powerful and dramatic memoir, about the real impact of the UK government’s ‘hostile environment policy’ on immigration.

The heartbreaking and shocking treatment of Bryan, who arrived in the UK aged 8 in 1965, is uncompromising and tough viewing.

As he loses his job, home, right to use the NHS and is told to return to Jamaica, the full horror of the Windrush scandal is revealed and the real life impact of a hostile approach to immigration leaves a lasting impact on viewers.

Black is the New Black

Sir Lenny Henry BBC

Naomi Campbell, Sir Trevor McDonald, Thandie Newton, Baroness Scotland, musicians Jazzie B of Soul II Soul, Dizzie Rascal, Sir Lenny Henry and writer Gary Younge are just of the few Black Britons who appear in this four-part series exploring what it really means to be Black and British.

Each contributor tells their own personal stories and reveals their own experiences with prejudice, abuse and violence, revealing the journeys they’ve taken and hurdles they’ve navigated to reach where they are today.

Probably the most pressing theme across the series is the shocking truth that Black Britons have to work twice as hard, be twice as good and overcome so much more to get their voice heard.

Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?

Actor David Harewood BBC

Another film from the BBC’s 2016 Black and British season, which has been revisited four years on, this documentary is presented by Hollywood actor David Harewood.

The Homeland and Supergirl actor blends statistical analysis with real life conversations as he runs through the numerous obstacles in the way of Black Britons and positions of power and influence.

Although the central Prime Minister premise is the intriguing hook, the real message of the film is that its same blockers and glass ceilings across all the UK’s biggest institutions that are holding the country back.

Black Nurses: The Women Who Saved the NHS

Many viewers who caught this documentary on BBC Four questioned why it had been tucked away on the BBC’s least publicised and watched channel.

The story of the Caribbean and African women who answered the UK’s urgent call 70 years ago is rarely told and often ignored.

Saving an ailing service that was on its knees, the women who stood up in a nation’s hour of need have struggled to get any sort of recognition down the years. And on top of that, this film highlights the racism, abuse and career prejudice they’ve always come up against.

Watch now on All 4

The School That Tried To End Racism

Students from The School That Tried To End Racism Channel 4
THE SEGREGATION EXPERIMENT

A clear contender for one the best factual TV shows of 2020, this series felt incredibly timely.

The Channel 4 series manages to deliver a fairly brutal message about the arrogance and ignorance that exists on white privilege, but does it with such a brilliant cast of young school kids, there is a sense of optimism and potential for change at the end.

Taking a new US programme on unconscious racial bias into Glenthorne high school in south London, the series pushes a diverse class of students to question their racial identity and witness how society stacks the odds against many parts of society.

The children are the stars of the show as their exuberance and matter of fact tone (“Feels like a very racist sports day”) brings a dry humour. Their warm embrace and openness on the questions they tackle also suggests that bringing this into the education system nationally could be the quickest and best way to make a lasting impact.

Unremembered: Britain’s Forgotten War Heroes

This documentary from Labour’s Tottenham MP David Lammy first aired in 2019 and was an enraging reminder of how much of British history is ignored and how our commemorations and days of remembrance are often very blinkered.

The shocking story of how 100,000 or more Africans who died in their own continent serving Britain during World War I were denied the honour of an individual grave reveals how racism and colonialism still impacts the UK’s view of history and actions today.

Lammy is a passionate and engaging guide, who unearths a hidden scandal as its revealed how gravestones for those who died that weren’t white European was considered “a waste of public money”.

Justice For Joy

This documentary from 1995 on Channel 4, examining the death of Joy Gardner in 1993, and the subsequent Old Bailey trial and public campaign, is a well worth revisiting as a reminder of how the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t an American issue.

Campaigners believe that Gardner’s death, after being detained during a police immigration raid on her home in Crouch End, still deserves answers and a full public inquiry.

25 years on, this films makes a strong case that justice still hasn’t been delivered – and that must change.