Today is Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Of course, the legacy of slavery—and all that followed it, like segregation—is still very much with us today.
While reality TV has been part of the problem, perpetuating systemic racism, both unscripted series and documentaries can also show us what people’s lives are like, and take us back into history and teach us the things that our schools did not.
For me as a white person, that gap in historical knowledge about race and racism is vast. I certainly never learned about Juneteenth, nor the Tulsa Massacre, which I first learned about last year when I saw the first episode of Watchmen. (That show, which is the best TV show I saw last year, is free this weekend on HBO.com and on demand, and blends historical events with fiction.) I grew up in the suburbs but only learned about redlining from Adam Ruins Everything.
So my goal in assembling this list was not to provide an exhaustive list, but to share a few documentaries and series I found to be illuminating, insightful, and informative—and that are free to watch for everyone (though some will be available only for a limited time). Some of them explore history, and some look in-depth at recent events.
Certainly, there are many outstanding shows and docs, like Ava DuVernay’s 13th on Netflix, which are worth watching, too. But I hope you’ll find some of these to be useful.