By Kathleen Parrish

In celebration of Black Heritage Month, Randi Gill-Sadler, assistant professor of English, who teaches Blackness on Screen; Blackness in Print, recommends a few of her favorite books, movies, and TV shows that reflect on the Black experience in America.

Gill-Sadler says she focused her picks on contemporary ones that represent “the diversity of the Black experience via popular culture as opposed to citing cultural productions that speak to a singular African American experience.”

Below is Gill-Sadler’s list with her accompanying comments.

Books
Some of Us Did Not Die by June Jordan
A collection of essays spanning the career of Black feminist poet, teacher, and essayist June Jordan, this book showcases Jordan’s critical attention to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and colonialism within the U.S political landscape.

Field Theories by Samiya Bashir
A stunning collection of poetry that brings together Black social life and scientific theories, this book pushes its readers to reconsider everything they thought about blackness, its value, and its meanings.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
Part autobiography, part mythology, Zami beautifully blurs the boundaries of literary genres while chronicling Audre Lorde’s journey into her racial, gender, and sexual identity as a first-generation Grenadian American.

Freedom Dreams: The Radical Black Imagination by Robin D.G. Kelley
Historian Robin D.G. Kelley is one of my favorite historians. The clarity and depth of his work are standards for all scholars. This book highlights the “freedom dreams” of Black political figures like Aimé Césaire, Jayne Cortez, and Paul Robeson to assert that our ability to imagine new futures might be our most powerful tool in the struggle for freedom and as a uniting force across the Black diaspora.

Films/Documentaries
OJ: Made in America (2016)
This five-part mini-series was an ESPN 30 for 30 special produced and directed by Ezra Edelman. The film details not only the OJ Simpson trial and the “racial soap opera” it produced, it also provides socio-political context for the case, including the LAPD murder of Eula Love, a 39-year-old mother who was shot and killed in her home, the LAPD beating of Rodney King, and the trial and verdict in the LA riots. Edelman provides this context at a contemporary moment where national questions about race, policing, and media not only persist, but fundamentally shape how we view the state of America.

The Art of Organized Noize (2016)
If you love ’90s and 2000s jams like TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Outkast’s “So Fresh and So Clean,” then you will love the documentary Art of Organized Noize as it showcases the rise of Organized Noize, the group of producers and musicians responsible for producing the Dirty South sound that defined an entire era of hip-hop music.

Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (2018)
Recently released in January, this documentary is the first in-depth look into the life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry. While she is most famously known for her play A Raisin in the Sun, the documentary highlights her childhood, writing career outside the groundbreaking play, as well as her commitment to fighting racial injustice with art.

Eve’s Bayou (1997)
One of my favorite films as a child, the movie is set in Louisiana and chronicles the Black, middle-class Baptiste family and a summer riddled with mystery, death, and infidelity. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, the film is as haunting as it is beautiful with shots of the marshes and swamps we associate with Louisiana.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)
This documentary highlights the rise of the Black Panther Party and its untimely, violent demise. With footage from the time period as well as interviews with former BPP members, the documentary sheds light on the real politics of the BPP and its work in the community outside the caricatured representations we have historically seen.  

TV Shows
Atlanta (2016- )
Donald Glover’s Atlanta returns for its second season March 1. While the show follows Earn, the protagonist who returns to Atlanta after dropping out of Princeton to help manage his cousin’s independent rap career, the show also highlights issues of class, gender, and sexuality and the complexity of the Atlanta social landscape with humor and real Southern charm.

Living Single (1993-98)
Living Single is a sitcom from the early ’90s that has recently been re-released on Hulu. It centers on four female friends in a variety of professions as they navigate dating, their careers, and their friendships in New York City.

Underground (2016-17)
Lasting only two seasons, the show follows a group of enslaved Blacks known as Macon 7 as they run away from their plantation in search of freedom. While depicting horrific incidents of violence that characterize slavery, the show also highlights the daily terrors of slavery including surveillance, policing, and the destruction of familial bonds. As part of the storyline, members of Macon 7 encounter one of the most famous Black women freedom fighters in history. Guess who? 

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