Mainly because the Academy Awards are (still) primarily white doesn’t mean the streaming experience has to be. With these video streaming services, you can watch Black civil rights documentaries, dramas, rom-coms, science fiction, and other movies and Tv shows.
Hollywood has a better track record in terms of Black representation than, say, video games. However, it isn’t an exceptionally high bar to clear; the successes are the culmination of decades of struggle, and there is still more work to be done. We should see Black movies win awards without concentrating on slaves and maids or having their names incorrectly announced.
Best Video Streaming Services
Thankfully, the ever-growing legion of video streaming services are hungry for entertainment, even production environments for and about Black people. After all, if you can make streaming services for anime or the British, you can make streaming services for African-Americans. When companies across industries strive to demonstrate how much they respect Black lives in the aftermath of George Floyd’s police killing and our collective overdue reckoning with white supremacy, entertainment networks weigh in by highlighting their Black art…while also removing “problematic” episodes of old sitcoms.
Below are some of our top video streaming services for watching Black-themed movies, TV shows, documentaries, comedy specials, and more. Our selection includes both general services of promising Black libraries and services solely dedicated to Black content. It does not cover everything. Streaming apps for black channels and more traditional cable models, such as TV One or OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), are enticing. However, you’ll have to buy into a subscription-like AT&T TV Now or Philo to get access to them.
Your mileage may vary, but there are plenty of other underground services to explore, including American Legacy Network, Black on Purpose, Black and Sexy, and X on Demand. Even Jada Pinkett Smith’s sassy Red Table Talk is only available on Facebook. Caffeine is mainly a live streaming site for broadcasting video games, a competitor to Twitch. Still, it distinguishes itself by offering a variety of mainstream, often hip-hop-themed entertainment shows. On sports streaming services, you’ll see a lot of Black people. Nonetheless, you should use this post as a starting point for your Black streaming adventure.
Black Lives Matter, as always.
Nothing will get in the way of Netflix’s ascension to the top of the streaming industry. The service doesn’t just splurge on African-American talent. It spends billions on original Spike Lee films and shows, working with mega-producers like Ava DuVernay, Kenya Barris, Shonda Rhimes, and Justin Simien, turning Luke Cage into a flagship superhero of the once-small-town Marvel Cinematic Universe, filming epic Beyoncé concerts, and airing specials from any Black comedian that isn’t Bill Cosby. Strong Black Lead is an official Twitter account and podcast series highlighting Netflix’s Black movies and shows.
If you’ve ever been to a Nigerian “Nollywood” film fest and come out wanting more, KweliTV is the channel for you. Hundreds of shows and movies from across the African diaspora are available to view several video streaming devices. It also has a variety of pricing options.
Nothing beats a good Blaxploitation flick with its gritty action, killer soundtracks, and overwhelming 1970s atmosphere. No other era may have produced movies about mournful African vampires or antihero pimps trying to clean up the streets. Brown Sugar’s library is dedicated to preserving this ludicrous era of African-American film.
Review: Brown Sugar
It’s debatable whether BET has a positive representation of Black people, but it’s clear that the network is popular enough to warrant its streaming service. In the spirit of mixed legacies, Tyler Perry’s latest originals will air on BET+ after the prolific African-American director ended his contract with Oprah.
Amazon Prime Video
Although Amazon Prime Video’s original shows might not be as good as its competitors, it has an unrivaled catalog of shows and videos available to buy or watch on-demand. That involves almost every Black film or tv show you might think of. Like The Last Black Man in San Francisco and I, Am Not Your Negro, some are also available for free with a Prime membership. While it has the unappealing name Urban Movie Channel, one of Amazon’s channel add-ons is dedicated to Black content. At the very least, Janelle Monae appears in the second season of Homecoming.
Review: Amazon Prime Video
We must never allow a company like Disney to persuade us to equate loving our identity with loving their brand. For Black families having A Wrinkle in Time, Marvel’s Black Panther, Doc McStuffins, all iterations of The Lion King, The Princess, and the Frog, The Proud Family, and That’s So Raven on one service is a no-brainer. You can also see Hamilton without paying thousands of dollars for Broadway tickets if you want to see America’s founding fathers reimagined as rhythmic people of color. There are disclaimers for potentially offensive representations of race in older cartoons, but no one mentions Song of the South.
HBO Max has picked up a lot of beloved 90s sitcoms, like Friends. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air follows Will Smith as his world is turned upside down. You’ll also be able to watch I May Destroy You, Insecure, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Random Acts of Flyness, and Watchmen, among other HBO’s premium Black shows and movies. For a short period, all of these were made available for free streaming. As a highly political HBO Max original, a remake of The Boondocks is in the works.
Review: HBO Max
Hulu’s library, a top source for streaming shows and movies, thankfully has some top Black talent. From the cute comedy Black-ish to the harrowing historical drama Roots, Donald Glover’s experimental Atlanta, and the High Fidelity remix starring Zoë Kravitz, there’s plenty of variety. Sorry To Bother You, by Boots Riley, is a surreal, anti-capitalist masterpiece.
Watching a late-night talk show on a subscription channel seems a little out of date. Even so, I’ll watch NBC’s Peacock at any time to see charming, witty, and oh-so-Black hosts like Amber Ruffin and Larry Wilmore break down the day’s news. To have a good time, you don’t even have to pay for this service.
Caffeine, a competitor to Twitch, is mainly a live streaming service for broadcasting video games. It does, though, stand out with a blend of mainstream entertainment shows. Many of the series, such as Fox Soul, Ultimate Rap League, and personal channels for Drake and Offset fans, are about hip-hop and African-American culture.
CBS All Access
CBS All Access, like Amazon, does not yet have an extensive catalog of exciting original shows. Nonetheless, it wins a spot on this list thanks to the one-two punch of Star Trek: Discovery, which stars a Black actress (Sonequa Martin-Green) as Michael Burnham, and a Twilight Zone reboot hosted by none other than Jordan Peele, writer/director of Get Out of Us.
Review: CBS All Access
The Criterion Channel
The mission of the Criterion Channel is to preserve and honor classic art films from all over the world. There’s enough for Criterion to celebrate and Black filmmakers have been around since the dawn of the medium (though their work is often undervalued, as in the case of Oscar Micheaux). Many of Criterion’s Black movies, including Julie Dash’s Daughters of Dust, Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta, and Kathleen Collins’s Losing Ground, have recently been made available for free streaming.
Review: The Criterion Channel
Mubi’s mission, like Criterion’s, is to promote film’s artistic history. Cinephiles can also create and share on lists utilizing Mubi’s robust community features to help people discover new possible films to enjoy. Even if any of those titles aren’t available to stream on Mubi, we find plenty of Mubi lists showcasing excellent Black movies, from sitcom classics to indie dramas.
The reality of what has happened to Black people in history is so horrific that a few minor changes will transform certain stories into straight-up horror movies. Shudder isn’t just a great place to go for scary movies; the original documentary Horror Noire is also a groundbreaking look into how Black stories have historically been at the forefront of the horror genre.