First and foremost, we all need to have a clear understanding of what Juneteenth is and what it isn’t. It is a celebration of American slaves being freed. It is not the specific day on which American slaves were officially freed. Below is a summary from Juneteenth.com:
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
Given the circumstances, Juneteenth 2020 carries a bit more weight and a lot more societal awareness than it has in past years (which is more a commentary on society than anything else). The silver lining is that with this greater awareness, corporations and brands are doing more than ever to make sure they are visible in their support of the noteworthy day. All of that sounds a bit jaded on my part, but I want to be clear that I think this is a good thing. The fact that companies that are singularly focused on the bottom line have done the math and determined that visibly supporting Black Lives Matter movements to the chagrin of manbaby racists everywhere is profitable is huge. Our voices are being heard. Our dollars are being heard louder.
To that end, below are some great films, shows, books and more being made available for free to celebrate Juneteenth. With all this content available for free, consider sending some of your hard earned dollars to support Black Lives Matter and other racial justice causes!
- When They See Us – Ava’s Netflix original series on the five Black kids falsely convicted for the Central Park jogger case, is available on Netflix for free. Be sure to supplement watching the series with educational resources from Array 101.
- 13th – another critically important work by Ava, a documentary on the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison system, is also free on Netflix and on Youtube.
- Selma – Ava’s film on the 1965 Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr., is FREE to rent on all platforms and will be airing on FX and BET today.
MORE FILM AND TV
- Watchmen – Damon Lindelof’s mind blowingly great miniseries from HBO is being made available for free starting Juneteenth and through the weekend. Featuring an absolutely stellar performance by Regina King, this show raised much-needed awareness on the Tulsa Oklahoma massacre of 1921. It’s also some of the finest TV ever made.
- Just Mercy – The film based on Bryan Stephenson’s life and book of the same name, is available to rent for free. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the story covers Stephenson’s founding of the Equal Justice Initiative and his fight for those who were unfairly incarcerated. If you’re able and so moved, support EJI.org with a donation.
- The Criterion Channel – Criterion has made several films made by Black filmmakers available for free on their streaming service. I wish they made it easy to find all the films that are free, but you will have to do some digging. According to their release, free films include, “works by early pioneers of African American Cinema such as Oscar Micheaux; classics by Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, and Charles Burnett; contemporary work by Khalik Allah and Leilah Weinraub; and documentary portraits of black experience by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke.”
- Verzuz – A special Juneteenth Verzuz featuring Alicia Keys and John Legend! Check it out via Instagram at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT
- Apple TV – Under a selection labeled “Black in America”, Apple TV has made a variety of Black films available for free. According to Screentimes.net, the films included are: Ali, Antwone Fisher, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, Brian Banks, Emanuel, For Ahkeem, The Green Book, A Huey P. Newton Story, Just Mercy, Out of Omaha, The Rape of Recy Taylor, Scandalize My Name, Selma, The Secret Life of Bees, Stranger Fruit.
- Stamped from the Begininng – The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi is available an audiobook on Spotify for free. This is one of the hottest and most recommended books right now. Every time some white or non-Black ally asks “what should I read?” this book is on the list.
- Marvel Comics – Marvel has made a number of comics by Black creators available for free, including Black Panther and the Crew, Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Ironheart: Those with Courage, Marvel’s Voices, Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel and much more! Comixology also has a number of titles from Black creatives available for free.
As a reminder, if you’re able, support important causes like Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, The Bail Project and more!
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.