UMass Lowell Connector Logo

5 Social Justice Documentaries

(Photo Courtesy of Netflix) – “Trial 4” is a documentary series currently available for streaming access on Netflix.

Natalia Gonzalez
Connector Editor

Social justice is not a topic new to the screen: In the midst of the civil unrest in the criminal justice system brought about by police brutality, corruption and systematic racism, it is important that viewers know the workings of the system that they commonly see portrayed on the television, on social media, in the newspaper and more.

Those looking to educate themselves on events and topics of social justice will find that these documentaries not only inform viewers of the issues commonly portrayed in the media but also the issues that impact the victims and communities off the screen.

“Trial 4” (2020)

This docuseries follows the wrongful conviction of Sean K. Ellis who, at 19, was charged with killing of Boston police officer John. J. Mulligan. As Ellis maintains his innocence and fights for his freedom, he helps uncover the racism and corruption that exist within the criminal justice system.

What makes this series stand out is its unique telling of Ellis’ story. Ellis, a Boston native, fought for his case to be overturned for over two decades. Seeing his case play out on the screen emphasizes the fact that what happened to him can happen to anyone, and until the issues in this docuseries are addressed, minorities will continue to be unfairly targeted and convicted in the criminal justice system.

“The Central Park Five” (2012)

On April 19, 1989, a female jogger was brutally assaulted and raped in New York City’s Central Park. This documentary follows the convictions of the five teenagers charged with the crime and discusses the corruption, interrogation and lack of evidence that led to their wrongful convictions and incarcerations.

A unique telling of the case of the Central Park jogger, this documentary does well in providing an overview of the case and putting it into the broader perspective of the issues that plague the criminal justice system. 

“13th” (2016)

Directed by Ana DuVernay, this documentary discusses the history of racial inequality in the United States and its subsequent contribution to mass incarceration. Titled after the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in 1865, this documentary examines the prison industrial complex’s modernization of slavery and its involuntary servitude to its disproportionately African American population.

Those looking to gain a general understanding of some of the major flaws associated with the criminal justice system will find that this documentary not only provides that but also puts it in the perspective of those most affected by it. A culmination of facts, interviews, lyrical videos and graphics, this documentary stands out for its stunning videography and its bold stance on the 13th Amendment.

“Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992” (2017)

Following a decade of civil unrest in Los Angeles, brought about by the culmination of police brutality, a rise in gang violence and an influx of drug distribution, this documentary follows the tensions between Los Angeles police departments and their communities between 1982 and 1992. Comprised of archival footage and interviews, this documentary covers a wide range of perspectives pertaining to the criminal justice system, including those held by city officials, police officers, victims of police violence and their families, eyewitnesses to events and more.

Those looking to know more about the events leading up to the Los Angeles riots would find that this documentary provides a vast overview of the many problems faced both in Los Angeles police departments and police departments around the country. The Los Angeles riots were not brought about by any one event, but rather, the culmination of many events. The framing of this documentary is especially notable because of its inclusion of both officer and citizen perspectives.

“Whose Streets?” (2017)

After the fatal shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri ignited civil unrest throughout the country, communities came together to seek justice for one of the many black men victimized by a criminal justice system plagued by racism and corruption. This documentary tells of Brown’s case and follows the “Hands Up” movement brought about by Brown’s death.

This documentary stands out for its portrayal of the events in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown. Rather than framing the community’s civil unrest that took place in Ferguson as rioting, the documentary portrays the civil unrest as a greater movement needed to spark global change.

Related posts