As far as Black representation goes, Hollywood has a better track record than, say, video games. However, that’s not a particularly high bar to clear, the victories we have achieved are the results of decades of struggle, and there’s still much work to be done. We should have Black movies win awards without needing to focus on slaves and maids, or without getting their names announced incorrectly.
Fortunately, the ever-expanding legion of video streaming services is hungry for content, and that includes content made for and by Black people. After all, if you can make streaming services dedicated to anime or the British, you can have streaming services dedicated to Black people. As companies across industries continue to show how much they value Black lives in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by the police and our collective overdue reckoning with white supremacy, streaming services join in by showcasing their Black art…along with throwing “problematic” episodes of old sitcoms down the memory hole.
Below you’ll find our favorite streaming services for enjoying movies, TV shows, documentaries, comedy specials, and more all centered around Black art. Our list is a mix of general services with promising Black libraries, as well as services entirely focused on Black material. It doesn’t include everything. Black channels with more traditional cable models, such as TV One or OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), have attractive streaming apps. However, you’ll have to purchase access to them through a bundle like AT&T TV Now or Philo.
Your mileage may vary, but there are also plenty of even more underground services to explore like American Legacy Network, Black on Purpose, Black and Sexy, or X on Demand. Heck, Jada Pinkett Smith’s spicy Red Table Talk streams exclusively on Facebook. Caffeine is primarily a live streaming service for broadcasting video games, a rival to Twitch, but it sets itself apart with a mix of mainstream, primarily hip-hop-themed entertainment shows, too. You’ll also see plenty of Black faces on sports streaming services. Still, this article can serve as a jumping-off point for your Black streaming journey.
As always, Black Lives Matter.
Netflix will let nothing stand in its way to become the dominant force in streaming. The service doesn’t just spend some money on Black talent. It invests billions producing original Spike Lee movies and shows, partnering with mega-producers like Ava DuVernay, Kenya Barris, Shonda Rhimes, and Justin Simien, making Luke Cage a cornerstone superhero of its one-time little street level Marvel Cinematic Universe, filming epic Beyoncé concerts, and airing specials from every Black comedian not named Bill Cosby. There’s literally an official Twitter account and podcast series highlighting Netflix’s Black movies and shows called Strong Black Lead.
If you, like me, once went to a Nigerian “Nollywood” film fest and left wanting more, KweliTV is the sleeper hit service for you. Watch hundreds of shows and movies from across the African diaspora, a curated collection of culture available on a variety of media streaming devices. It has flexible pricing options, too.
Nothing beats the gritty action, killer soundtracks, and overwhelming 1970s atmosphere of a good Blaxploitation flick. No other era could give us movies about mournful African vampires or antihero pimps looking to clean up the streets. Brown Sugar’s library lovingly preserves this ridiculous era of African-American film history.
Brown Sugar Review
Whether or not BET features positive representation of Black people is a debate worth having, but Black Entertainment Television is certainly a big enough player to have its own standalone streaming service. Speaking of mixed legacies, BET+ is now the home for Tyler Perry’s new originals after the prolific African-American auteur ended his deal with Oprah.
While its original shows may not reach the levels of its rivals, Amazon Prime Video has an unmatched library of shows and movies to buy or rent on demand. That includes pretty much any Black movie or TV show you can think of. Some are even available for free with a Prime membership, from The Last Black Man in San Francisco to I Am Not Your Negro. One of Amazon’s channel add-ons is focused on Black content, although it has the cringe-worthy name Urban Movie Channel. At least Janelle Monae stars in season two of Homecoming.
Amazon Prime Video Review
We should be careful to never let a company like Disney make us associate loving our identity with loving their brand. That said, having A Wrinkle in Time, Marvel’s Black Panther, Doc McStuffins, both versions of The Lion King, The Princess and the Frog, The Proud Family, and That’s So Raven on one service is a pretty easy sell for Black families. If you want to see America’s founding fathers reimagined as rhythmic people of color, now you can watch Hamilton without shelling out thousands of dollars for Broadway tickets. Older cartoons have disclaimers for potentially insensitive depictions of race, but nobody mention Song of the South.
Friends isn’t the only beloved 90s sitcom scooped up by HBO Max. You can watch Will Smith’s life get turned upside down in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. You’ll also have access to HBO’s wealth of premium Black shows and movies including I May Destroy You, Insecure, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Random Acts of Flyness, and Watchmen. Many of these were made free to watch for a limited time. A reboot of The Boondocks is in the works as a highly political HBO Max original.
HBO Max Review
As a top choice for streaming shows and movies, Hulu’s library thankfully includes some top Black talent. There’s some nice variety, too, from the pleasant sitcom Black-ish to the harrowing historical drama Roots to Donald Glover’s experimental Atlanta to the High Fidelity remix starring Zoë Kravitz. There’s even Boots Riley’s surreal, anti-capitalist masterpiece Sorry To Bother You.
The idea of watching a late-night talk show on a streaming service sounds a bit anachronistic. Still, I’ll watch charming, witty, and oh-so-Black hosts like Amber Ruffin and Larry Wilmore break down the news of the day any time on NBC’s Peacock. You don’t even need to pay for this service to have a good time.
Caffeine is primarily a live streaming service for broadcasting video games, a rival to Twitch. However, it sets itself apart with a mix of mainstream entertainment shows, too. Many of the shows are about hip-hop and African-American culture, including Fox Soul, Ultimate Rap League, and personal channels for fans of Drake and Offset.
Like Amazon, CBS All Access hasn’t yet built up a big library of exciting original shows. Still, it earns a spot on this list with the one-two punch of Star Trek: Discovery, featuring a Black actress (Sonequa Martin-Green) in the lead role of Michael Burnham, and a Twilight Zone reboot hosted by none other than Jordan Peele, writer/director of Get Out and Us.
CBS All Access Review
The Criterion Channel’s mission is to preserve and celebrate classic art films from around the globe. Since Black filmmakers have been around since the beginning of the medium (though their work is often undervalued, as in the case of Oscar Micheaux), there’s plenty for Criterion to celebrate. Recently, Criterion made many of its Black movies available to watch for free, including Julie Dash’s Daughters of Dust, Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta, and Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground.
The Criterion Channel Review
Like Criterion, Mubi’s mission is to champion film’s artistic history. Mubi’s robust community features also let cinephiles create and collaborate over lists to help users find new potential films to love. We found plenty of Mubi lists highlighting excellent Black movies, from comedy classics to indie dramas, even if all those movies aren’t necessarily available to stream on Mubi itself.
The actual reality of what has happened to Black people throughout history is so horrifying that it only takes a few tweaks to make those stories straight-up horror movies. Not only is Shudder an excellent streaming service for frightening flicks, but its original documentary Horror Noire also takes a fascinating look at how Black narratives have always been at the forefront of the horror genre.
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