Juneteenth has now officially been named a federal holiday in the United States. Observed annually on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 that enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, learned they'd been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. (Abraham Lincoln had already made the decree in 1863, but the news didn't reach the people of Galveston for two and a half years.) In the midst of the civil rights movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, many Americans learned about the history of Juneteenth for the first time in 2020.
TV has yet to devote as much attention to Juneteenth as creators have to other holidays, like Kwanzaa, for example, though it seems safe to assume that we'll see many more options for shows and documentaries about Juneteenth in the years to come. In the meantime, here are some of the best viewing options to help you learn more about celebrating this historic day. While only a few of our picks are about Juneteenth specifically, all of them offer a great way to celebrate the spirit of Juneteenth -- which is to say resilience, joy, and pride.
Right now, ABC's enduring family sitcom is the leading voice on Juneteenth TV; its 2017 episode, "Juneteenth," opened Season 4 and helped the show earn a number of Emmy nominations. In it, Dre (Anthony Anderson) sees a Columbus Day show at his son's school and decides he wants to get rid of that holiday and replace it with Juneteenth. Inspired by Hamilton, the musical episode unpacks "historical inaccuracies" (also known as "lies") about American history and focuses on honoring the end of slavery, which, as creator Kenya Barris told TV Guide in 2017, "gives us something that brings us together as a country." [Watch on Hulu]
This isn't a straight-ahead celebration episode because when does Atlanta ever play it straight? This sometimes surreal series took on Juneteenth in its own layered, sophisticated way in Season 1 when Earn (Donald Glover) and Van (Zazie Beetz) go to a Juneteenth party hosted by a wealthy interracial couple out in the suburbs. There, Earn meets a white guy who basically whitesplains Black culture to him, and encounters a cocktail menu full of oddly upsetting choices including Juneteenth Juice, Frozen Freedom Margarita, and a Forty Acres and a Moscow Mule. "Black music artists are products for white American consumption and appropriation," the (white) host explains to Earn, who is of course played by an actual recording artist, one of the levels of irony and commentary working in this episode. It's not exactly educational, but it's definitely entertaining, and a feet-first dive into the culture. [Watch on Hulu]
The deliriously silly Sherman's Showcase debuted a new special, Sherman's Showcase: Black History Month Spectacular (in June), on Juneteenth 2020, and it remains a hilarious way to mark the occasion. Full of its trademark off-the-wall sketch comedy bits and musical numbers, the special, like the first season, mines Black culture for piercing insight and gut-busting comedy. The Juneteenth holiday may only get a passing mention in the series, if at all, but its joyful and sometimes cartoonish take on Black history and life would absolutely make the original observers of Juneteenth happy if they were alive to see it today. [Watch on Hulu]
This series from the PBS station in Austin has a wonderful trove of episodes online that dig into the celebration and Black culture in Texas. And of course, you can never go wrong with PBS in general; the network has a veritable encyclopedia of programming available about the Black experience that's as enlightening as it is entertaining. [Watch on PBS]
This Sundance darling tells the story of Turquoise Jones, a single mom who holds down a household, a rebellious teenager, and pretty much everything that goes down at Wayman's BBQ & Lounge. Turquoise is also a beauty queen—a former Miss Juneteenth––but life didn't turn out as beautifully as the title promise. Turquoise, determined to right her wrongs, is cultivating her daughter, Kai, to become Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else. [Watch on Amazon]
Leaving out Her Royal Highness Beyoncé in a discussion about Black culture in Texas would be like forgetting to mention Barack Obama in a conversation about hot former presidents. You just don't do it. As TV Guide's Liam Mathews put it perfectly, Beyoncé's concert film "captures one of the 21st century's greatest entertainers at the peak of her power, documenting her otherworldly performance at the 2018 Coachella music festival" as she put on a jaw-dropping celebration of Black culture. [Watch on Netflix]
This stunning concert film, which is almost entirely footage of Aretha Franklin singing at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972, finds Franklin delivering goose-bump inducing performances at the height of her commercial and vocal power. In front of a pack audience that included luminaries like Mick Jagger, Franklin––accompanied by the Southern California Community Choir, and the legendary gospel artist Reverend James Cleveland––wows everyone with hymns including Clara Ward's "How I Got Over," and John Newton's "Amazing Grace." You'll see people moved to tears and quite possibly shed some yourself as the artist goes on a spiritual journey that seems to summon up the force of all her ancestors, showing how intimately gospel is connected to the Black experience. [Watch on Hulu]
This '90s drama film celebrates the tradition of Sunday dinners bringing (and keeping) a family together, no matter their strife. With a cast full of A-listers including Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, and Mekhi Phifer, the story is both warm and completely gut-wrenching, and the beating heart of it all is Mama Joe (Irma P. Hall), whose macaroni and cheese and collard greens can cure all and whose legacy of love and culinary comforts continues to heal her loved ones long after she's gone. -Amanda Bell [Watch on Hulu]
HBO's acclaimed series not only revitalized the superhero genre when it came on the TV scene, but also functioned as an exploration of the legacy of white supremacy and systemic racism in America. Regina King stars in the drama, which takes place 34 years after the original comics in an alternate, futuristic version of Oklahoma where descendants of those impacted by the 1921 Tulsa race massacre are eligible for reparations. In this world, cops wear masks to shield their identities from civilians, and the Watchmen are (mostly) nowhere to be found as a white supremacist group threatens the police department. [Watch on HBO Max]