Being “woke” doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a process of resisting social conditioning, to challenge problematic norms and injustices that are perpetuated in media to which we are constantly exposed. Here are TV shows to watch that rise above the ignorance, equally entertaining and provoking your thoughts on critical issues long after the credits stop rolling.
"Dear White People"
This witty Netflix series reminds you to check your privilege before entering the fictional yet unnervingly realistic world at the predominantly white Winchester University. Although the title and premise stirred up controversy among those who felt the show was an attack, a deeper analysis reveals the significance behind the satire: to address the complexities of prejudice that take different forms -- whether it’s white or light-skinned privilege, sexism, or homophobia.
"Master of None"
Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series is a platform for a minority to take center stage, surpassing the typical “token” supporting role. The incorporation of comedy into social commentary and experimental styles engage viewers in the trials and tribulations of Ansari’s character Dev, whose narrative includes recognizing his parents’ immigrant experiences from India, while not feeling confined to any exclusive demographic.
The Netflix original boasts diverse characters who each carry humanizing and heavy backstories that shape how they deal with issues ranging from drug and sexual abuse to transgender injustice -- addressed by the iconic Laverne Cox -- as well as expose flaws of the prison industrial system. Both passive racism (as exemplified at times by Piper, played by Taylor Schilling) and blatant racism (white supremacist attendees yelling “white lives matter”) present varying perspectives of racial injustices.
"When We Rise"
This ABC miniseries explores the evolution of gay rights through the experiences of a diverse group of activists fighting for their rights since the Stonewall riots in the 1970s to the present. Viewers get crucial exposure to intersectional discrimination against the marginalized LGBTQ+ community that continues to be perpetuated even after same-sex marriage is legalized.
It’s all in the title: This Showtime series isn’t afraid to tackle controversial and taboo topics, putting no filters on the harsh realities of poverty, mental health, drug abuse and sexuality that affect the Gallagher family in Chicago.
“Black-ish” redefines the family sitcom because it is not about a family that happens to be black, but is about a black family. Rather than display black life as a caricature, the ABC show provides an accurate depiction of what it’s like for a black family to come to terms with its cultural identity within a white upper-class neighborhood, along with social commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement. It also took a more serious tone with an episode on police brutality.
The Fosters show us that a perfect family doesn’t have to be a traditional one, following the trials and tribulations of a lesbian biracial -couple and their children - one biological and four adopted. The characters’ relationships with one another prove that acceptance and self-confidence is independent of gender and sexual identity.
"The Get Down"
A rare aspect of Netflix’s musical drama series “The Get Down” is that it is a coming-of-age narrative about marginalized teenagers in the South Bronx -- told solely through the eyes of black characters. Context is given for the birth of hip-hop and its artistic appeal to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice or opportunity to pursue art under the influence of poverty and crime.
"The Carmichael Show"
Although canceled after three seasons, the NBC show made its mark on television by tackling concerns from racism and Donald Trump to sexual consent and Bill Cosby. Its categorization as a family comedy didn't keep Jerrod Carmichael from bringing attention to serious social and political issues that might otherwise be swept under the table.
Donald Glover’s FX show reveals the everyday realities of a community structured by racial and class hierarchies, managing to integrate scenes of police brutality, gang violence, homophobia and drug use in a way that provides context rather than stereotypes of bad neighborhoods. The comedy-drama also brought awareness to “Juneteenth,” or Freedom Day, commemorating the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865.
Written by Our Lady J, the first openly transgender writer for a show, “Transparent" follows the journey of a college professor’s transition from male to female. The comedy-drama details the anxieties that come with self-discovery in a cisgender world that lacks proper trans representation.
Louis C.K. can joke about masturbation and politics in the same monologue and still get down to what matters. The FX series addresses divorce, sexual orientation, depression, parenting, religion and sex with an unabashed take on social issues that are also prevalent in C.K.'s stand-up gigs.
"All in the Family"
It’s been almost 50 years since the premiere, but the CBS series is still relevant and has changed television to this day. The controversial Archie Bunker argues with his family about race, gay rights, gun control, religion, war, drugs, sexism, immigration and just about any taboo topic you can think of -- especially on mainstream television back in the 1970s -- forcing viewers to confront the morality of these issues and start conversations that contribute to a more progressive society.
"The Mindy Project"
Mindy Kaling writes and stars in her own romcom sitcom, representing a successful woman in male-dominated fields both in the show and in real life. She wrote the episode “Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man” during the 2016 campaigns, portraying a situation where she wakes up to find herself in the body of a white man to confront gender biases and white privilege that become especially prominent in the Trump era.
The Netflix sci-fi series’ diverse cast plays eight strangers across the globe who are linked mentally and emotionally, able to sense and communicate with each other intuitively despite their differing cultures and life experiences. “Sense8" celebrates what it means to be human, no matter what each character’s sexual identity, privilege, and class are.