20 Sad Movies On Netflix Guaranteed To Open The Floodgates

Fall apart, break down, cry it out.

Culture & Entertainment

Someone once told me that being happy was a choice. Like the English aphorism, "fake it until you make it" the idea of obtaining happiness can be as simple as imitating an optimistic mindset and achieving what you seek. Though this idea has been proven true and beneficial in many situations, it is not the solution for everything and rarely works 100 percent of the time. In fact, sometimes, the only way to be truly be happy, is to first embrace the sadness. Sometimes, giving yourself the permission to fall apart, break down, and cry it out, is all one needs to truly find happiness.

So, to assist you on your quest to contentment and relentless joy, I present to you 20 movies (and limited series) on Netflix that will give you the cathartic release you need. Whether you're looking for a happy cry, angry cry, or sad cry, xoNecole's got you covered with films guaranteed to open the floodgates.

Fatherhood (2021)

Based off the 2011 memoir, Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin, comes Netflix original film, Fatherhood. Fatherhood tells the story of Matthew Logelin (Kevin Hart), a new father, who struggles raising his daughter, Maddy, after the sudden death of his wife. In the comedy-drama film, watch as Logelin deals with "doubts, fears, and heartache" as he learns to navigate life and fatherhood after his devastating loss. In addition to Hart, the film stars DeWanda Wise, Alfre Woodard, Deborah Ayorinde, Melody Hurd and Anthony Carrigan.

Loving (2016)

In another biographical piece comes the story of the Lovings. Loving follows interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, as they navigate being in love during the Jim Crow Era. Shortly after marrying in 1958, the Lovings are arrested for the crimes of living as husband and wife. In hopes to avoid jail, the Lovings agree to leave the state of Virginia never to return, again. Nevertheless, after growing tired of living in isolation, the Lovings return to the Virginia to challenge the anti-miscegenation laws, laws that reinforce racial segregation by prohibiting interracial marriage, in the Supreme Court and across the nation. The film stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.

Get on Up (2014)

Starring the late Chadwick Boseman is 2014 biographical drama, Get on Up. Based on the life of singer James Brown, the film nonlinearly tells of Brown's journey from a childhood riddled with poverty and abandonment, to an adulthood of fame and stardom. Though, the film has comedic moments from time to time—the opening scene comes to mind—the heart of the film comes from moments of reflection, where Brown considers what has been sacrificed for the sake of his dream. Also starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellise, Craig Robinson and Dan Akroyd, this is a film that will have you seeing legendary musician James Brown in another light.

When They See Us (2019)

When They See Us is a limited series by award-winning and critically acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, which focuses on a group a teenage boys, coined "The Central Park Five." After a brutal attack on a white woman in Central Park, five teens from Harlem become the targets of a racially influenced allegations when they are falsely accused of rape and violent assault. A biographical story, When They See Us shows the lives of Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise as they face the racial profiling, discrimination, and inequality of the American justice system and media while on a heavily publicized trial.

13th (2016)

Exploring the "intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States," is the 2016 documentary film, 13th. Reframing American History, director Ava DuVernay explores how the 13th Amendment, infamously known for freeing those enslaved, led to an epidemic of mass incarceration in the United States. In the 13th amendment, lawmakers created a loophole, which proclaims a form of slavery is acceptable in the legal form of criminal punishment.

Due to this loophole, America's prisoners make up 25 percent of the world's prisoners, despite the American population making up for five percent of the world population. In this heart-wrenching documentary, watch how DuVernay and experts, explore the shortcomings of America's justice system and politicians, while demanding the acknowledgement of racial injustice and the influence of racism in our criminal and legal systems.

American Son (2019)

When their son goes missing, an estranged couple reunite at a police station in hopes to find an answer. Based on the 2018-2019 Broadway play of the same name, American Son, discusses the social issues of discrimination and racial inequality in the legal system. Starring Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, Jeremy Jordan, and Eugene Lee, American Son shows the devastation and helplessness one faces when the system one should trust remains untrustworthy.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Inspired by Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript that consists of a collection of letters and notes written by James Baldwin in the 1970s, I Am Not Your Negro explores the fate of a nation Baldwin believes is intertwined with that of a Black man. In James Baldwin's critique of American society, he states, "I can't be a pessimist, because I'm alive...so I'm forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe we can survive, and we must survive. But the future of the Negro in this country, is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people..."

Divided into four chapters, the social documentary focuses on the school integration era of the Civil Rights Movement, the depiction of the White gaze in film and its impact on society, social racial division, and the continuous exploitation of Blacks in America.

I Called Him Morgan (2016)

I Called Him Morgan is a documentary on the life and death of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan. Created over the course of seven years, the documentary is told as Helen Morgan recounts the couple's life and Morgan's triumphant legacy, decades after she has been imprisoned for his murder. This enticing documentary beautifully, captivatingly, and unapologetically tells a story of what happens when an exasperated, possessive lover, an adulterous recovered musician, and a record breaking blizzard collide.

Miss Virginia (2019)

There is no doubt that systematic inequality creates barriers to jobs, healthcare, and education within the Black community. In Miss Virginia, the challenges facing Black America are brought to light when a struggling mother sacrifices everything to ensure her son is given a good education. Based on true a story, Virginia Walden places her son into a private school, as a last resort to losing him against drugs and violence of the street. When tuition proves unreasonable, she creates a movement to change the system that is destroying him and other minorities alike. In an impassioned performance, Emmy Winner Uzo Aduba is Virginia Walden Ford, a single mother who fought for the creation of a scholarship program for at-risk students and won.

Becoming (2020)

"Unplugged for the first time" is Michelle Obama in the 2020 documentary Becoming. Focusing on the former First Lady, Becoming is based on the bestselling and acclaimed memoir of the same name. The documentary highlights footage of Michelle Obama as she travels and works during her time as First Lady. Nevertheless, the film also chooses to focus on Michelle Obama's accomplishments before joining the White House. Returning to her children in South Side of Chicago, the documentary travels through Obama's days in school, her old law firm, early stages of marriage, parenthood, and even marriage counseling.

In this 90-minute film, Michelle Obama invites the audience to explore—with supervision—her accomplishment and life outside of her husband's legacy. After all "so little of who [she is] happened in those eight years, so much of who [she was] happened before."

Monster (2018)

"What do you see when you look at me? Boy? Artist? Outsider? Should one moment define my life?"

From 1999 book of the same name by Walter Dean Myers, Monster tells about the injustices young, Black men face at the hands of the court and legal system. Once an aspiring artist, Steve Harmon, a 17-year-old, and three others are labelled "monsters" as they stand trial for murder. Arguing to have only been involved in a robbery and not a murder, Harmon must convince the jury that he made the mistake of being look out, while discrediting the claims that he pulled the trigger.

Two Distant Strangers (2020)

It is fascinating, yet terrifying to think that you're most celebrated day, could also be your worst. In this Academy Award-winning live action short film, Two Distant Strangers meet and launch an examination of Black American deaths at the hands of the police. Carter experiences his best day and worst nightmare when he finds himself stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop. In a loop that inevitably ends in death, Carter tries to get home to his dog, after he is repeatedly confronted and harassed by white Officer Merk. In this clever, yet enraging short film, cast Joey Bada$$, Andrew Howard, and Zaria Simone, show the frustrations and helpless Black Americans feel while merely existing in America.

Giving Voice (2020)

From executive producers Viola Davis and John Legend, Giving Voice follows the annual August Wilson Monologue competition, and the high school participants who compete for the opportunity to perform on Broadway. Well-known for creating stories that were "epic in scope, tragic in circumstance, and yet still somehow hopeful," August Wilson leaves behind the legacy of "giving voice" to the voiceless Black community. Now, in hopes of honoring his legacy, young students and actors work alongside coaches and teachers as they speak up and out about their love for theatrical performances and Wilson's life-changing work.

Middle of Nowhere (2012)

Nine years ago, Ava DuVernay released her first acclaimed written and directed film, Middle of Nowhere. Winner of Best Director Award for 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Middle of Nowhere tells the story of nurse, and aspiring doctor, Ruby who devotes her time to visiting her imprisoned husband Derek. When she discovers the legitimacy of her husband imprisonment and deception, Ruby must decide whether to stay in the familiarity of living in the "middle of nowhere" or embrace the uncertainty of navigating the world alone.

In Our Mother's Garden (2021)

"Black women often aren't exposed to the idea that healing is possible."

In her debut film, In Our Mother's Gardens, Shantrelle P. Lewis creates a space for Black women and the lineages who helped shaped them. Celebrating the determination and resiliency of Black women and families, Lewis explores the idea of self-healing, self-importance, and self-care while analyzing the relationship between Black mothers and daughters. Throughout the film, various Black women account impactful stories that show feminist love and familial love, within the African-American community. Often explaining the central issues Black women face today, In Our Mother's Garden inspects the issues Black women face with imposter syndrome, ingrained indoctrinated servitude replacing self-care, and the generational trauma of racism and sexism.

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

For decades, the idea of joining the military has been sold to the American people as one's patriotic duty. From the World War to the Afghan War, the idea of joining the forces has been encouraged amongst all communities alike. Though, within the Black community, joining the armed forces is viewed with more trepidation than patriotism. This is mainly due to the Vietnam War where African-Americans risked their lives for a country—which at the time—openly showed they wouldn't do the same. In Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, he explores the imbalanced relationship between Black veterans and the country they fought for. Returning to Vietnam 50 years later, four Black vets attempt to find the body of their fallen brother and the gold they've buried as repayment for fighting "an immoral war."

Come Sunday (2018)

Based on the excommunication of Christian minister Carlton Pearson, is the drama Come Sunday. After the death of a relative, Reverend Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) experiences a moment of introspection which causes him to question his faith. Unable to accept the idea that suffering people who haven't been saved will be damned to Hell, he concludes, that there isn't a Hell at all. After announcing this conclusion within his sermon, his trouble begins when his congregation demands his removal.

Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992

After the publicized death of George Floyd, the chairman of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, Hawk Newsome, told an interviewer, "If this country doesn't give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it." This warning came after years of civil protest, demands for change, and government inaction. As if history demands to repeat itself, this same cry for justice can be heard from decades before in the cities of Atlanta and, more recently, Los Angeles. In an in-depth examination of a clamorous time in the city of Los Angeles, Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, details a decade of tension that leads to the culmination of citywide violence in 1992. After years of oppressive police aggression, failed justice for Black lives, and continuous neglect from government officials, citizens of Los Angeles show what happens to a city when its people decide to let it fall.

Whose Streets? (2017)

"We're trying to mourn, and you came here with 300 cop cars and riot gear and canine units. This is the same thing that pretty much got us here."

Whose Streets? is a documentary about the killing of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising of 2014. Told by activists and leaders, instead of news reporters and government officials, Whose Streets? follows the lives of the men and women who live and breathe the Black Lives Matter Movement. This documentary doesn't only focus on unrest ignited by Brown's killing and verdict, but it also focuses on understanding the people lived it. With a lens that seeks to understand the community, Whose Streets? focuses on the trauma and confusion created by those in Ferguson, Missouri when they officials have given them nowhere to turn. Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, Whose Streets? is a film definitely worth watching.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a biographical musical drama based on August Wilson's 1982 play of the same name. The story follows influential blues singer, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), who has been recently contracted, by white producers, to record a record. During her recording session, she collides with an overconfident and overly ambitious trumpeter, Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman) who hopes to gain his own record deal, and the producers who only seem to be "interested in [her] voice." Played stunningly by Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a "celebration of three real-life Black artists and legends."

Honorable Mentions:

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Les Miserables (2012)

Tangerine (2015)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

See You Yesterday (2019)

Irreplaceable You (2018)

I Will Follow (2010)

Little Boxes (2016)

Roxanne, Roxanne (2017)

Rodney King (2017)

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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