Amid renewed attention on Black voices and culture, the holiday known as Juneteenth may be enjoying its most high-profile year ever. Observed on June 19th, Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that Union soldiers announced to enslaved African American people in Galveston, Texas that they’d been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. (Of course, Abraham Lincoln made this decree in 1863, but word didn’t reach these people for two whole years.) Upon hearing the news, enslaved people broke out in song, dance, prayer, and celebration, a tradition that continued on. Juneteenth celebrations became an annual event, and spread to other states, where people commemorated the end of slavery with communal gatherings and even parades. It became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and in the wake of movements sparked by the George Floyd protests, Juneteenth has attracted more spotlight; Amazon, Lyft, Best Buy, and a growing number of institutions are recognizing it as a holiday.
Somewhat surprisingly, TV has yet to devote as much attention to Juneteenth as creators have to other holidays, like Kwanzaa, for example. Given the current mood, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see many more options for shows and documentaries about Juneteenth available in 2021 and beyond, but for now, here are the some of the best viewing options for learning more and celebrating this historic day. While only a few are about Juneteenth specifically, others are a great way to celebrate the spirit of Juneteenth — which is to say resilience, joy, and pride at the intersection of entertainment and uplifting.
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.” black-ish is on ABC and 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. Find Atlanta on FX and Hulu.
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3. Sherman’s Showcase
Now renewed for a second season, the deliriously silly Sherman’s Showcase debuts a new special, Sherman’s Showcase: Black History Month Spectacular (in June), on Juneteenth, and it’s 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. Season 1 of Sherman’s Showcase is on Hulu; the Sherman’s Showcase Black History Month spectacular premieres June 19 at 10/9c on AMC, and then at 11/10c on IFC.
4. Juneteenth Jamboree
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.
5. Miss Juneteenth
According to the description, 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. Fittingly, it debuts on Juneteenth, on-demand.
6. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé
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. It’s on Netflix.
7. Amazing Grace
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. It’s on Hulu.