Best TV shows by and about Black people

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July 7, 2021

Best TV shows by and about Black people

Television shows reflect the human experience, telling the stories of everyone from public figures to everyday people. Sometimes those shows are embedded with cultural examinations or social truths among fictional or seemingly incredulous circumstances. They can tackle pertinent social, economic, racial, or legal perspectives that are actually rooted in reality. This is exceptionally true for many Black TV series, which reflect the depth and breadth of Black experiences, serving as a reminder that Blackness is not a monolith.

The protagonists of Black TV series may endure socioeconomic strife and societal pressures alongside the universal experiences of coming-of-age, navigating the world as an adult, maintaining relationships, or processing difficult situations. These stories come in different flavors, from serious dramas to sitcoms to variety shows, all holding a lens to an array of subject matter. To honor the expansiveness of these offerings, Stacker compiled a list of the best Black TV series according to IMDb and ranked them by user rating, with ties broken by votes. To qualify, the show had to be created (or co-created) by and primarily starring Black people. Shows had to have at least 2,500 votes to be considered.

Here are some of the best shows created by and centering on Black protagonists.

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#15. All American

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2018–present

A Black football player (Daniel Ezra) from South Central Los Angeles is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High School, in a move that takes him completely out of his element. His presence at the affluent, predominately white school causes a stir, forcing those who don’t understand his life to reexamine their own privilege and beliefs. “All American” is based on the life of Spencer Paysinger, a retired NFL linebacker.

#14. Chewing Gum

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2015–2017

This British comedy series follows Tracey (played by show creator Michaela Coel), a London-based young woman from a strict religious background. Tracey is a virgin and wants to break away from her sheltered background and step into the real world as a twentysomething ready to have sex and fun.

#13. Scandal

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2012–2018

Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope, a political “fixer” who owns her own firm. Pope and her team of associates clean up impossible scandals while she deals with her own torrid affair in the White House, her former place of employment. The series was created by Shonda Rhimes and ran for seven seasons. Pope's character is based on Judy Smith, a former press aide to George H.W. Bush.

#12. Kenan & Kel

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Years on the air: 1996–2000

Best friends Kenan and Kel are two teenagers who get into random schemes. Their troubles usually stem from Kel’s ridiculous decisions as the goofy, fun-loving one, as opposed to Kenan’s more mature nature. The stars, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, began their real-life comedic partnership on the Nickelodeon variety show “All That.”

#11. Sanford and Son

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1972–1977

Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson) own a junk shop in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. Fred is sharp-tongued with no filter, while Lamont is simply trying to chill and stay out of trouble. The series is famous for the verbal standoffs between Fred and Esther (LaWanda Page), the sister of Fred’s deceased wife.

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#10. Insecure

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 2016–present

Friends Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) navigate their lives as Black women on the cusp of their 30s in Los Angeles. "Insecure" follows Issa and Molly through a journey of love and career woes, life realizations, and the questioning of their friendship along the way. The foundation for the show is creator Issa Rae’s previous web series “Awkward Black Girl.”

#9. In Living Color

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 1990–2006

Created by Keenen Ivory Wayans, this iconic sketch TV series featured a large cast of then-rising Black actors, including several members of the Wayans family, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, and Tommy Davidson. The show blended variety sketch segments with Black culture, tying in hip-hop music and dance with its dance troupe The Fly Girls. “In Living Color” ran for four seasons in the early 1990s, forever capturing the climate, fashion, and aura of that era.

#8. I May Destroy You

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Year on the air: 2020

Michaela Coel stars as Arabella, a popular young writer trying to navigate a traumatic experience. The show follows along as she processes a sexual assault and attempts to come to terms with the violation against her as well as how to move forward afterward. “I May Destroy You” won a BAFTA for Best Miniseries and a Best Actress for Coel in 2021.

#7. Power

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 2014–2020

This series follows James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a drug dealer with an infamously tough reputation. St. Patrick, alias "Ghost," wishes to leave the criminal life behind and become a businessman, but a series of events keeps him tapped into that dark world. The Starz crime series ran for six seasons, from 2014 to 2020.

#6. Snowfall

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Years on the air: 2017–present

Damson Idris plays Franklin Saint, a young drug dealer whose life intertwines with characters from criminal enterprises and law enforcement alike. “Snowfall” follows the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic during the 1980s, specifically in Los Angeles. The drama is the creation of director and screenwriter John Singleton, also known for films like “Baby Boy,” “Boyz n the Hood,” and “Poetic Justice.”

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#5. Key and Peele

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 2012–2015

This variety comedy show starred Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key. The duo brought on guests to join them in different sketches that tackled social problems and topics from a funny (and delightfully weird) perspective. Peele has gone on to write, and direct films like “Us” and “Get Out.”

#4. The Boondocks

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2005–2014

“The Boondocks” is a satiric animated series following brothers Riley and Huey Freeman (both voiced by Regina King) who live with their grandfather (John Witherspoon) in a predominately white Chicago neighborhood. Huey, an “old soul” intellectual, often clashes with Riley, who idolizes rap culture and gets into all sorts of schemes. The series examines various aspects of Black culture through a comedic lens.

#3. Atlanta

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 2016–present

This slice-of-life series follows Earn (Donald Glover), a young father who lives in Atlanta and is trying to find his way in the world. Earn and his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) attempt to navigate the latter’s burgeoning rap career as “Paper Boi.”

#2. Chappelle's Show

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 2003–2006

Dave Chappelle’s comedy variety show includes an array of funny skits depicting the comedian’s thoughts about life. The series touches on topics like sex, race, drugs, and more through recurring characters like drug user Tyrone Biggums. Similar to “In Living Color,” music was a big part of the show’s overall makeup, with performances by artists like Erykah Badu and Kanye West.

#1. When They See Us

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Year on the air: 2019

In this heartbreaking Netflix miniseries, Ava DuVernay documents the real events behind 1989's infamous Central Park jogger assault case that led to five innocent Black teens being incarcerated for years. Those five men, newly known as the Exonerated Five, had their convictions vacated in 2002, won a multimillion-dollar settlement in 2014, and are now trying to rebuild their lives.

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