The 10 Best Documentaries About Oakland

Dec 28, 2023 | Best Of, Crime, Geography

Oakland, California has been home to some of the most beautiful and inspiring stories in history. From its vibrant cultural diversity to its rich history, Oakland is a city full of stories and experiences worth exploring and celebrating. But how do you go about capturing these stories in a way that accurately conveys the emotion and beauty of this remarkable place? One way is through documentary filmmaking. The documentaries here explore different aspects of Oakland and its people, ranging from the history of hip-hop culture to the struggles of homelessness in the Bay Area. These films capture unique perspectives on Oakland’s past, present, and future that can help us gain a better understanding of our city’s history and culture. Here are 10 must-watch documentaries about Oakland.

1. The Oakland, California Homeless Problem is Beyond Belief

it is through documentaries that we can really get to know the stories of Oakland’s homeless population. Filmmakers have had unprecedented access into the lives of these individuals in all their struggles, hopes, and dreams. From acclaimed films about addiction like The Birds of Passage to more intimate films like Homeless in San Francisco and A Brighter Tomorrow, viewers will gain insight and empathy into the lives of the homeless. These documentaries are invaluable in conveying what homelessness looks like in Oakland. They are a crucial tool for understanding how individuals can become homeless, and why they remain on the streets. The films also provide a look at how local agencies respond to this crisis, as well as possible solutions to help tackle it.


2. Oakland Gang Wars – Starring Philthy Rich & Mac Blast


This documentary is a compelling look at the history of Oakland and the legacy of racial tension that existed between the police force and black community in the 1970’s. The narrator speaks about how, although efforts were made to reform the police department, mistrust still lingered as people felt there had been no significant progress. It’s an eye-opening account of past events that still have an effect on the Oakland community today, and serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come. Another documentary that takes an in-depth look at life in Oakland is “Oakland and Beyond: The Life & Times of a City”. This award winning film tells the story of five families from different ethnic backgrounds who have lived in Oakland for over 30 years. They talk about their struggles and successes, how they’ve seen the city change, and what it means to be a part of Oakland today. It is an inspiring story of resilience in the face of adversity that speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever called Oakland home.


4. Here’s how AWFUL Oakland, California is Today

it’s not all bad. Despite its problems, Oakland has an incredibly vibrant arts scene with some of the best galleries and venues in the country. And the city is doing a lot to try and bring jobs and opportunities back to the community by investing in infrastructure, education and businesses. With so much going on in Oakland right now, it’s no surprise that filmmakers have been creating some amazing documentaries about the city and its people. Here are a few of the best documentaries about Oakland: 12th and Clairmount – This documentary takes an in-depth look at the uprising that took place in Detroit in 1967 following years of racial injustice, police brutality and inequality.


5. I Drove Into Oakland’s Most Dangerous Hoods

There were several documentaries made about Oakland, shining light on the crime and poverty of the city. One of the most famous is The Interrupters, released in 2011. It follows three people who have overcome their own gang involvement as they work with a local organization to mediate conflicts between rival gangs. The film shows how violence can be prevented through peaceful intervention, and how the community can work together to bring about positive change. Another documentary that has gained a lot of attention is Fruitvale Station. This film tells the true story of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old African American man who was shot and killed by BART police officers in Oakland in 2009. The film follows Oscar during his last day alive, illuminating the heartbreaking story of what happened to him. Finally, one of the most recent documentaries about Oakland is 12th and Clairmount. This film takes viewers back in time to 1967, when Detroit was aflame with civil unrest.


6. A Raider Revisit – Oakland Raider 70’s Rebels

This Emmy Award winning documentary, directed by Stanley Nelson, follows the story of five young men struggling to stay alive in one of America’s most violent cities. It also looks at the lasting impact that growing up in a city like Oakland can have on children and young adults. Oakland in Black & White – This documentary, directed by award-winning director Chris Blauvelt, explores Oakland’s deep racial divides and the systemic inequalities that have caused them. The film looks at both sides of the issue—the communities of color affected by poverty and police violence, as well as the white residents who have been pushed out of their neighborhoods by skyrocketing real estate prices. East Side Story – This short documentary explores the history of Oakland’s Fruitvale District, from the 1960s to the present day.


7. Skateboarding in Oakland – Town Park Documentary

In addition to K-Dub, another acclaimed documentary about life in Oakland is The Last Black Man in San Francisco. This film chronicles the journey of Jimmie Fails and his best friend Mont as they attempt to reclaim the home that was taken from Jimmie’s family. It’s a story about displacement, but it also explores how art shapes identity and community. Through stunning visuals and thoughtful conversations, The Last Black Man in San Francisco provides a powerful look into Oakland’s history and culture. There are other documentaries that explore the city of Oakland through different lenses.


8. Oakland Police – Inside America’s Crime Capital

The resulting footage is the basis for two of the best documentaries about Oakland. The first, “Inside the Oakland PD,” takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes look at how the department operates on a daily basis. From responding to 911 calls to confiscating illegal weapons and drugs, this documentary captures it all. Filmed in 2011, the documentary is an intimate portrait of a police department that has struggled with budget cuts, layoffs, and high crime rates. The second documentary is “Showdown in Oakland,” which follows the Oakland PD’s response to large-scale protests over a controversial policy implemented in 2011. This documentary gives an incredible look at how the department responded to civil unrest and shows the effectiveness of their tactics.



Oakland, California is home to many well-known sights, but not everyone would call it the nicest place in the country. For those looking for a closer look at what life is like in Oakland and why it’s gotten such an interesting reputation, check out these documentaries about Oakland: The Mission – This documentary examines the beauty of Oakland’s Mission District, which is home to a diverse population of immigrants and locals alike. It provides an in-depth look at how the communities within it work together to create a thriving city despite its struggles with poverty and crime. Oakland: The Justice League – This documentary looks at the history and current events surrounding Oakland, from the police brutality that has sparked a movement to the poverty and inequality in the city. Oakland Underground – This documentary looks at some of the unexpected things you can find in Oakland, including an underground rap scene and a vibrant arts culture.



The documentary also delves into the city’s history and culture, looking at how it got to where it is today. It touches on subjects like gentrification, economic inequality, police brutality, housing insecurity, education disparities and race relations. The film features interviews from Oakland native activists who discuss why they love their hometown despite its many challenges. It also looks at the city’s vibrant art and music scenes, with interviews from local artists and musicians who talk about their struggle to make a living in Oakland. In addition, the documentary examines how existing business owners are impacted by gentrification, as well as non-profit organizations that have been working hard to address social issues since long before 2020.

Read On – Our Latest Top Documentaries Lists

David B