United Shades of America

TV review by
Marty Brown, Common Sense Media
United Shades of America TV Poster Image
Documentary series spotlights marginalized communities.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Episodes focus on the resilience of small and sometimes marginalized communities and activism within those communities.

Positive Role Models

Typically seeks to give a voice to communities who are usually stereotyped or misunderstood by America at large. Not every episode contains positive messages, but many spotlight underrepresented American cultures in order to show how marginalized people are making positive impacts in their communities and beyond.


Violence is not shown on United Shades of America but is often described. This includes descriptions of violent acts like murder, suicide, and hate crimes.


Some jokes by Bell or guests will contain sexual innuendo.


"S--t", "damn," etc. The "f" word is used occasionally, but bleeped out.


Consumerism is limited to products and companies that are serving the communities featured in that episode. For example, the episode on disability features a tech company working to make robotic exoskeletons for people with physical disabilities.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that United Shades of America is a documentary show where the host, comedian W. Kamau Bell (Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell), visits small American communities. The first episode famously features Bell, a Black man, attending a Klu Klux Klan cross burning, and subjects range from Chicago gang members or LA's homeless population to Portland hipsters. Each episode is intended to spark a larger conversation about these communities, how they are perceived, and the unique challenges they face. Content varies by subject matter, but episodes may contain mild violence, guns, or descriptions of violent acts such as murder, suicide, police brutality, and hate crimes. Most episodes contain moderate profanity, though the "f" word, when used, is bleeped out. Some episodes contain product placement, but it's usually limited to products, companies, and non-profits working to aid the marginalized communities featured. 

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What's the story?

UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA is a documentary series where activist and comedian W. Kamau Bell visits small communities throughout the country in order to discover the unique challenges that marginalized people and subcultures face. Subjects range from Italian-Americans and Hawaiians to retirement communities and street gangs to, famously, the KKK. Bell investigates how the day-to-day reality of these people differs from how they are publicly perceived; how the government is helping or hurting them; and how some members of the community are pushing for change and making their voices heard throughout America.

Is it any good?

In this illuminating and entertaining series, Bell and his team are doing incredibly important work that needs to be seen. The episode-to-episode quality of most documentary series varies wildly because the subject matter is constantly changing -- United Shades of America is no exception, as some episodes beg to be taken more seriously than others. Most people would be surprised at the depth and breadth of American subcultures that the show covers, and Bell's curiosity and open-mindedness as he learns about each of these communities is inspiring.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about communities. Focus on one explored in United Shades of America . How familiar were you with this community prior to the episode? What do you think is the common perception of this community? How does this episode's depiction of this community compare to the common perception? How does it compare to your perception? Did this episode change the way you feel about this community? In which way?

  • How do you think smaller communities fit into the larger United States. How does the country's perception of this community create challenges? Are there any laws or regulations that pose challenges? What are they? How do members of this community deal with these challenges? 

  • Families can talk about activism and local activists. What are they fighting for? How do they go about making sure their voice is heard? What work lies ahead?

TV details

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Themes & Topics

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