This is the last week of Black History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to watch some great movies that represent a period in black history or made an impact on the black community?
This list is not meant to be EVERY pivotal black movie, but rather just a list of the movies I think would teach a good lesson, help someone understand the black struggle, or represent a political issue happening in the black community today. It was hard to narrow it down, but I got the list down to 14 movies that you can find on various streaming services. They are in no particular order, and all previews are included so you can pick the ones that would interest you the most. Let’s enjoy this last week of Black History Month and celebrate the public figures and stories that shape an entire community no matter your race. See that we have come a long way as a country, but also see we have a long way to go on the road to equality.
1. A Raisin in the Sun- 1961
The story of a black family who comes into money which temporarily divides them. The matriarch makes an executive decision on where to spend the money, initially divvying it up between buying a larger apartment in a white neighborhood and setting the rest aside for a family member’s education. The main point of this movie in black history is to show a black family making a decision to better their lives by moving to a better neighborhood despite the fact that the neighborhood didn’t want them. For 1961, this was a big deal to move to an all white neighborhood in Chicago. You can watch it on Amazon.
2. Malcolm X- 1992
This is an obvious choice as Malcolm X is a big part of black history since he was a very influential Black Nationalist leader, and a member of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X is well known for speaking about black pride and for telling blacks to persevere beyond racism “by any means necessary” which unfortunately included violence, which is the exact opposite of the teachings of another prominent activist of his time, Dr. Martin Luther King. You can watch this on Amazon.
3. 12 Years a Slave- 2013
Sadly this is based on a true story of a free man who was abducted and sold into slavery. It’s sad to see a talented man who was used to having rights, be taken in as a slave and stripped of all his pride and dignity. Thankfully, most of us cannot imagine how this situation would feel, but it’s important to note that things like this happened in our US history. You can watch this on Netflix.
4. Ali- 2001
The late Mohammad Ali is a staple African American athlete in America. A politically vocal athlete who is well known for his refusal to be drafted into the military, which subsequently got him locked up. He is truly the greatest boxer of all time. You can watch it on Amazon.
If the recent election has taught us anything, it’s the importance of voting. For African Americans, the right to vote wasn’t always given. In our history African Americans have gone from not being able to vote, being considered 3/5 of a person, being able to vote, but being deterred by special provisions that prevented such voting and so on. Selma looks into the pivotal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. march from Selma to Montgomery for equal voting rights. You can watch it on Hulu.
The Jackie Robinson Story- 1950
We can’t talk about black history without a story about Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player. This is yet another look at what it was like to be an African American athlete during a time where segregation was prevalent. This is also a biographical movie where the subject stars in the movie and plays themselves. Yes, that’s right, Jackie Robinson stars in his only acting role. Watch it on Amazon.
7. Do the Right Thing- 1989
An Italian owned business is in a neighborhood that eventually becomes filled predominantly with African Americans and Hispanics. This shouldn’t have been a problem, but with a racist worker, and black patrons questioning why they are not represented on the wall in the restaurant, racial tensions rise. What’s so sad about this movie is that we saw so much of this same hate during the most recent election and in the aftermath. It’s a movie showing how racial bigotry begins and spreads like a disease in a neighborhood if it is not contained. Spike Lee is infamous for telling the truth about what goes on in the black community. Watch it on HBO.
8. Cooley High- 1975
Cooley High was a film that is said to have been the beginning of the end of black movies riddled with crime, racism, drugs and black panther like characters. It was a coming of age film about high school kids enjoying life and being teenagers in Chicago. It’s no wonder this movie showed a happier side of black life, since it was written by one of the co-creators of Good Times, Eric Monte, who also was responsible for the existence of George and Louise Jefferson (although he was never credited). It’s important to note that African Americans are still struggling to be shown outside of the lights of the thug, the loud best friend, the single mother, the deadbeat father, the comic relief, the drug dealer and instead showing African Americans as lead characters with good jobs, who speak proper English, with families and marriages in tact, with higher education degrees and nice homes. You can watch it on VUDU.
9. Fruitvale Station- 2013
With the Black Lives Matter movement often being misunderstood and unsupported by some people outside of the black community, this movie has never been so important to helping people understand what racial profiling is and how police brutality is an issue. Police brutality happens often and now with the abundance of camera phones, society is now privy to that information on a regular basis. Unfortunately, African Americans suffer at the hands of police brutality more often than any other race in America. Sadly, the black lives matter movement is an important one for not just African Americans, but for any minority suffering injustice. Watch it on Netflix.
10. The Princess and the Frog- 2009
This is the story we grew up with about finding your prince by kissing a few frogs. To understand why this movie is so important to black history, we have to ask ourselves a few questions and get a few facts. How long has Disney been making animated films? I checked their history and they’ve been making them since 1937 starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. How many animated films had Disney made before The Princess and the Frog premiered in December 2009? The answer is 28 animated films were created over the course of 72 years. If I told you to guess how many of those 28 films had a black character as the lead, I know you will realize based on my first 2 questions that the answer is probably 0 and you’d be right. When little black girls typically looked at Disney princesses, they never saw one who looked like them. This movie changed that forever. Watch it on Amazon.
11. The Wiz- 1978
When celebrating film and black history month we have to note the movies that really helped African Americans feel like they can relate to someone in film. Major musicals do not feature black leads let alone an all black cast. For Motown to remake the classic Wizard of Oz musical to make the Wiz was monumental for the black community. And it featured some of the biggest, black music stars at the time including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Lena Horne. Watch it on Amazon.
12. Hidden Figures- 2016
It isn’t often that women are known for being mathematicians or big scientists for that matter. And it is especially unheard of for African American women. Hidden Figures honestly came out of nowhere and is a story that really needed to be told for the next generation of black women. Young black girls need to know that black women had a major impact on the science world. This movie is about a group of black, female mathematicians who helped NASA in one of their most important missions. It’s funny how we don’t learn about these women in school when we’re studying space or American history. This movie is still in theaters.
13. Belle- 2013
It’s not often you hear of black royalty, and no I’m not talking about Beyonce and Jay-z, I’m talking about actual royalty outside of Africa. Even though she was a part of a royal family in the 18th century, because of the color of her skin, she was still forbidden from participating in many traditions. It is a story we are all familiar with in the African American community, but this one has a happy ending. Watch on Amazon.
14. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom- 2013
Nelson Mandela is an iconic African figure across the globe. He was instrumental in bringing international attention to Apartheid happening in Africa. He was a great leader and a peaceful fighter for what he believes in much like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in America. This film is a great adaptation of his life. Watch on Amazon.
As Black History Month comes to an end, it’s important to remember that this month is a celebration of all the contributions and good impact African Americans had in history and on the world. It’s something to be celebrated and these films will teach you more about the community, where they came from and the dreams blacks have.