10 Films to Watch (or Rewatch) this Black History Month

This month presents a special opportunity to delve into the diverse and rich history of African-American culture, shining a spotlight on voices that have long been marginalized. In this curated list, we’ll explore ten essential films that brilliantly encapsulate the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of the Black community. From groundbreaking classics to contemporary masterpieces, these cinematic treasures not only entertain but also educate and inspire, leaving an indelible mark on the heart and mind of every viewer.

The first film on the list of ten best films about black history is “Malcolm X.” Directed by Spike Lee, this biographical drama chronicles the life of the civil rights activist and Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X. Starring Denzel Washington in the title role, it won two awards at that year’s Academy Awards. It is an inspiring story of a man who went from criminality to religious conversion and dedication to social justice issues affecting African Americans.

The second film is “Do The Right Thing,” another Spike Lee joint released in 1989. This comedy-drama follows a Brooklyn neighborhood as its residents deal with racism and rising tensions with their white neighbors over one hot summer day. It earned the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Director Prize and nominations for two Academy Awards in 1989.

Third, there is “Selma,” which tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of African Americans’ right to vote. This film won an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, nominated for several others. Starring David Oyelowo as MLK Jr., it shows how this pivotal moment changed American history forever.

The fourth movie on our list is “12 Years A Slave.” Directed by Steve McQueen, this drama follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American man from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. It won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it powerfully illustrates the brutality of American slavery.

The fifth movie on our list is “Fruitvale Station,” which tells the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old African American living in Oakland who dies in police custody at an Oakland BART station in 2009. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and nominated for several others, this film is a powerful reminder of police brutality against people of color.

Next is “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins‘ coming-of-age drama about Chiron, a young African American man growing up in Miami. It is an emotional and sensitive exploration of identity, sexuality, and belonging. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, nominated for six other awards.

The seventh movie on this list is “13th,” Ava DuVernay‘s documentary about the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery. This powerful film delves into race relations in America from Reconstruction to the modern day by examining incarceration’s impact on black communities nationwide.

Eighth on our list is “Hidden Figures,” which tells the story of three African-American women who worked at NASA during the Space Race. It celebrates the achievements of these talented women who helped to put a man on the moon. Starring Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, this film earned three Academy Award nominations.

The ninth movie is “The Learning Tree.” It is directed by Gordon Parks and based on his semi-autobiographical novel. It tells the story of Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson), a young Black man living in 1920s Kansas who is the sole witness to a murder. This film explores themes of love, racism, and justice with sensitivity and beauty. It was the first major motion picture directed by an African American and one of the first 25 films selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.

Finally, we have John Korty’s “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Here we see the struggle for freedom and equality through the eyes of a woman (Cicely Tyson), born into slavery, who lives to see the early days of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Based on the novel by Earnest J. Gaines, this made-for-TV movie won nine Emmys, including bests for lead actress, director, writing, costume, and makeup.

These ten films are a powerful testament to the artistry and resilience of the African-American narrative. They show us how far we have come and how much farther we still need to go for true equality and justice for all Americans.

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