18 Black History Movies to Watch Even After Black History MonthMar 06, 2023 03:00PM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Movies about Black culture often focus on well-known historical events like the enslavement of Africans and the civil rights movement. However, there are films that depict Black joy and everyday life and are equally important.
While BHM is a great time to brush up on our history and our ongoing journey to overcome, any month in the year is a good time to look at our varying stories, perspectives, and messages conveyed through art. Some of these films tell the incredible stories of so many Black historical figures. From athletes to musicians to politicians, we've compiled a wide variety of media for your next binge session.
1. Judas and the Black Messiah
Director Shaka King brings us a powerful rendition of a true story set in the late-1960s. It stars Get Out actors LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya, who won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance. This historical biopic follows FBI informant William O'Neal infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party, with an aim to keep an eye on chairman Fred Hampton. But as Hampton's power grows, so does O'Neal's moral quandary in this stunning portrait of the Black Panther movement.
It stars Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Marshall is a lawyer primarily working to fight against racial prejudice. He takes on a case to defend Joseph Spell, an African American man accused of raping a wealthy Caucasian woman. At the 90th Academy Awards, it received a nomination for Best Original Song for "Stand Up for Something".
3. Ghosts of Mississippi
Focusing on the 1989 trial of the white supremacist who killed Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers in his driveway in 1963, Ghosts of Mississippi focuses on Evers’ widow Myrlie, who sought the help of a decorated lawyer with political aspirations to bring her husband’s killer to trial for the third time in 30 years after two previous attempts resulting in hung juries. James Woods was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Byron De La Beckwith.
4. One Night In Miami
Directed by Regina King, One Night In Miami reimagines the events of February 25, 1964 when Muhammad Ali, still called Cassius Clay then, NFL star Jim Brown, musician Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X spent a night together in a Miami—the same night Clay became the heavyweight champ. In the film, the foursome discuss being Black in America, religion, and their own legacies. It's full of rich conversation, tense moments and even a few laughs. The film is an example of the powerful art that can be created when Black filmmakers are allowed to tell their stories.
5. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Starring Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom chronicles a heated afternoon in the recording studio with legendary "Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey, her band, and the white management. Over the course of several hours, Ma Rainey uses her talent to test the power dynamic between talent and those who profit off of that talent. Davis and Boseman also won lead acting awards for their performances at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, making history as the first Black actors to win in leading categories in the same year. Both received nominations at the Golden Globes, with Boseman posthumously winning Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.
6. 12 Years a Slave
This biographical drama follows the life of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was kidnapped by conmen in 1841 and sold into slavery. The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lupita Nyong’o in her first feature film role, for which she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts recognized it with the BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Best Actor for Ejiofor. The film was later named the 44th greatest film since 2000 in a BBC poll of 177 critics in 2016.
A young Black boy living in Miami during the '80s struggles to come to terms with his sexuality Based on the unpublished play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film takes viewers on a journey through the main character's childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. In this Academy Award Best Picture winner, Starting in Miami in the 1980s, Chiron navigates daily life as we are confronted with the impacts of drug addiction and poverty. The protagonist's struggle to understand his sexuality and identity highlights the complexities of living as a Black man in America.
8. Malcolm X
Malcolm X was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement. A spokesman for the Nation of Islam until 1964, he was a vocal advocate for Black empowerment and the promotion of Islam within the Black community.. This biographical titan of a film stars Denzel Washington as the eponymous Malcolm X and follows his early years, his conversion to Islam, his rise as a Civil Rights leader, and his eventual death by assassination in 1965. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
9. Hidden Figures
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, this film follows the true stories of three Black NASA mathematicians—Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan— who played an integral role in the Space Race and were not initially given the credit they deserved. In 2016, NASA dedicated the Langley Research Center's Katherine Johnson Computational Building in her honor. The film was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2016 and received various awards and nominations, including three nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It also won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
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This movie is a chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. Directed by Ava DuVernay in 2014, the film was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards. It also received four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director and Best Actor, and won for Best Original Song.
This 2013 sports film stars the late Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, the first Black athlete to play in the MLB. The title of the film is a reference to Robinson's jersey number, which was universally retired across all MLB teams in 1997. Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, was involved in the production of the film and has praised the end result, saying, "It was important to me because I wanted it to be an authentic piece. I wanted to get it right. I didn't want them to make him an angry black man or some stereotype, so it was important for me to be in there. I love the movie. I'm pleased with it. It's authentic and it's also very powerful."
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12. Do the Right Thing
One of Spike Lee’s most famous films, Do the Right Thing follows the racial tensions between residents of a Brooklyn neighborhood in the dead heat of summer. Despite the weight of that charge, the film is really a comedy drama and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999. Lee wrote the screenplay in two weeks after hearing about the police shooting Eleanor Bumpurs as well as the 1986 "Howard Beach racial incident" where a Black man died.
13. Fruitvale Station
Black Panther director Ryan Coogler made his directorial debut Fruitvale Station stars Michael B. Jordan and details the death of Oscar Grant, a young man killed by police in 2009. An indie darling, this film won awards at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The film includes actual amateur footage of the shooting, which Coogler initially did not want to use.
A dramatized look at the true story of the U.S. Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, as they fight prejudices from both their own Union Army and the Confederates who’d rather see them in chains than as free men. Robert Gould Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick leads the U.S. Civil War's first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices from both his own Union Army, and the Confederates. Denzel Washington won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Private Trip in this historically accurate war epic.
15. Just Mercy
This film tells the true story of Walter McMillian and Bryan Stevenson—a young man wrongfully convicted of murder and the defense attorney determined to find justice. McMillian's story of wrongful conviction is one of many. Dozens of Black people across the country are wrongfully imprisoned, and many of them will never be exonerated. By telling one man's personal account, the film addresses a systemic injustice that has disproportionately impacted the lives of generations of Black people. Jamie Foxx was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards. Both he and Michael B. Jordan won NAACP Image Awards for their respective roles.
A biopic on the too-short life of the ‘Empress of the Blues,’ Bessie Smith. Expertly played by Queen Latifah, Bessie is a portrait of an immense talent, whose love for music took her from anonymity to international fame in the 1920s blues scene. The film focuses on the life, loves, and lows of a tenacious spirit who, despite her own demons, went on to become one of the most successful and influential musical artists of the 20th century. The film premiered in May 2015. By the following year Bessie was the most watched HBO original film in the network's history. The film was well received critically and garnered four Primetime Emmy Awards, winning for Outstanding Television Movie.
17. The Butler
The Butler is a 2013 American historical drama film directed and co-produced by Lee Daniels and with a screenplay by Danny Strong. It is inspired by Wil Haygood's Washington Post article "A Butler Well Served by This Election". This historical drama spans decades of American history, following the life and memory of Cecil Gaines, a Black butler in the White House played in this movie by Forest Whitaker. In the film, Gaines witnesses some of the most influential political and social events of the 20th century.
BlacKkKlansman is a 2018 American biographical black comedy crime thriller film directed by Spike Lee. It is based on the true story of Black Colorado police officer Ron Stallworth, who manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and thwart their attempts at terror attack all via phone. It received six nominations at the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Lee's first directing nomination), and Best Supporting Actor for Driver, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay, making it Lee's first competitive Academy Award. At the 76th Golden Globe Awards it earned four nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.
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Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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