This year, we are celebrating Black History Month by recognizing the immense contribution of Black filmmakers and actors to the silver screen. So grab your popcorn and start streaming!
Cornerstones of Black Cinema
From the grit of everyday characters to the poetic images that continue to influence, here are some of the pivotal pieces that define Black cinema.
From top left to bottom right:
- Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989): On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone’s hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.
- Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991): Languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where African folk-ways were maintained well into the 20th Century and was one of the last bastion of these mores in America.
- Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997): Husband, father and womanizer Louis Batiste is the head of an affluent family, but it’s the women who rule this gothic world of secrets, lies and mystic forces.
- Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017): A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.
- Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978): Set in the Watts area of Los Angeles, a slaughterhouse worker must suspend his emotions to continue working at a job he finds repugnant, and then he finds he has little sensitivity for the family he works so hard to support.
- Boyz n’ The Hood (John Singleton, 1991): Follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence, and future prospects.
Iconic Black Performances
Some roles get to be defined by the actors that portray them. Here are some unforgettable performances that showcase the epitome of cinematic acting.
- Viola Davis in Fences (2016)
- Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther (2018)
- Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)
- Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (2013)
- Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)
- Morgan Freeman in Invictus (2009)
- Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (1992)
- Michael B. Jordan in Just Mercy (2019)
- Danny Glover in To Sleep with Anger (1991)
Black History through Movies
Films can bring to life stories of historical struggle and brilliance in a way that simultaneously captures and educates the audience. These movies depict some of the heroes that marked Black History.
- Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016): The story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.
- Harriet (Kasi Lemmons, 2019): The extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
- Judas & The Black Messiah (Shaka King, 2021): Bill O’Neal infiltrates the Black Panther Party per FBI Agent Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. As Party Chairman Fred Hampton ascends, falling for a fellow revolutionary en route, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul.
- Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014): 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.
- One Night In Miami (Regina King, 2020): A fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the Civil Rights Movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s.
Documenting Black Life & Struggle
These documentaries are powerful examples of the camera as a witness of both political and personal history.
- The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Göran Hugo Olsson, 2011): Footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists documenting the Black Power Movement.
- Whose Streets? (Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, 2017): An unflinching look at how the police killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown inspired a community to fight back and sparked a global movement.
- I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016): Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.
- Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 2019): This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.
- Time (Garrett Bradley, 2020): Fox Rich fights for the release of her husband, Rob, who is serving a 60-year sentence in prison.
- John Lewis: Good Trouble (Dawn Porter, 2020): The film explores Georgia representative’s, 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform, and immigration.
- 13th (Ava Duvernay, 2016): An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.
- 16 Shots (Rick Rowley, 2019): A documentary examining the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke and the cover-up that ensued.
Black independent cinema continues to soar in the 21st century. Our selection highlights the most innovative voices coming out in the last ten years.
- Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016): A young African-American man grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.
- Small Axe (Steve McQueen, 2020): A 5-part mini-series, Small Axe is based on the real-life experiences of London’s West Indian community and is set between 1969 and 1982.
- Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2019): A couple’s first date takes an unexpected turn when a police officer pulls them over.
- Fruitvale Station (Ryan Cooglar, 2013): The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
- Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018): In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a universe of greed.
- Miss Juneteenth (Channing Godfrey Peoples, 2020): A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant.
- Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017): Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.