In celebration of Black History Month, I’m thrilled to share a carefully curated list of films that not only entertain but also educate and inspire discussions on the rich tapestry of the African American experience. These selections are part of a broader range of resources I’m offering to my readers, aimed at highlighting the significant contributions, struggles, and triumphs of Black individuals throughout history.
Today, we delve into the world of cinema, where each movie serves as a window into the complexities, joys, and challenges faced by African Americans over the years. From the valor of soldiers and the brilliance of scientists to the eloquence of leaders and the resilience of everyday heroes, these Black History movies offer a diverse perspective on what it means to fight for justice, equality, and recognition in a world that often resists change.
Black History Movies
Here are some of the best black history movies:
“Just Mercy” is a compelling drama from 2020 that shines a light on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young and dedicated lawyer who fights for justice in the case of Walter McMillian, a man wrongfully sentenced to death. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and produced by Gil Netter, Asher Goldstein, and Michael B. Jordan, who also stars in the film alongside Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. Stevenson’s relentless pursuit of justice against all odds is both downbeat and touching, offering a powerful exploration of the American legal system and the fight against racial injustice.
“King Richard,” released in 2021, presents the inspiring true story of Richard Williams, the determined father of Venus and Serena Williams, whose unwavering vision and coaching led his daughters to become tennis superstars. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and featuring standout performances by Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, and Saniyya Sidney, the film captures the essence of an undeterred parent’s journey in the world of sports.
3. Race (2016)
The 2016 sports drama “Race” tells the riveting story of Jesse Owens, a college track-and-field superstar whose legacy was cemented at the 1936 Olympic Games, where he won four gold medals. Directed by Stephen Hopkins and starring Stephan James in the lead role, the film is an emotional and serious depiction of Owens’s rise against the backdrop of racial tension and the lead-up to World War II.
“Fences,” set in the 1950s in Pittsburgh and directed by Denzel Washington, who also stars alongside Viola Davis and Stephen McKinley Henderson, is a powerful adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The film delves into the life of Troy Maxson, a former baseball player turned garbage collector, who struggles with his past and his efforts to provide for his family in a world that seems to hold him back. This touching and compelling drama explores themes of family, race, and dreams deferred, delivering strong performances that bring Wilson’s iconic characters to life.
“The Pursuit Of Happyness,” a drama from 2006, features Will Smith in one of his most memorable roles as Chris Gardner, a single father who, despite being evicted and facing immense hurdles, never gives up on his quest for a better life for himself and his son, played by Jaden Smith. Directed by Gabriele Muccino, the film is an emotional and inspiring story of resilience, fatherhood, and the relentless pursuit of happiness against all odds.
The 2019 drama “Harriet” chronicles the extraordinary life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, portrayed by Cynthia Erivo, and her journey from slavery to becoming one of the most renowned conductors of the Underground Railroad. Directed by Kasi Lemmons and also starring Joe Alwyn and Janelle Monáe, the film is a powerful and inspiring tale of courage, freedom, and the indomitable spirit of one of America’s greatest heroes.
“Malcolm X” is a powerful and cerebral drama that pays tribute to the life of one of the most influential African American leaders of the 20th century. Directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington in a career-defining role, the film explores Malcolm X’s evolution from a small-time criminal to a fervent activist for black liberation and a leader in the Nation of Islam. Angela Bassett and Spike Lee also deliver compelling performances in a story that spans Malcolm’s early life, imprisonment, conversion to Islam, leadership, and ultimately, his assassination in 1965.
“The Tuskegee Airmen” is a high-flying drama from 1995 that honors the first squadron of African American pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, known as the “fighting 99th.” Starring Laurence Fishburne, Allen Payne, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, the film is an ambitious and bold recounting of these heroes who fought against both the enemy abroad and racial discrimination at home.
“Remember the Titans” is a heartwarming and inspiring sports drama based on the true story of a newly integrated high school football team in Virginia. Directed by Boaz Yakin and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the film stars Denzel Washington, Will Patton, and Nicole Ari Parker. It tells the story of Coach Herman Boone, played by Washington, who leads the team to unity and success despite the racial tensions of the time.
10. Good Hair (2009)
“Good Hair,” a 2009 documentary-comedy, explores the cultural and social implications of hair in the African American community. Chris Rock, both the star and one of the producers, embarks on a hilariously enlightening journey to understand why African American women go to great lengths for “good hair.” Through interviews, visits to hair salons, and explorations of historical context, Rock uncovers the beauty, challenges, and the often unspoken truths about hair in black America.
“You Belong to Me” is a gripping 2015 documentary that delves into the case of Ruby McCollum, an African American woman who killed her white doctor and alleged abuser in 1952. Directed by John Cork, the film reveals the complex layers of race, gender, and power dynamics in the Jim Crow South through McCollum’s trial and its aftermath. Featuring interviews and analysis, the documentary sheds light on a story that haunted those involved for decades, offering a compelling look at the intersection of race, justice, and societal norms.
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” is a harrowing and compelling drama based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery in the 19th century. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Michael Fassbender, the film is a brutal and honest portrayal of slavery in America, highlighting the resilience, dignity, and struggle for freedom faced by Northup and others.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a fictional character inspired by the real-life story of Eugene Allen, a butler who served eight U.S. presidents in the White House. Directed by Lee Daniels and featuring an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey, the film spans several decades of American history, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, as seen through the eyes of Gaines and his family. This sentimental, touching, and powerful drama offers a unique perspective on the political and social changes that shaped the US during some of its most turbulent years.
14. Glory (1990)
“Glory” is an inspiring action-drama that chronicles the valor of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first African American unit in the American Civil War. Directed by Edward Zwick and starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Cary Elwes, the film is a moving testament to courage, the human spirit, and the quest for freedom. It portrays the struggles and triumphs of these soldiers as they confront racism from both the enemy and within their own army, ultimately leading to a climactic and heartrending battle.
From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman” tells the incredible true story of Ron Stallworth, an African American detective who embarked on a daring mission to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace, this suspenseful comedy-drama is both cerebral and strangely humorous, tackling the absurdity of racism with a sharp wit.
16. Selma (2015)
“Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., is a powerful depiction of the historic 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. With Oprah Winfrey among its producers, the film captures the strategic planning, the political obstacles, and the violent opposition faced by the civil rights movement. It’s a philosophical and moving drama that highlights the leadership of MLK and the collective effort to overcome systemic racism, resulting in a landmark achievement for civil rights in America.
17. Red Tails (2012)
“Red Tails” revisits the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American pilots to serve in the U.S. military during World War II. Directed by Anthony Hemingway and produced by George Lucas, the film stars Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, and Ne-Yo. It showcases the bravery, challenges, and aerial victories of these pioneering airmen who faced discrimination at home but fought with distinction abroad. The movie combines intense action sequences with emotional depth, celebrating the airmen’s significant contributions to the war effort and their role in advancing racial integration in the military.
“Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, is the inspiring true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African American women who played crucial roles at NASA during the Space Race. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Kevin Costner, the film highlights their intellect, determination, and contributions that led to the successful orbit of astronaut John Glenn. It’s a thoughtful and philosophical drama that challenges the racial and gender prejudices of the 1960s, showcasing how these brilliant women helped shape one of America’s greatest achievements in space exploration.
Spike Lee’s “Four Little Girls” is a powerful and philosophical documentary that examines the tragic bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, which killed four young African American girls. Through interviews and archival footage, Lee explores the impact of this act of terrorism on the civil rights movement, the community, and the nation. This cerebral and compelling film not only pays tribute to the victims but also delves into the broader context of racial violence and the fight for justice and equality in America.
20. Moonlight (2016)
“Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins and winner of the Best Picture Oscar, is a poignant drama that follows the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami, through three defining chapters of his life. With a stellar cast including Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, and Trevante Rhodes, the film explores themes of identity, masculinity, and the human need for connection. Its beautiful cinematography, gritty realism, and deeply emotional storytelling make “Moonlight” a groundbreaking film that challenges stereotypes and showcases the complexity of finding one’s place in the world.
As we conclude our exploration of these significant Black History Movies, it’s clear that the stories they tell are more than just entertainment. They are vital chapters of the human story, encapsulating the struggle, resilience, and triumph of individuals and communities that have fought tirelessly for their rights, recognition, and place in history. These films, ranging from historical dramas to inspiring documentaries, offer us a chance to reflect on the past, understand the present, and inspire a future where equality and justice are not just ideals but realities for all.