The celebration of Black History Month is more than just a relic of the past. In this time of year, Americans celebrate the achievements of African-American leaders, philosophers, and trailblazers. While this month is a time to remember the hardships that African Americans have faced, we also commemorate their joy, their talents, their beauty, their inventiveness, and their culture—as we should every day of the year.
Film is one of the numerous arenas in which Black culture is represented. All forms of Black narratives are prominent in documentaries, biopics, and fictional stories written for and about Black people. To be sure, they entice and educate viewers—a necessary component of cinema—but they also do so by putting light on previously unseen stories that spill over into dinnertime discussions and your group chats. Moreover, a large number of these films also educate, either by highlighting Black innovation and perseverance or by enlightening non-Black audiences about the Black experience.
Consider watching all of these must-see flicks this February. To name a few: Ava Duvernay and George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give, Beyonce’s Coachella performance in Homecoming, and George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give—the diversity of Black stories and the Black talent telling them is infinite.
To see what’s playing in the theaters near you, click here. It’s going to be the best one yet:
1. One Night In Miami
Reggie King’s film One Night in Miami reimagined February 25, 1964, when Muhammad Ali (then called Cassius Clay), NFL player Jim Brown, musician Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X spent the night together in Miami. Throughout the film, the foursome discusses the challenges of being Black in the United States, religion, and their personal legacy.
2. The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson
One of the most prominent figures in the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P. Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River. Her death was ruled a suicide by the NYPD and no further investigation was conducted. For the first time, a trans woman examines the murder of Jesse Johnson on her own and pays tribute to Johnson’s legacy.
3. Roxane Roxane
The narrative of Lolita “Roxanne Shanté” Gooden, a teenager from New York City in the 1980s, is told by the makers of Fruitvale Station and Dope. Mahershala Ali and Nia Long star in the picture, which should be enough to get you to see it.
4. Paris Is Burning
One of the most important documentaries in cinema is Paris Is Burning, which depicts the 1980s New York ballroom scene through the eyes of the dancers who were part of it. Transgender and LGBT people of color who were disowned by their families, facing HIV, and fleeing abuse formed ballroom culture in the film’s narrative. From HBO Max’s Legendary to FX and RuPaul’s Drag Race, the documentary has had an impact on a number of popular television shows.
There are several flaws to be found in the film, despite the fact that it has garnered a great deal of attention since its premiere in 1991 (it has even been kept in the National Film Archive by the Library of Congress). Director Jennie Livingston, a white woman, has been accused of exploiting the people of color at the center of the project by author and activist Gloria Jean Watkins, also known as bell hooks.
5. LA 92
It shows how decades of police brutality eventually led to the 1992 rallies for justice against Rodney King after all four of the police officers who brutalized him were acquitted of any wrongdoing
During the 1980s, a young black kid in Miami tries to come to terms with his sexuality while being reared by an abusive mother in this Best Picture winner from the Academy Awards.
Beyonce paid tribute to HBCUs in one of the greatest live performances of all time as the headliner of the 2018 Coachella music festival. “Crazy in Love,” “Formation,” and the Black national anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” are all included on her new album.
At the center of Ava Duverney’s 13th Amendment is a loophole that has permitted society to further imprison Black Americans through mass incarceration: the 13th Amendment’s one sentence. This documentary, which includes interviews with Angela Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr., is required reading for students of the civil rights movement.
9. Do The Right Thing
As timely as it was when film initially came out in theaters over a quarter of a century ago, Do The Right Thing by Spike Lee seems to be now. Race relations and prejudice in one Brooklyn neighborhood are depicted in this video, but they are a microcosm of what is happening across America today.
10. The Black Power Mixtape
My hunch is that your history textbooks either got it incorrect or didn’t highlight the Black Power Movement and major activists like the Black Panther Party, Stokely Carmichael, and Angela Davis. Using three canisters of archive material uncovered from the antiwar and Black power movements of the 1960s and ’70s, this film will set the record straight.
11. Malcolm X
By whatever means necessary” is a phrase you’ve heard from this man. However, Malcolm X was far more than the violent and contentious radical depicted in history books. To better understand why he worked so hard for the liberation of African-Americans, this film examines his philosophy.
12. The Hate U Give
This is a movie adaption that I can get behind, as a fan of the book. The Hate U Give, a film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel, tells the narrative of Starr Carter, a high school student from an impoverished Black neighborhood who attends a prestigious prep school. When her friend Khalil is shot by a white police officer and she is the only witness, Starr is forced to confront both worlds.
13. I Am Not Your Negro
As a first-time James Baldwin reader or listener, you’re in for a real treat. Author, activist and dramatist breaks down race relations in a way that is easy to comprehend and hard to refute.. What it means to be black in America and how it has changed through time will be explored in I Am Not Your Negro, which is based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House.
14. Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland
We must not exclude Black women in our discussion on racial injustice in the United States. Three days after she was arrested for a traffic infraction, activist Sandra Bland was discovered dead in her jail cell. There are innumerable Black women whose stories ought to be heard, and she is only one of them. Following her death, a two-year investigation was launched, which this film chronicles.
Black people were still viewed as second-class citizens even after segregation was abolished in the South in the 1960s. Many Black people were prevented from registering to vote because of widespread discrimination. This film depicts Dr. King’s post-Civil Rights Act efforts to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
16. Just Mercy
Let us know if you’d want to learn more about racism. Walter McMillian and Bryan Stevenson, a young man unfairly accused of murder and a defense attorney determined to bring him to justice, are the subjects of this film, which is based on a true tale.
17. See You Yesterday
It tells the narrative of two brilliant geniuses who attempt to use time travel to bring back a loved one who was killed by police brutality in See You Yesterday. As a result, they’ll come to understand that history is cyclical.