Every February, the country pays tribute to the struggles and celebrates the accomplishments of African Americans during Black History Month, but it shouldn't stop then. This collection of movies about Black history to watch with your family can help you do that all year long.
Spearheaded by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), founded by historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland,
Black History Month began as national Negro History week in 1926. It wasn't until 40 years later that President Gerald Ford officially recognized the celebration as Black History Month in 1976.
Last year’s theme, the focus was on
Black Health And Wellness and paid homage to both Black medical practitioners of Western medicine as well as doulas, midwives, and herbalists. In 2023, the theme is “Black Resistance,” and will explore how “African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings, “since the nation's earliest days.”
With these empowering and important themes in mind, watching movies together as a family is one way to honor Black history as we educate and pay homage. Of course, once Black History Month is over, it doesn't mean you have to archive these titles for family movie night. Black history, after all, is American history. And it’s especially important in an age in which the actual teaching of this history is coming under fire, with states banning the
teaching of critical race theory and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blocking an AP course on African American history in high schools.
Black History is American history and we must continue to celebrate its trailblazers and cultural diversity. Whether you’re Black and want to learn more about your own history and culture, or you’re looking to educate yourself on the Black experience, the following films will surely cater to your needs.
King Richard (2020)
Will Smith plays the man behind tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams and traces his efforts to secure their futures in the sports world.
Richard Williams was influential in his daughters’ early careers and rise to fame. The biopic touches on their childhood in Compton, practicing at the courts, to Venus’ first national tournaments in Florida as a teenager. It depicts the sisters’ hardships on and off the court, as well as their triumphs. Smith called it an “ origin story for some real deal superheroes.” Venus, Serena and their sister, Isha Price, were all executive producers. Actresses Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton played the tennis greats. Watch King Richard , rated PG-13, on YouTube . Hidden Figures (2016)
Did you know three African American women were behind putting the first man into orbit? Three African American mathematicians to be exact. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae portray NASA's unsung heroes, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson in 2016’s
Hidden Figures. Jackson calculated trajectories, launch windows and the return paths on projects such as the Apollo 11 and the Space Shuttle program. Vaughan was the first Black woman to be promoted to head of personnel at NASA while Jackson was NASA's first Black engineer. These women were working for NASA during a time period when much of the United States was still segregated. You can watch Hidden Figures, rated PG , on Disney+ and Amazon . Drumline (2002)
If you ever were curious about the college band life at a historically Black college or university, the 2002 movie gives you some good insight. In it, Nick Cannon plays a talented high school drummer who gets accepted into a southern HBCU on a full band scholarship. But he soon learns that talent can only lead him so far. There’s also humbleness, discipline, and the value of teamwork or as Orlando Jones’ character famously said, “one band, one style.” Although the story is fictional, real HBCU bands are featured in the movie such as Morris Brown College and Bethune-Cookman University.
Watch Drumline, rated PG-13, on Disney+. Stomp The Yard (2007) Stomp The Yard (2007) Amazon Prime
Another flick that shines a light on the HBCU culture. Columbus Short plays a dancer that enrolls in Atlanta's fictional Truth University. While trying to keep his head in the books and eyes on a pretty love interest, played by Meagan Goode, he finds himself in a tug-of-war between two fraternities, who want to utilize his talents in an upcoming Greek dance competition. This is an upbeat film that highlights the Black Greek culture at HBCUs. The fraternities in the movie are fictional but they are inspired by real ones of the Divine 9. Not to mention, Chris Brown makes a short but tragic cameo.
Watch Stomp The Yard, rated PG-13, on HBO Max. Red Tails (2012)
Starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., the NAACP Image Award-winning movie sheds much-needed light on the
Tuskegee airmen, the all-Black airmen regiment in World War II. Based on true events, the movie takes place during World War II and focuses on 13 Black cadets who are part of an experimental program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, that aims to train Black personnel to become fighter pilots for the Army. The men are faced with discrimination, both in the sky and on the ground, but in the end, they prove their ground. You can watch Red Tails, rated PG-13 , on Disney+ and Amazon Prime . Remember The Titans (2000)
Starring Denzel Washington and Will Patton,
Remember The Titans is based on the true story of African American head coach Herman Boone, who integrated the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971 with the help of his white assistant coach, Bill Yoast. The team went on to win the state championship game and by overcoming their racism and those who wanted to divide them, they became winners on and off the field. The real Coach Boone and Yoast died just months apart in 2019. “That movie is not about football,” Boone told NPR in a 2017 interview. “It’s about some incredible young boys in Alexandria, Virginia, who in 1971 became an integrated team and showed the world how one can overcome their fear of diversity.” You can watch Remember The Titans, rated PG , on Disney+. 42 (2013)
Chadwick Boseman portrays the great Jackie Robinson, the first Black athlete to play in Major League Baseball. The inspiring biopic follows Robinson's time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and breaking the color barrier in baseball forever. Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Today, the MLB commemorates Robinson’s legacy each year by wearing 42 jerseys as part of its annual Jackie Robinson Day celebration. Robinson died in 1972 at the age of 53 from a heart attack. Boseman, who passed away in 2019 from colon cancer, spoke about portraying the iconic figure. “Children would know who Jackie Robinson was from my performance,” the star said in a Black Panther 2013 interview with the MLB Network. “That set in for me that now I’m responsible for being the face of that and portraying all of the characteristics and the qualities, principles that the man lived under. I also knew that there were a lot of people who viewed him as a hero, that knew him very well and they would be let down if I didn’t live up to those expectations.” You can watch 42 on Netflix , Amazon , and HBO Max. Pride (2007)
Set in inner-city, 1970s Philadelphia,
Pride is based on the true story of Jim Ellis, an American swim coach who started a swim team for troubled teens that ultimately becomes the city's first all-Black swim team. The team is called the P.D.R. team, which stands for Pride, Determination, Resilience. The team faces racist backlash left and right, including one incident in which a white team forfeits the match because they didn't want to share the pool with them. But through their trials, they kept their pride and overcame prejudice, crime, and poverty. The movie stars Terrence Howard and the late Bernie Mac. You can watch Pride, rated PG on Hulu , Peacock TV , and Amazon. The Great Debaters (2013)
Another one of Denzel Washington's great roles. In this drama set in 1935, Washington portrays Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas who forms the school's first debate team, which goes on to challenge Harvard in a national championship. The team goes on to challenge and defeat Harvard in the national championship.
The Great Debaters is based on a true story. According to Eleanor Boswell-Raine, the daughter of one of the real debaters, Hamilton Boswell, the real Wiley College debate team debated at the University of Southern California. You can watch The Great Debater s, rated PG-13, on Amazon , Apple TV , Fubo TV , and YouTube. Akeelah and The Bee (2006)
This drama tells the story of Akeelah Anderson, an 11-year-old girl from south Los Angeles with an incredible gift for words and her journey to the National Spelling Bee. But through several personal trials and tribulations, she makes it to the National Spelling Bee and wins it! Starring Keke Palmer, Angela Bassett, and Laurence Fishburne, this is a story of perseverance and self-confidence that will touch any child or adult watching it. Fun fact: the fictionalized character's name is based on a
real person, Akeelah Anderson. You can watch Akeelah and The Bee on Hulu , HBO , HBO Max , and . Peacock TV Selma (2014)
A masterpiece by Ava DuVernay, this soul-gripping drama documents some of the most tumultuous moments of the civil rights movement, which include Bloody Sunday, the
Birmingham Church Bombings that claimed the lives of four Black girls in 1963, and the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in the voting process. David Oyelowo completely embodies Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, a must-see for the entire family. Other historic civil rights figures portrayed in the NAACP award-winning flick include Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, and Malcolm X. You can watch Selma, rated PG-13 , on Amazon , Apple TV , and Peacock TV . Southside With You (2016)
Long before they became our country's first Black president and first lady, they were just a young couple falling in love on the south side of Chicago. The young Obama is a Harvard law student working as an associate at a law firm, who basically sweeps young attorney and our future
Becoming author off her feet on a summer day in 1989. Inspired by the love story of Barack and Michelle Obama's first date, this romance is a light-hearted feature for everyone. You can watch Southside With You, rated PG-13 , on Amazon Prime and . Vudu Glory (1989)
The Oscar-awarding winning drama, tells the story of the heroic
54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first all-Black regiments in the Union army of the Civil War. The regiment fights to be on the frontlines, fighting for a cause, this country is still arguably fighting today. “I remember walking around before that scene, just praying and calling on the spirits of all the slaves, because I didn’t know how to play it,” Denzel Washington recalled about his role to . “I was like, ‘Okay, fellas, just tell me what to do.” Washington played Private Trip, a runaway slave who joined the regiment. The 1989 role earned him his first Oscar. Spoiler alert: the end is a real tearjerker. Entertainment Tonight You can watch Glory , rated PG-13, on , Amazon Hulu , and . Starz Harriet (2019)
An extraordinary tale of one of America’s greatest heroines. Known as the “Moses of Her People,”
Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 and worked as an abolitionist, helping hundreds of slaves escape from the South through the Underground Railroad. Tubman is also considered the first African American woman to serve in the military. She worked as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. Tubman died in 1913 and was buried with military honors. The move to put her likeness on the $20 bill is currently being debated among lawmakers. But her family says the progress has been lacking.
Tony-award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo portrays Tubman in the 2019 movie. Despite the criticism of a Black British actress portraying an African American figure, she told the
TODAY show she put her heart and soul into the role and that she hoped she made people proud. “It means the world to me,” Erivo said in the 2019 interview. “She means the world to me.” Watch Harriet, rated PG-13, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Peacock TV. Just Mercy (2019)
Based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young, Black Harvard graduate and lawyer who heads to Alabama to defend cases of people wrongly condemned or poorly represented. One of his cases is Walter McMillian, a man who is sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite overwhelming evidence showing his innocence. Stevenson tirelessly fights for McMillian's life while encountering racism and discrimination. Michael B. Jordan plays Stevenson and Jamie Foxx is McMillian in the 2019 legal drama. There are some parts with strong language and violence, so parental discretion is advised.
Watch Just Mercy , rated PG-13, on Apple TV , Amazon Prime , and YouTube TV . The Hate You Give (2018)
This teen drama grapples with the current racism, police brutality, and activism themes that are in our society today. Based on the 2017 teen novel by Angie Thomas, actress Amandla Stenberg plays a young Black girl named Starr Carter, who must deal with the trauma and aftermath of her best guy friend getting murdered by a police officer in front of her. While the storyline and movie are fictional, it is inspired by true events. The character killed by police, Khalil, played by Algee Smith,
was reportedly inspired by the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, who was also murdered by an officer. Watch The Hate You Give , rated PG-13, on Amazon Prime and Hulu . Ruby Bridges (1998)
This lighthearted Disney film tells the story of Ruby Bridges. When she was 6 years old, she became the first African American to integrate her local New Orleans elementary school in 1960. Imagine being escorted by federal marshals to school with barricades and policemen to protect you from an angry mob. The real Bridges is still alive and well. Since becoming a civil rights child icon, the 67-year-old is a lifelong activist. In 1999, she established
The Ruby Bridges Foundation, which promotes tolerance and change through education. The motto of the foundation is "Racism is a grown-up disease, and we must stop using our children to spread it." Watch Ruby Bridges, rated PG, on Disney+. Dreamgirls (2006)
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose are the Dreamgirls. The musical film is fictional, but it’s loosely based on girl groups of the 60s and 70s such as
The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, and The Supremes, and their ups and downs. A parody of the Jackson 5 is also featured as well as Eddie Murphy, whose character Jimmy Early, is supposed to be inspired by James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Jackie Wilson. But the movie is also based on a Broadway musical, which was loosely based on The Supremes. You’ll be singing throughout this movie and we won’t judge if a few of the songs are added to your playlist! Watch Dreamgirls , rated PG-13, on Amazon Prime , HBO Max and Hulu . Fruitvale Station (2013) Fruitvale Station (2013) YouTube
The drama is based on the true events leading to the death of Oscar Grant, a young man and father killed in 2008 by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale district station in Oakland. The movie follows him as he crosses paths with friends, family and strangers on his last day. This is a compelling story for anyone looking to expand their education around the murder of unarmed Black men and women by police in the United States. The movie stars Michael B. Jordan and was
Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut. Parental discretion is recommended for this one. Watch Fruitvale Station, rated R, on HBO Max and Hulu. Belle (2013)
Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings to life the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race heiress in 1700s Britain. Dido was born to a captured slave mother and a captain in the Royal Navy. She played an influential role in the campaign to abolish slavery in England. She appears in a famous portrait alongside her 'sister' and companion Lady Elizabeth Murray by 18th-century artist, Johann Zoffany. “You see a biracial girl, a woman of color, who's painted slightly higher in the painting, depicted slightly higher than her white counterpart,” director Amma Asante told
NPR. “She's staring directly out at the painter, you know, with a very direct, confident eye. ... So this painting flipped tradition and everything that the 18th century told us about portraiture.” Watch Belle, rated PG, on HBO Max.
This article was originally published on
Jan. 28, 2021