A List of Must-Watch Movies for Black History Month

Black History Month is an exceptional time to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans throughout our history. With film being an extraordinary tool for storytelling and a way to learn about the world around you, watching Black cinema is a great way to learn about Black America and the different aspects of the experience. Here are some essential movies to get started on the Black Experience:

  1. 1. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

    If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful depiction of young, black love in 1970s New York City. Based on the James Baldwin novel, it centers on Tish, played by KiKi Layne and Fonny, played by Stephan James, who are expecting a child as Fonny is in prison for a crime he didn't commit. It is a moving portrait of love, family, and both the beauty and struggle of being Black in America.

  2. 2. The Hate U Give (2018)

    What happens after you witness the death of your best friend at the hands of a police officer? In The Hate U Give, Starr Carter, played by Amandla Stenberg, balances her different worlds at school and at home, all while dealing with the pain and loss of her friend Khalil, played by Algee Smith. The film is a powerful examination of police brutality, police relations with the black community, code-switching, and interracial relationships. The Hate U Give is an essential watch in today's current climate.

    The Hate U Give is available for streaming or purchase now on Hulu and Google Play.

  3. 3. Dope (2015)  

    Set to Inglewood, California three teenagers, who have formed a bonded over 90s culture, have to get themselves out of numerous dangerous situations that they're not exactly responsible for. Malcolm and his two friends find themselves in the middle of a nightclub shooting, a gang fueled drug-war, and an incognito fratboy heist all while still in high school. Malcolm has to move wisely though, because while he's trying to save his own life, he's also applying to get into his dream school, Harvard University. Dope is a hilarious coming of age story with an amazing soundtrack and some impressive cameos from the most famous faces in music like A$AP Rocky and Tyga

    Dope is available for purchase on Prime Video and Google Play.

  4. 4. Selma (2014)

    Selma is a historical drama film by Ava Duvernay. It follows civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches for voting rights. It is all around powerfully written, directed, and acted. It's an essential movie to watch to go more in depth about the history of Civil Rights, a topic we've all learned about and is important now more than ever.

    Selma is available for purchase on Prime Video and Google Play.

  5. 5. Fruitvale Station (2013)

    The heartbreaking movie Fruitvale Station is based on a true story about Oscar Grant, a young father from Hayward, California, who was wrongfully killed down by a police officer after going to see the San Fransisco fireworks back in 2009. This story follows Oscar, played by Michael B. Jordan, as he struggles to turn his life around for his family and his young daughter. This movie is tough to watch but it has a plot that is a harsh reality for a lot of Black families in America right now. Fruitvale Station is available to stream on Prime Video.

  6. 6. Black Panther (2018)

    Does this one need an introduction? Black Panther shattered box offices records and received numerous accolades during the first year of its release. It is currently up for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards. Black Panther succeeded in being an action packed, fun-for-everyone movie, while also touching on points that the Black community has discussed for generations. Historian Nathan D.B. Connolly said Black Panther was "a powerful fictional analogy for real-life struggles" that taps into a "500-year history of African-descended people imagining freedom, land and national autonomy." This movie has certainly cemented its place as one of the most influential Black films of all time.

    Black Panther is now streaming on Netflix.

  7. 7. Dear White People (2014)

    Dear White People is a funny yet thoughtful film that perfectly captures the experience many Black students who attend PWIs (Predominately White Institutions) face. The movie, written, directed and co-produced by Justin Simien, focuses on rising racial tensions at an Ivy League school, and is told through the eyes of various Black students. The movie was later adapted into a Netflix series, which will be releasing its third season later this year. It is definitely a must see for any college student!

    Dear White People available for download on YouTube and Google Play.

  8. 8. Moonlight (2016)

    2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight is a powerful, moving portrait of a young Black boy struggling with his sexual identity. We see the movie's lead, Chiron, played at different stages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, grow up in Florida with struggles within himself as well as the physical and emotionable abuse he endures at home and school. Moonlight is based on the unpublished semi-autobiographical story by Tarell Alvin McCraney In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue. This movie is sure to stay with you after viewing.

    Moonlight is available for purchase on Prime VideoYouTube, and Netflix.

  9. 9. The Help (2011)  

    The movie, The Help, is a lighthearted comedy that tackles the controversial issue of segregation in Mississippi during the 60s. Emma Stone plays as Skeeter, the determined journalist who is focused on unearthing how Black maids are treated in the South as they assume the role of homemaker and nanny for these white families (while of course, not being paid enough). While this film manages to insert comedy into a difficult, yet truthful story, it makes sure to underline the key issue for this time period: racism. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer bring this movie to life as Aibileen and Minny, two maids afraid to have their voices be heard in a sea of very southern Jim Crow laws. This movie is based on the novel "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett and can be streamed on Hulu and Prime Video. 

  10. 10. Get Out (2017)

    Get Out is a must-watch. Jordan Peele does a phenomenal job at creating a thriller movie that calls out certain racial tensions. Chris and Rose are your typical couple, going home to meet the family one weekend. Things take an odd turn as Chris learns her family is anything but normal. Chris encounters a weirdly uncomfortable hypnotism, an offputting all-Black staff, and a shocking revelation after he finds out Rose isn't actually who she says she is. Not to read too deep into the movie's message, but viewers have speculated that Peel's mission was to depict how Black people are scouted for their "physical capabilities." This movie is a real psychological thriller and will definitely leave you on the edge of your seat. Make sure to pay close attention to the little messages sprinkled throughout the plot or you might miss something. You can stream Get Out on Hulu and Google Play.

  11. 11. Do The Right Thing (1989)

    Do The Right Thing is an American classic. Produced, directed, and written by Spike Lee, it focuses on a Brooklyn neighborhood and the racial tensions that boil under, resulting in a tragedy. It's an incredible film that makes you think and reflect on how different, if much, the world has changed since 1989 – only 31 years ago. Do The Right Thing in 1999 was deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" in its first year of eligibility by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It is also considered one of the greatest films of all time.

    Do The Right Thing is available to download on Google Play and Prime Video.

  12. 12. The Color Purple (1985)

    When talking about Black cinema, The Color Purple is sure to be mentioned. The Steven Spielberg film is a classic coming of age drama about the life of Celie Harris, played by Whoopi Goldberg, and the hardships she endured growing up. It addressed many problems African-American women faced during the early 20th Century - domestic violence, racism, incest, pedophilia, poverty, and sexism – all of which are still issues today. If there is any film you see this month, make this be it.

    The Color Purple is available on Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Black cinema is such an important perspective to explore. Happy watching and Happy Black History Month.