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Diversifying Hollywood: 10 Movies with Black Leads

Recently, the entertainment industry has become decreasingly whitewashed: actors, musicians, and artists of color have been put into the spotlight. This being said, many films featuring black protagonists share the theme of slavery, failing to truly highlight the black experience outside of their racial struggles. Although movies and documentaries like “12 Years a Slave,” “13th,” and “Get Out” are beautiful social commentaries on racism in America, in order to truly diversify media, stories of POC must also be told outside of the scope of adversity. I want to see more black people in rom-coms, murder mysteries, and action films where they are cast not for their skin color but because of their acting skills. So, here are 10 movies starring black actors which not only expose the rooted racism in America, but are funny, uplifting, and depict black people as members of society instead of solely victims of oppression. 

  1. “Dr. Dolittle” (1998) 

One of my childhood favorites, “Dr. Dolittle” is a lighthearted comedy starring Eddie Murphy as a doctor who can talk to animals. This movie also features iconic African American Disney stars Kyla Pratt and Raven-Symoné. I love this movie because of the diverse cast, cheesy jokes, and personification of animals. Also, if you love the original film, there are four more movies in the “Dr. Dolittle” series. 

  1. “Remember the Titans” (2000)

“Remember the Titans” is probably my favorite movie of all time. Starring Denzel Washington, Donald Faison, Ryan Gosling, Hayden Panettiere, Wood Harris, and many others, this film is based on the true story of when an all white school becomes a “mixed” school and the football team must overcome their racial differences in order to win the championship. Although the racial tension in 1970s Virginia is a major theme in this movie, “Remember the Titans” is also a heart-wrenching story about friendship and teamwork. This movie needs to be seen by absolutely everyone.

3. “Black Panther” (2018)

I am not a Marvel fan, nor do I have the ability to sit through most action films, but the directors of “Black Panther” outdid themselves. From the soundtrack (which four years later I still listen to weekly), to Chadwick Boseman’s awestricking performance as one the first non-eurocentric superheroes in Marvel, to the jaw-dropping scenery in “Wakanda,” to the social commentary on the successfulness of society without the influences of white colonizers, this movie deserves all the credit it has received. I am so thankful to have seen and appreciated one of Boseman’s final performances before his heartbreaking death in 2020. “Black Panther” is a wonderful film for everyone, even those like me who fail to recognize the merit of many superhero movies. 

4. “White Chicks” (2004)

For those who need a laugh, I recommend “White Chicks.” Although slightly politically incorrect, this movie is about two undercover FBI agents (Shawn and Marlon Wayans) who dress up as white women using fake boobs, white face, and high-pitched voices in order to solve a kidnapping. This movie never fails to make me smile because the idea of two black men pretending to be valley-girls is outlandish enough to make a two hour on-going joke about.

5. “About Last Night” (2014)

As an avid rom-com binger, “About Last Night” has been a cult classic for me since middle school. I’m not a big Kevin Hart fan, but his collaboration with Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, and Joy Bryant in this goofy story about two pairs of best friends who end up dating is a classic remake of the original (all white) 1986 version of the film. With a cast of all black leads, this is the perfect rom-com to watch in honor of Black History Month. 

6. “Hidden Figures” (2016)

“Hidden Figures” is based on the true story of the female mathematicians who worked for NASA during the Space Race against Russia and ultimately aided in the successful landing of the first American orbital-spacecraft. Starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe, this film is an empowering story for all feminists, space geeks, and racial activists. I absolutely loved this movie and am blown away by how little credit Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and their all-female-African American team received for their incredible help with the launch of “Friendship 7.” 

  1. “Creed” (2015) 

My brother wanted me to watch this movie with him since it first came out, but once I realized Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone were the leads, I was easily convinced. I not only appreciate this movie for the tasteful shots of Jordan’s character, Donnie, shirtless in a boxing ring, but also because of the empowering story of a struggling athlete in this “Rocky” spinoff. I never expected to cry during a boxing movie, but “Creed” definitely is worth a watch. 

  1. “The Help” (2011) 

This movie reminds me of my late maternal grandmother who gave me a copy of the book as a kid. “The Help” is a tale of motherhood, friendship, and dealing with adversity. I love this movie because it is funny, inspiring, shocking, and so much more. With the setting of divided 1960s Mississippi, this story is about a group of African-american nannies and maids who encounter conflict with their white employers who still abide by racial standards. The majority black cast consisting of Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, and Octavia Spencer, make “The Help” a must-see for all. 

  1. “Soul” (2020)

This list wouldn’t be complete without an animated Disney-Pixar classic. As one of the newer films on this list, “Soul” is a perfect example of a story where the protagonist could’ve been white, but the directors chose to depict music teacher Joe Gardner, voiced by Jaime Foxx, as an African-American man. Not only is this film a wonderful, goofy story about music and identity, but is also a children’s movie that even adults will like. 

  1. “Girls Trip” (2017)

Finally, I recommend watching “Girls Trip.” This movie is funny, heart-wrenching, and perfect for girls’ night. With the iconic Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pickett Smith, this film is the perfect mixture of silly, sophisticated, and feminist. I absolutely adore this story about friendship and enjoy laughing over a bowl of popcorn with my mom about some of its scenes. Fun fact: this movie got me through my high school breakup.

While it is impossible to highlight the black experience without recognizing the oppression of its people, I think it’s also equally important to focus on black stories of triumph and success. Black people are so much more than the past of their ancestors and deserve to be depicted in the media as parents, athletes, lovers, mathematicians, artists, and so much more. These 10 movies are only a small selection of films with black leads which respectfully represent existence as a POC and I encourage you to explore more films of the same genre. What are some of your favorite black-led films? 

Lanaya Oliver

CU Boulder '24

Lanaya is originally from Colorado but has lived all over the world. She loves to play sports, paint, write, and bake. She is double majoring in Psychology and Spanish and dreams of becoming a sports psychologist!
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