With awards season quickly approaching, nominations are beginning to roll out – and many of the most prominent nominees are movies about Black history. After years of controversy about the lack of diversity in major award ceremonies, such as the Oscars, this is a huge step. Watching these films is the perfect way to educate yourself and to celebrate Black success!
- “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Directed by Shaka King, “Judas and the Black Messiah” takes place in the late 1960s after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It focuses on the former leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton, his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and the police interference that leads to his death. The movie demonstrates the internal conflicts that occurred within the movement and within the opposition – the protagonist being a Black FBI agent who joins the Black Panthers as an informant. The movie features a star-studded cast, such as British actor Daniel Kaluuya who portrays Hampton andis known for his work in “Get Out” and “Black Panther”. His performance in the role has already scored him a Golden Globe nomination. You can watch this film on HBO Max or in theatres.
- “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” has a similar timeline to “Judas and the Black Messiah”. It tells the story of the Chicago 7, 7 activists who were charged with inciting violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention while protesting the Vietnam War. Although the film mostly focuses upon the anti-war protestors, co-founder of the Black Panthers, Bobby Seale, was also involved in the highly politicized trial. The film demonstrates the demonization of the Black Panthers and the racism and freedom of speech violations that plagued major leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The film is available to watch on Netflix.
- “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a film based upon a play of the same name. It centers upon real-life singer Ma Rainey, whose music was popular in the 1920s. The film focuses upon her and her band as they record their first album. The film features many well-known actors such as award-winning Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. This was Boseman’s last film before his passing. He gave a stunning performance that has put him in the running for Best Actor at the 2021 Golden Globes. This is an important watch as it shines a light on the historic exploitation of Black artists and the lasting impacts of generations of racism and discrimination in the United States. The movie is also available to watch with a Netflix subscription.
- “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
Andra Day portrays the iconic Billie Holiday in this film that tells the story of an undercover sting operation conducted after her tour is suspected of smuggling narcotics. The film takes a new look at the real-life struggles and successes of one of the most celebrated African-American singers of all time. The film has been subject to several nominations, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. The movie is available on Hulu as of February 26.
- “One Night in Miami”
“One Night in Miami” follows several prominent African-American figures as they gather together in Miami for a night of discourse. The film focuses on Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X as they discuss their involvement and contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. The film takes a good look at the disagreements within the movement and the dilemma many Black figures faced in supporting the movement, out of fear that they would be subject to scrutiny from their white fans. The film is directed by Regina King, who is known for her work as an actress as well as for directing “If Beale Street Could Talk”. The movie is available now for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
It is pivotal to reflect on the deep-rooted history of racism in our country, as well as acknowledge the incredible achievements of Black Americans. These films focus on specific points of Black history that may go overlooked in history classes but are no less important. It is important to support Black directors like Regina King and Shaka King, who are able to represent these stories in the correct light – without the traditional “white-lens” that much of traditional media has been seen through. These films demonstrate that although Black history has been marked with intense hardship and pain, it has also been full of unprecedented achievements and love. It is important to remember that although February is Black History Month, it is important to maintain an appreciation for Black history and content created by Black creators all year round!