To help you get ready for Black History Month, I want to give you five movies that you should definitely check out. What's interesting about this list is that it may not be exactly what you expect. (Sorry, no slave narratives this time.) I know Black History hasn't always been the most positive in America, and there are some ugly truths about our history that make us rather uncomfortable. So with this list, my goal is to demonstrate that a lot of what we deem as "black history" really is just American history.
5. 'Malcolm X' (1992)
Well, the title speaks for itself. If you've never read the autobiography of Malcolm X (which I recommend you do), then you should definitely check out Spike Lee's Malcolm X. The film is based on the life of Malcolm X, and as you may know it also deals with many of the challenges Malcolm faced during his life and his fight for civil rights in the 1960s. Besides the historical significance this film tackles, this is probably one of Denzel Washington's most defining projects. You can stream or purchase it on DVD here.
4. 'Selma' (2015)
At first glance, one may think that Selma is just another movie about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While he was obviously a central figure, the film is about the Civil Rights marches in Selma that later changed America. Director Ava DuVernay does a marvelous job at showing her interpretation of the events that transpired in Selma, Alabama, 1965.
It's definitely a tough movie to watch without feeling emotional afterwards. I think that there are two key takeaways for this film. The first being that only 50 years ago, people of color were facing similar issues that many still encounter today. The second being that if we all learn to hear and understand one another, we can come together as a people to fight for peace and justice. Selma can be streamed or purchased on Blu-Ray DVD.
3. 'Loving' (2016)
Loving is based on the true story of the interracial marriage between Richard and Mildred Loving. It follows their account between the late 1950s to 1960s in a small town in Virginia. Throughout the film, we get to see the various trials and challenges the couple faces for simply being married while the laws of the land strictly prohibit it. It leads the couple to taking their case all the way to the US Supreme Court and effectively change history. This is not only a great story about love and triumph, but it's essentially a great story about American History as well. Loving can be streamed or purchased on Blu-Ray DVD.
2. 'I Am Not Your Negro' (2017)
If you're not familiar with who James Baldwin is, well, you're welcome. He is probably one of the most insightful and prolific writers in decades. (Do yourself a favor and read anything he's ever written.) I Am Not Your Negro is based on the unfinished manuscript Remember This House, which Baldwin was unable to complete due to his death in 1987. The documentary is director Raoul Peck's vision of the manuscript, and it is also narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
The film takes a look at the Civil Rights struggle after the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers all from Baldwin's perspective. The documentary has already won some acclaim by winning the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Best Documentary/Non-Fiction feature. It's also made the shortlist of Oscar nominations for best documentary in this year's Academy Awards. I Am Not Your Negro releases in theaters February 3, 2017.
1. 'Hidden Figures' (2016)
Do the names Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan or Mary Jackson ring any bells? No? Well, don't feel bad. They weren't exactly the most famous names in many history books either. However, I'm more than positive you've heard about NASA right? Well in the 1960s, these three women helped the NASA program in remarkable ways, especially in calculating the flight trajectories for the 1969 moon landing. This amazing true story is a perfect example as to just one of the many accounts in "Black History" that should really just be considered as "American History." The film was great and had awesome performances by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Hidden Figures is still in theaters (as of 1/25/2017).
Honorable Mention: 'Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise' (2015)
All too often in our history classes, we tend to think that after Dr. King fought for civil rights everything was just fine for people of color. Unfortunately, that wasn't necessarily the case. While some victories were indeed won, many challenges still lay ahead. In this documentary, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a comprehensive look at the events that have transpired after the death of Dr. King that affect people of color today. Watching this documentary alone will probably open up your eyes in ways you could never imagine. You can obtain the documentary here.
You can also watch the video for this article right here:
What do you recommend? Do you have any other recommendations for films to watch for Black History Month? List them in the comments below.