22 Must Watch Movies to Celebrate Black History Month
It’s Black History Month, and while remembering the past is an integral part of this month, celebrating the present and future is just as important. It feels like everyday we are living through historical events, and while injustice and racism tend to dominate the news cycle, there’s no reason to ignore the beauty of Black art being created everyday in America, particularly in filmmaking. While many other lists across the internet will contain similar blockbuster movies, I decided to search for some lesser known films, either from independent studios or directorial debuts, as well as some classics and newer movies that might get lost in the noise. From writers, to plots, to casts, these movies are here to recognize the greatness of Black art and to continually celebrate the accomplishments of Black people in this country.
If Beale Street Could Talk (Romantic Drama)
Written by James Baldwin and directed by Barry Jenkins, a young woman and her family, in 1970s Harlem, fight for the freedom of her fiance after he is falsely accused of a crime he did not commit before their child’s birth.
Do The Right Thing (Comedy Drama)
On the hottest summer day in Brooklyn in the late 80s racial tensions within a small community boil over into a deadly riot. Directed by thee Spike Lee.
BlacKkKlansman (Black Comedy Crime)
Based on a true story and directed by Spike Lee, BlacKKKlansman is set in Colorado Springs in the 1970s, as the city’s first African-American detective infiltrates and exposes a local Ku Klux Klan chapter.
Sorry To Bother You (Surreal Dark Comedy)
In the directorial debut of Boots Riley, a young black telemarketer adopts a “white voice” in order to move up in the company and to improve his situation. As conspiracies within the company arise, he is torn because choosing his friends and their protests against the company and the new life his job has given him.
Fast Color (Superhero Drama)
Fast Color follows a young woman, Ruth, a homeless wanderer with superpowers that cause earthquakes when she has seizures. On the run from a dark and shady government in a near future dystopia in the Midwest where it hasn’t rained in years, Ruth seeks to return home to her mother and the daughter that has never known her.
Dope (Comedy Drama)
Malcolm’s life in Inglewood consists of taking SATs, submitting college applications and trying to get into Harvard. His life is thrown into disarray when he discovers a gun, drugs and a phone in his bag after a party and he is put on a crash course with gangsters, dealers and shady folk all around. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa and co-produced by Forest Whitaker.
Directed by Barry Jenkins and based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight revolves around the life of Chiron in three separate acts as he wrestles with sexuality, identity, and abuse.
Killer Of Sheep (Drama)
Stan finds himself becoming numb to the emotional needs of his family as his only choice for work is at a slaughterhouse in the ghetto of Watts, Los Angeles in the 1970s. As challenges and opportunities arise, we are brought through strange episodic events that reveal the honest nature of life, especially one where choices are limited by poverty and race.
Blindspotting (Comedy Drama)
With three days left in his probabtion, Collin feels the world crumble around him as his childhood friend’s reckless behavior threatens his new freedom, he witnesses the murder of a black man at the hands of the police and he adjusts to an alien gentrified Oakland that used to be home. Former President Barack Obama named Blindspotting among his favorite films of 2018.
First Match (Drama)
Monique, hardened by years living in foster care and bouncing between homes, takes up wrestling in order to get closer to her estranged father who was just released from prison. Posing as an inspirational movie, First Match is a story about hard decisions and hard choices, a young woman having to decide if she should destroy herself for the person who deserves it the least. Directed by Hoboken native, Olivia Newman.
Tyrel joins a trip to the Catskills with his friend for a weekend birthday party with several people he doesn’t know. It becomes clear very early that he is the only black guy in the group and this weekend is gonna consist of a lot of drinking and tomfoolery. Tensions build as friendships are tested and Tyrel feels out of place amongst the party of white boys. Tyrel stars renowned actor Reginald Eurias Cathey in what would be his final film role before his death.
An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty (Semi-Animated Comedy Romance Drama)
After an artist is stood up on a date by a beautiful woman he creates a movie analyzing his past failed relationships and the divide between platonic and romantic relationships to show her. Directed by Terence Nance in his directorial debut.
Olympia (Romantic Drama)
A struggling artist comes at a crucial crossroads in her life between her responsibility to her ill mother, commiting to a relationship with her spouse and feeling left behind in her career as her friends move up. Written, produced and starring McKenzie Chinn and directed by Gregory Dixon in his directorial debut, this film is sure to warm your heart with an honest outlook on the struggles of growing up, even at 30.
The Last Black Man In San Francisco (Drama)
A young black man attempts to reclaim his childhood home, a now-expensive Victorian house in a gentrified neighborhood of San Francisco. A semi autobiographical film starring Jimmie Fails and the feature debut of director and producer Joe Talbot.
A young man, Elijah, upsets his father when he decides to pursue his dream of becoming a master sommelier instead of running the family barbeque business in Memphis. Directed by Prentice Penny, producer of HBO’s Insecure and Brooklyn 99, in his directorial debut.
Premature (Romance Drama)
On a summer night in Harlem during her last months at home before starting college, 17-year-old poet Ayanna begins a summer romance with Isaiah, a music producer who has just moved to the city.
Native Son (Drama)
A young African-American living in Chicago enters into a seductive new world of money and power after becoming a chauffeur for an affluent businessman.
Luce (Social Thriller Drama)
Adoptive parents Peter and Amy Edgar find themselves questioning if they really know their adoptive son, Luce, as events as school and within the community begin to unravel very serious, frightening issues that run deeper than they know or can begin to imagine.
One Night In Miami (Drama)
In Regina King’s directorial debut we get a look at a fictionalized meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in a room at the Hampton House in February 1964, celebrating Ali’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston.
Judas & The Black Messiah (Biographical Drama)
Judas & The Black Messiah revolves around the betrayal and assassination of Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in late-1960s Chicago, at the hands of William O’Neal, portrayed by Lakeith Stanfield, an FBI informant. Directed by Shaka King in this second full feature film and written by Newark natives Kenny & Keith Lucas.
Respect (Biographical Drama) — August 13th, 2021
Upcoming film based on the life of the late American singer, songwriter, actress, pianist, and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin, played by Jennifer Hudson and directed by South African director Liesl Tommy.
The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (Biographical Drama) — February 26th, 2021
Based on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday follows an undercover sting operation led by the Federal Department of Narcotics and Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher against jazz musician Billie Holiday. Directed by Lee Daniels, director of Precious and The Butler.
Watched a movie on this list and loved it? Have a suggestion? Comment below! Check out our article here on Jersey City & Black History Month.