Movies to Watch for Black History Month

Celebrate Black History Month with these educational, emotional, and true stories about what life is and was like for the black community. 

Also Read: 15 Books You Need to Read for Black History Month

Movies to Watch for Black History Month

Roots 

Based on a best-selling book, the movie Roots shows the cruelty, brutal oppression, and despair that slaves had to endure throughout their lives. From being kidnapped and taken away from their families to the unfair punishment and treatment they were given, Roots shows the violence and degradation that was endured by the slaves and people of color for so many years. 

Malcolm X 

A leader in the civil rights movement, Malcolm X is a force to be reckoned with and wants nothing more than for Black Americans to protect themselves and take a stance on racism and white aggression. Malcolm X was also a minister and a supporter of Black Nationalism who was often at odds with those who wanted a nonviolent approach to ending racism because he believed it should be done “by any means necessary”. Based on a true story, Malcolm X is played by Denzel Washington and tells the story of the Black Nationalist leader whose journey, struggles, and influence still impacts the world today.

Hidden Figures 

Based on true-life stories of three women who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history, Hidden Figures is a movie the whole family will enjoy. 

The story tells the journey of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson as they quickly rose the ranks of NASA when the US and Russa were racing to put a man into space. Known as the “human calculators”, their brilliance quickly rose them to the top ranks in NASA. The brilliance and determination these women had helped launch the astronaut John Glenn into space and would later help bring him home safely. 

One Night in Miami 

One Night in Miami is set on the night of February 25, 1964, and follows the story of Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali), the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World who has shocked the sports world with his power. However, due to the segregation laws, Clay can’t stay on the island, so he spends the evening at a motel in Miami’s African American Overtown neighborhood. There, he celebrated with three of his closest friends: Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X. That night formed the start of a movement for blacks to defend and stand up for their rights to be treated fairly and to move the country to a world filled with equality and empowerment for all black people. 

The Color Purple 

Following the life of Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg), The Color Purple is based on the novel that was written by Alice Walker. Based in the early 20th century, the story tells the traumatic life of Celie, a young girl who is growing up in the South in poverty, and touches on a few serious themes including incest, abuse, sexism, and racism. While the movie is very raw and serious, it also includes positive messages about the importance of overcoming oppression and getting the courage to stand up for yourself.

12 Years a Slave 

Based on a memoir of Solomon Northup in the 1850s, 12 Years a Slave is a must-see movie that follows the life of a free black man who was born in New York State and kidnapped in Washington D.C. to be sold into slavery. After being taken away from everything that he loves, for the next 12 years, Solomon worked on plantations in Louisiana facing cruelty by his slave owner and others while struggling to stay alive until he unexpectedly meets with a Canadian abolitionist that forever changes his life and is finally released.

Selma 

The journey of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s campaign to secure equal voting rights for the black community is the story of Selma. It is a true story that chronicles the movement of his famous march from Selma to Montgomery, the troubles he endured fighting for his beliefs, and the violent opposition that he faced throughout his journey of securing equal voting rights for the black community. Today, the march from Selma to Montgomery is one of the most well-known historic events and helped bring in one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Marshall 

The story of Thurgood Marshall, who was a young lawyer for the NAACP but then gets an unfamiliar case that he must fight. The unfamiliar case is a criminal case that has accused a black chauffeur of the rape of a wealthy white society woman. Marshall, who goes up against a racist judge that forbids him to speak in court because of his color, relies on insurance lawyer Sam Friedman to act as lead counsel.  Throughout the trial, Friedman comes to experience the kind of racism, pressure, and oppression that blacks have endured for many years. The truth does finally come out about whether the events really happened, but there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns. That case becomes a defining moment for both lawyers. The movie also takes you on an inspiring journey of why and how Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

Harriet 

Harriet is a must-watch movie that follows the remarkable story of Harriet Tubman and her escape from slavery. An iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman is one of America’s greatest heroes. Harriet Tubman not only escaped slavery herself but also helped free hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad and its secret routes and safe houses.  Her courage and strength would help change the course of history and have her become of America’s greatest heroes that everyone should know about.

Judas and the Black Messiah 

Released in 2021, Judas and the Black Messiah is a true story about FBI informant William O’Neal, a career criminal who has taken a plea deal with the government. As part of his plea deal, he needs to infiltrate the Illinois Black Panther Party to gather information on its leader, Chairman Fred Hampton. While inside, O’Neal is troubled with the decision on whether to take down The Black Panthers like the FBI wishes or to fight along with them.

13th 

13th” is a documentary that brings you a real-life look at the prison system and those who are incarcerated in America. It also explores the history of racial inequality, the civil rights movement, and the war on drugs in the United States, focusing on the reality that our prisons are filled with more African Americans than any other race. 

Detroit 

Set in 1967, Detroit tells the true story of the rioting and civil unrest the city in Michigan was facing at that time. This story tells the true events of a police raid on an unlicensed bar where several policemen go rogue and begin forcefully and viciously taking control to get confessions from the black community and do more harm than good. Also known as the 12th Street Riot, the movie goes in-depth on the racism and the actions of the corrupt cops that sent the city into a five-day riot. This riot would claim several lives due to the confrontation between Detroit’s Black residents and the all-white Detroit Police Department.

Ruby Bridges 

A movie that every child should watch, Ruby Bridges gives us hope, courage, and a real look at what black children had to endure in order to get an education. Based on true events, the story takes place in 1960, where Ruby Bridges is a six-year-old black girl who was chosen to be the first student to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Each day Ruby faced a crowd of angry white townspeople, parents who would take their children out of school so that they wouldn’t have to sit by a black child, and the true ugliness of racism. Guided by the love of her parents, and encouragement from her white teacher, Ruby pushes through all the negativity, threats, name-calling, and hurtful experiences in order to get an education and break a barrier. This would soon prove to be a crucial moment in the civil rights movement and give hope and strength to others.

The Tuskegee Airmen 

The Tuskegee Airmen is about the first all-African American Air Force squadron of pilots that was put together during World War II. The men were constantly forced to endure harassment, prejudice, and unfair treatment behind the scenes due to the color of their skin until they were able to prove themselves in combat. With the success of the missions the group took part in, the Tuskegee Airmen developed a reputation of being a fearsome group of pilots that showed the world they had what it took.

Southside With You

Southside With You shares the story of one special date between the young future President of the United States and a lawyer by the name of Michelle Robinson, the future First Lady, across Chicago’s South Side. That first date took place in 1989 and would lead to a budding and envious relationship that everyone would come to love and respect. 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about Nelson Mandela. Maybe not so much his journey to get where he was, but more of the person he was and everything he stood for. The movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is based on the autobiography of missionary Nelson Mandela. It follows his journey from being an activist, which would lead him to become a prisoner, to his fight and accomplishment of becoming President of South Africa. 

Freedom Riders

Originally a book, Freedom Riders shows the world more about the story of the civil rights activists who launched a peaceful protest against the segregation that took place on buses and trains in the 1960s. Over 400 Americans participated in the nonviolent protests that took place throughout the South suffering beatings, harsh racism, and even imprisonment. The journey they took would open a lot of eyes and help make a change. 

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro, delves into the lives of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. This movie is based on an unfinished book that was started by James Baldwin. The book, which was titled “Remember This House” was a personal account of the lives and assassinations of the three-history-making black Americans that would help the civil rights movement. 

There are so many good movies to watch during Black History Month. These are just a few of them that will help tell the stories, truths, and experiences that the black community has had to face and continue to face.

Also Read: Ways to Honor Black History Month

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