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12 must watch films for Black History Month

Youtube.com/ Race - Official Trailer

It’s currently Black History Month in the US and Canada. Black History Month is an annual observance in the US, Canada, and the UK (which celebrates it in October) to recognize and celebrate the history and achievements of the African diaspora around the world. It also serves as an opportunity to have important conversations on racial inequalities that still exist today.

Here are a few amazing films that highlight different narratives of black history and identity that you can watch in theaters or stream online at home in honor of Black History Month.


1) Race (2016)

Race is a biopic film about Jesse Owens, the famed track and field athlete who endured racial discrimination and adversity on his way to winning 4 gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, a record that remained unbroken for 48 years. Despite his victory, Owens couldn’t even sit in the front of a bus when he returned home to the US. Race opens in theaters on Friday, February 19th.

2)  The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013)

This award winning PBS documentary hosted by Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is long but a must watch. The six part series covers the history of the African American experience from the colonial era to the Civil Rights Movement and modern day, while going beyond just the facts to provide a range of cultural and social perspectives.

3) Girlhood (2014)

Selected to open the 2014 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight, this French film depicts a young girl’s coming of age and provides a fresh look into growing up black and poor in a Paris housing project. Girlhood reminds viewers that girls’ and women’s empowerment is a universal issue.

4) American Promise (2013)

American Promise follows two boys navigating the US education system over a span of 13 years. The documentary highlights the persistent educational achievement gap that affects African Americans across all socioeconomic levels.

5) Malcolm X (1992)

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X stars Denzel Washington as one of black history’s most revolutionary leaders. This famous biopic chronicles the activist’s life up until his assassination in 1965.

6) Black in Latin America (2011)

While much of mainstream media focuses on the African diaspora in the US, Black in Latin America explores the impact of African culture on countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba that share a legacy of colonialism and slavery.

7) Dear White People (2014)

Dear White People tells the story of a group of black college students who grapple with issues of race, sexual orientation, and what it’s like to not fit in at a predominantly white university. The film, which won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, brings much needed attention to racial tension that exist on college campuses in the 21st century.

8) Good Hair (2009)

Good Hair is an informative documentary wrapped in humor. The film produced by and starring comedian Chris Rock explores black hair culture and the 9 billion dollar industry behind it. Rock was inspired to make the film after his daughter asked him why she didn’t have “good hair.”

9)  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Idris Elba stars in this film about the story of the anti-apartheid leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom takes a global look at how racism and colonization have affected black people around the world.

10) Dark Girls (2011)

Dark Girls examines the often less discussed issue of colorism within beauty and fashion and the prejudices that dark-skinned girls and women face globally.

11) Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

This Oscar-nominated and Michelle Obama endorsed movie tells an uplifting yet nuanced story of poverty and resilience through the eyes of a six year old in the rural southern US. It stars the adorable Quvenzhané Wallis, who made history as the youngest Best Actress nominee for an Oscar. Michelle Obama said the film “shows the strength of communities and the power they give others to overcome obstacles.”

12) The Black List (2010)

The Black List is a series of interviews featuring important figures in contemporary Black America across a variety of disciplines including music, film, politics, and business. Tyler Perry, Colin Powell, Toni Morrison, and Angela Davis amongst others discuss the progress African Americans have made as well as the current issues the community faces.


Black History Month originated as a way to challenge the myth that black people didn’t have a history. In order to address modern day injustices, it’s important to make black stories more visible and recognize the diverse experiences of people who we often don’t get to hear about in everyday media. Though black history cannot be defined as one thing, films can share new perspectives and stories that expand understanding. So grab some popcorn and queue up these films to get started!