From Harriet Tubman to Malcolm X: Eight Recent Black History Movies That Dive Deep into Black Icons

A black man and black woman standing back to back as elements of black history

Cinema can do a lot for us. Movies are more than just about entertainment. In fact, some movies aim to do more than just inspire. Some of the best movies aim to educate and inform, too. Movies can take us into history and allow us to gain new perspectives and a deeper understanding. There’s perhaps nothing more cathartic than taking in a great film, feeling inspired, and having learned something new. That’s why we’re exploring 8 Black history movies that take a deep look into Black history and explore iconic lives. From Harriet Tubman to Malcolm X, here are our top 8 picks for Black history movies.

“Harriet” (2019)

After escaping from slavery, Harriet Tubman was an instrumental agent of the anti-slavery effort. She helped rescue scores of enslaved people throughout 13 missions and embarked on as part of The Underground Railroad. “Harriet,” a 2019 historical biographical film, explores the story of her life, showing viewers how she risked everything to seek safety and her freedom.

The film explores how Tubman became “Moses” for The Underground Railroad, helping deliver other enslaved people to freedom. This film takes a candid look at the atrocities and nearly unspeakable horrors that people such as Harriet Tubman faced under American slavery.

“Malcolm X”(1992)

Malcolm X was an incredibly important figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Malcolm X was an avid figure who fought diligently to protect the rights of Black and Muslim Americans during the mid-20th century and has been credited with laying the foundation for various Black pride movements. Malcolm X had a strong faith and spoke to the unifying power of Islam in his own life.

The film “Malcolm X” documents much of his life, including his eventual disillusionment with the Nation of Islam and embrace of the unifying power of Islam amid his pilgrimage to Mecca.

“Till” (2022)

“Till” follows the story of young Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie, who stopped at nothing to effect change after her son’s death. The story of Emmett Till is as heartbreaking and infuriating as it is important to understanding American history. In 1955, Till, at the young age of 14, was brutally tortured and murdered by a violent lynch mob after being accused of making remarks to a white woman in a store. Despite the fact that the woman later admitted to having lied in her testimony and the horrendous nature of the crimes committed against young Emmet Till, an all-white jury found the perpetrators innocent.

This case sparked outrage across the country, and thanks to Emmett’s mother’s bravery in opting for an open casket, Americans were forced to face a small part of the reality of her pain. The film follows her story and shines a spotlight on her incredible bravery in the face of unspeakable suffering.

“12 Years A Slave” (2013)

“12 Years A Slave,” tells the harrowing true story of a man who, in 1841, had been living as a free man with his family in Washington D.C., where slave trading was illegal at the time, but where owning slaves was not. The film is based on the slave memoir of the same name, originally published in 1853.

The film follows the story of Solomon Northup as he is kidnapped and taken into slavery, where he was brutally and inhumanely tortured and forced to work for over a decade, during which time his family knew not of his whereabouts until his rescue 12 years later. This film serves as a stark reminder of the cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of American slavery.

“MLK/FBI” (2020)

It’s long been suspected, and to some extent, known, that the FBI targeted Martin Luther King Jr. — one of the most prolific and influential voices in the American civil rights movement, and a powerful voice that spoke to the power of nonviolence. Now, declassified documents shed light on the various ways in which the FBI, under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover harassed, targeted, and undermined Dr. King’s powerful message of peace and unity.

“MLK/FBI,” explores the conspiracy to silence dissent and sheds light on how the FBI worked to target Dr. King.

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (2022)

Rosa Parks is, perhaps, most famous for her refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. However, Parks was an avid warrior for civil rights for much of her life, and her refusal to give up her bus seat was only one example of the numerous ways she fought for equality.

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” attempts to explore the myriad ways in which Parks contributed to the civil rights movement, including her investigations of attacks on black women.

“Between the World and Me” (2020)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a powerful voice in literature, has published several works that explore Black struggles and issues in America. “Between The World and Me” is named for Coates’ novel of the same name, which is written as a letter to Coates’ son. The film includes readings from the novel, visual aspects, and music, bringing his words to life on-screen.

The documentary is a powerful way to celebrate Coates as an author and explore the issues with being Black in America that the narrative illuminates.

“Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” (2017)

Dr. Angelou was a prolific author who created everything from poetry and memoirs to essays and whose work has graced all kinds of screens. Maya Angelou’s poetry is both sharp and optimistic, at once exploring painful themes and hopeful ones. “And Still I Rise,” named for one of her more famous collections of poems, which includes “Still I Rise”, combines yet-unseen footage of her life with her own words to create a powerful experience.

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When it comes to exploring history, films are often able to do so in a way that does more than just touch on events and people. Black history movies such as these can offer us new insight, bring the issues of our past to life on screen, and help underscore the raw emotions that those who came before us might’ve felt. If you’re looking for some amazing Black history movies that will help you understand the world in new ways, there are many great films to jump into. These are our top 8, but there are so many more.

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