Celebrating Black History Month with some classic movies is one of our favorite ways to honor the lives and history of those before us. However, with the ever-growing number of Black-centric films today, it’s hard to determine which flicks are best enjoyed during this period.
Not sure which film to start with? We’ve got you covered. Here are ten of our favorite Black History Month movies to enjoy during this historic month – or anytime throughout the year!
1. “Hidden Figures” (2016)
Starting our list of the best Black History Month movies is 2016’s “Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi and starring a massively talented trio of Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson. The film tells the true story of three Black mathematicians at NASA who were integral to the United States space program.
These inspiring women command your attention, and their accomplishments are more than celebrated in this inspiring, mesmerizing film. It’s one of our favorite movies to start Black History Month – and we’re sure you’ll love it too.
2. “Malcolm X” (1992)
This biopic about legendary civil rights activist Malcolm X is a must-watch for Black History Month. Directed by the iconic Spike Lee, “Malcolm X” tells the true story of the leader’s life, from his early origins to his conversion to Islam and his ultimate assassination. It’s a harrowing but necessary watch and one of our favorite performances from Denzel Washington. If you’re looking for a film that truly honors the people who fought to get where we are today, “Malcolm X” is right up your alley.
3. “Selma” (2014)
Next on our list of the best Black History Month movies to watch and educate yourself is the incredible 2014 film “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay. The film chronicles Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight to receive equal voting rights for Black citizens in a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, the capital city. This honest portrayal of the historic march is beyond inspiring, and we love “Selma” more with every rewatch.
4. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (2021)
Directed by Lee Daniels, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” tells the story of iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday as the Federal Department of Narcotics targets her for her heroin use. The case occurs because of an undercover sting operation led by Jimmy Fletcher, whom Holiday had an affair with.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” earns its spot on our list for several reasons, from Andra Day’s powerful performance as the singing legend to the film’s honest portrayal of the life of one of our favorite singers. If you’re looking for an engaging and memorable biography, check out this film during Black History Month.
5. “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021)
If you’re looking to watch a film whose performers can only be described as absolute powerhouses, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is one of your best options. Directed by Shaka King and starring Daniel Kaluuya – who won an Academy Award for this part – “Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the true story of the leader of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois Chapter, Fred Hampton.
Unbeknownst to Hampton, the FBI has made a plea deal with William O’Neal, who infiltrates the party to collect information on Hampton. It’s a tense watch, but one that we can’t look away from for the film’s entire runtime, and it is a film we think you’ll feel the same about.
6. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020)
With jaw-dropping performances from Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is undoubtedly one of the best Black History Month movies you can watch to celebrate the life and legacy of some of our favorite Black legends.
Telling the story of Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” takes place in Chicago in 1927 as Ma Rainey’s band gathers at a recording studio. Tensions rise on this turbulent day as the proclaimed “Mother of the Blues” faces challenges during her recording session. It’s a tense, mesmerizing watch, an excellent tribute to the real-life Ma Rainey, and a stellar final performance for Chadwick Boseman.
7. “Bessie” (2015)
If you love biopics and haven’t gotten your fill of the blues from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the next film on your list should be 2015’s “Bessie.” Directed by Dee Rees and starring Queen Latifah in one of her most powerful roles, “Bessie” tells the story of 20th-century blues performer Bessie Smith and her amazing rise to stardom.
While we love true stories of Black legends, one of the best parts about “Bessie” is undeniably Queen Latifah, and without her presence, “Bessie” wouldn’t be as iconic as it is today. If you’re in the mood for a movie that’s truly led by its mesmerizing performances, you have to add “Bessie” to your list of Black History Month movies.
8. “12 Years a Slave” (2013)
If you’re prepared for a tough watch that still manages to shine a light on the resilience of Black people, “12 Years a Slave” needs to be added to your watchlist. Winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture, “12 Years a Slave” chronicles the story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who is abducted in upstate New York and sold into slavery in the South.
There’s no doubt that “12 Years a Slave” is a horrifying and harrowing story, and we won’t pretend that the film is easy to watch – but it is incredibly powerful and tells a piece of Black history that cannot and should not be forgotten. If you’re prepared for some uncomfortable scenes, we can’t recommend “12 Years a Slave” enough.
9. “Loving” (2016)
Chronicling the true story of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving, “Loving” is a must-watch for anyone looking to celebrate Black history during this month. Directed by Jeff Nichols, “Loving” depicts Mildred and Richard’s battle against laws criminalizing interracial marriage, showing the power of fighting for who you love and what you believe in.
The case of Mildred and Richard Loving must be told, especially since their legal battle culminated in the Supreme Court’s historic decision in 1967 to legalize interracial marriage nationally. It’s a powerful story of the fight for equal rights, what we’ll do for the people we love most, and one that helps preserve a history we can’t lose.
10. “Ali” (2001)
Rounding out our list of the best Black History Month movies to educate and inspire people is 2001’s “Ali,” directed by Michael Mann and starring Will Smith as the legendary Muhammad Ali. This biography follows the sports icon over 10 years in his life between 1964 and 1974, including all his wins and controversies during the period.
“Ali” is the perfect watch for anyone who is a fan of this legend but also manages to connect with audiences who are less familiar with Muhammad Ali’s historic career. “Ali” is all the better for its amazing performances, which truly cement the film as a must-watch during Black History Month.
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