Black History Month is a time to celebrate and honor the achievements, contributions, and culture of Black individuals and communities throughout history. It’s also a time to educate ourselves and broaden our perspectives by learning more about the Black experience. One of the ways we can do this is through film, seeing as movies can provide a truly powerful and impactful way to understand different perspectives and experiences.
We’ve put together a list of 28 films for Black History Month that celebrate black history and culture. From biopics to dramas, comedies to thrillers, these films will give you a glimpse into the diversity and richness of the culture and community.
So sit back, grab some popcorn, and get ready to immerse yourself in the world of these entertaining, thought-provoking, and inspiring films.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Dir. Shaka King
If you’re looking for a relatively recent film to watch during Black History Month that explores the Civil Rights Movement, Judas and the Black Messiah is the one to watch.
Based on a true story, petty thief William O’Neal is offered a plea deal by the FBI to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton.
Read More: 3 Screenwriting Lessons You Can Learn From Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah
Hidden Figures (2016)
Dir. Theodore Melfi
One excellent way to celebrate Black History Month is by honoring the brilliant black women who changed the course of space exploration.
Hidden Figures does that by examining three African-American women at NASA, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The three serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.
Dir. Spike Lee
Another great addition to any Black History Month movie marathon — and yet another one based on a true story.
BlackKklansmen tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman, into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.
One Night in Miami… (2020)
Dir. Regina King
On the night of Feb. 25, 1964, in Miami, Cassius Clay joins Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X, and they discuss the responsibility of being successful black men during the civil rights movement.
Dead Presidents (1995)
Dir. Albert Hughes & Allen Hughes
In the spring of 1969, Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) is about to graduate from high school. However, Anthony is not going to college, but needing to get away from home to find himself, he enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school. He is sent to Vietnam, leaving behind a middle-class family, a pregnant girlfriend, Juanita (Rose Jackson), and a small-time crook, Kirby (Keith David), who is like a second father to Anthony but is also a small-time gangster, operating in the immediate neighborhood.
Dir. John Singleton
The best private pathologist in Miami, Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Jr., whose rare heart condition that could kill him at any moment fuels his lust for life, gives a second opinion when friends or family of the deceased are not satisfied with official police findings. His state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction, and quick wit are his main tools. He also relies and depends on his trusty assistants and cute couple, Pippy and TMI, and works with no-nonsense detective Annalise Villa, who doesn’t always go strictly by the book, to see the case to its conclusion.
Dir. Edward Zwick
Following the Battle of Antietam, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is offered command of the United States’ first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. With junior officer Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), Shaw puts together a strong and proud unit, including the escaped slave Trip (Denzel Washington) and the wise gravedigger John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman). At first limited to menial manual tasks, the regiment fights to be placed in the heat of battle.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Dir. F. Gary Gray
In 1987, five young men, using brutally honest rhymes and hardcore beats, put their frustration and anger about life in the most dangerous place in America into the most powerful weapon they had: their music. Taking us back to where it all began, Straight Outta Compton tells the true story of how these cultural rebels-armed only with their lyrics, swagger, bravado and raw talent-stood up to the authorities that meant to keep them down and formed the world’s most dangerous group, N.W.A. And as they spoke the truth that no one had before and exposed life in the hood, their voice ignited a social revolution that is still reverberating today.
Dir. Ava DuVernay
You can’t celebrate Black History Month without honoring the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — and director Ava DuVernay truly does so in her 2014 film Selma.
The unforgettable true story chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. DuVernay’s Selma tells the story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Dir. Steve McQueen
Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty personified by a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive but to retain his dignity. Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist in the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey will forever alter his life.
Dir. Rebecca Hall
Irene Redfield, a refined, upper-class 1920s woman, finds breezy refuge from a hot summer day in the grand tearoom of New York City’s Drayton Hotel. Across the room, she spots a blond woman staring her down, Clare. Clare invites Irene back to the hotel where she is staying with her husband, John, on his business trip. Clare explains that after her father died, she was raised by two white aunts and married him very young. They are interrupted by John, who openly despises and degrades African-Americans, unaware of his wife’s racial background or that Irene is “passing” for the day.
Dir. Denzel Washington
Like most families, everyone has personal demons or secrets that they try to either suppress or conceal in hopes of retaining a sense of normalcy. The movie sheds light on various themes such as family dynamics, personal truths, and above all the power of forgiveness. Fences is a film about an emotionally damaged man who struggles with his past while at the same time trying to provide for his family. However as we dive deeper into the story of Troy Maxon, suppressed emotions and family secrets that were once concealed are now brought to light and test the family dynamics of the Maxon family.
The Hate U Give (2018)
Dir. George Tillman Jr.
Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.
Dir. Barry Jenkins
A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami. His epic journey to manhood is guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that helps raise him.
Dir. Trey Edward Shults
Set against the vibrant landscape of South Florida, and featuring an astonishing ensemble of award-winning actors and breakouts alike, Waves traces the epic emotional journey of a suburban African-American family – led by a well-intentional but domineering father – as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a loss. From acclaimed director Trey Edward Shults, Waves is a heartrending story about the universal capacity for compassion and growth even in the darkest of times.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Dir. Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, & Rodney Rothman
Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into the one and only Spider-Man. When he meets Peter Parker, he soon realizes that there are many others who share his special, high-flying talents. Miles must now use his newfound skills to battle the evil Kingpin, a hulking madman who can open portals to other universes and pull different versions of Spider-Man into our world.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Dir. Boots Riley
In an alternate reality of present-day Oakland, Calif., telemarketer Cassius Green finds himself in a macabre universe after he discovers a magical key that leads to material glory. As Green’s career begins to take off, his friends and co-workers organize a protest against corporate oppression. Cassius soon falls under the spell of Steve Lift, a cocaine-snorting CEO who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.
Get Out (2017)
Dir. Jordan Peele
Chris and his girlfriend Rose go upstate to visit her parents for the weekend. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship. However, as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could never have imagined.
Dir. Lee Daniels
Pregnant by her own father for the second time, 16-year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) can neither read nor write and suffers constant abuse at the hands of her vicious mother (Mo’Nique). Precious instinctively sees a chance to turn her life around when she is offered the opportunity to transfer to an alternative school. Under the patient, firm guidance of her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Precious begins the journey from oppression to self-determination.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Dir. Benh Zeitlin
Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink’s tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.
Body and Soul (1925)
Dir. Oscar Micheaux
An escaped prisoner seeks refuge in the predominantly African-American town of Tatesville, Georgia, by passing himself off as the Rt. Reverend Isaiah T. Jenkins. He is joined in town by a fellow criminal, and the pair scheme to swindle the phony reverend’s congregation of their offerings. Jenkins falls in love with a young member of his congregation, Isabelle Perkins, even though she is in love with a poor young man named Sylvester, who happens to be Jenkins’ long-estranged identical twin brother. Jenkins steals money from Martha Jane, Isabelle’s mother, and convinces the young woman to take the blame for his crime.
She flees to Atlanta and dies just as her mother locates her. Before dying, Isabelle reveals to her mother that Jenkins raped her and that he is the one who took her mother’s money. She explains that she did not speak up before because she knew her mother would not believe her.
Returning to Tatesville, Martha Jane confronts Jenkins in front of the congregation. Jenkins flees and during a twilight struggle he kills a man who tries to bring him to justice. The following morning, Martha Jane awakens and realizes the episode with Jenkins was only a dream. She provides Isabelle (who is not dead) and Sylvester with the funds to start a married life together.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Dir. John Singleton
Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is sent to live with his father, Furious Styles (Larry Fishburne), in tough South Central Los Angeles. Although his hard-nosed father instills proper values and respect in him, and his devout girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long) teaches him about faith, Tre’s friends Doughboy (Ice Cube) and Ricky (Morris Chestnut) don’t have the same kind of support and are drawn into the neighborhood’s booming drug and gang culture, with increasingly tragic results.
Dir. Rick Famuyiwa
A coming-of-age comedy/drama for the post-hip-hop generation. Malcolm is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, CA filled with gangsters and drug dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews, and the SAT. His dream is to attend Harvard. A chance invitation to a big underground party leads Malcolm and his friends into an “only in Los Angeles” gritty adventure filled with offbeat characters and bad choices. If Malcolm can persevere, he’ll go from being a geek to being dope to ultimately being himself.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Dir. Spike Lee
Salvatore “Sal” Fragione (Danny Aiello) is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria’s Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin’ Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin’ Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.
Dir. Dee Rees
Teenage Alike (Adepero Oduye) lives in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood with her parents (Charles Parnell, Kim Wayans) and younger sister (Sahra Mellesse). A lesbian, Alike quietly embraces her identity and is looking for her first lover, but she wonders how much she can truly confide in her family, especially with her parents’ marriage already strained. When Alike’s mother presses her to befriend a colleague’s daughter (Aasha Davis), Alike finds the gal to be a pleasant companion.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Dir. Ryan Coogler
Ryan Coogler tells the heart-wrenching true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant who was gunned down by BART police in Fruitvale Station while in custody. Flashbacks reveal the last day in Oscar’s life, in which he accompanied his family and friends to San Francisco to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and, on the way back home, became swept up in an altercation with police that ended in tragedy.
Black Girl (1966)
Dir. Ousmane Sembene
If celebrating Black History Month means celebrating black cinema as well, you can’t do so without watching Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl. This film tells the story of a Senegal nursery maid who returns to France with her white employers. But in France she finds their relationship altered. She is a housemaid, not a nurse, and the countless petty cruelties of the day pile up against her overwhelming loneliness for Dakar.
Malcolm X (1992)
Dir. Spike Lee
A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his imprisonment in the ’50s, he became a Black Muslim and then a leader in the Nation of Islam. His assassination in 1965 left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride.
What movies are you watching to commemorate Black History Month?
Read More: How to Bring Diversity and Representation to Your Script