Black History Month is the perfect time to watch some of our favorite movies starring, written by, or directed by Black artists. I selected a range of movies starring Black actors that have one or all of these criteria: depict a Black historical event or figure, are innovative and creative, made history because of their impact, or they are just some fun films. Hidden Figures is one of the films highlighted in this post because it tells a story not often told in pop culture, the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, Black women who helped NASA during the John Glenn space launch.
It’s stories like Hidden Figures that are great reminders of how there is plenty of wonderful Black History Month content that inform, inspire, and ignite a thirst to hear and see more stories like these. For this Black History Month list, I tried to vary the films as much as possible, including movies in different genres, and though most of the films on this list have come out in the last few years, there are some made prior to the 2000s.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Hidden Figures stars Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer. Theodore Melfi co-wrote and directed this film loosely based on the true-life story of the African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during a key time in U.S. space advancement.
Hidden Figures is an empowering film that highlights three women whose contributions had a huge impact on American history. This is a great film to watch during Black History Month because it is a celebration of Black women and all they can achieve when given the opportunity. Hidden Figures also has great performances by the entire cast.
One Night In Miami (2020)
Regina King directed One Night in Miami, a fictionalized account of a meeting between Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) in 1964. Their conversation involves discussing their careers, racism in America, and their duties to help or inspire Black people during this peak time in the Civil Rights Movement.
Though fictionalized, One Night in Miami is a fascinating look at four important Black figures, and all though set mainly at a hotel, the film gives a clear picture of this time period and obstacles faced by these men because of their race and beliefs. One Night in Miami is a good film to watch during Black History Month because it may inspire you to learn more about these historical figures and ones like them.
Get Out (2017)
Get Out is Jordan Peele’s new horror classic. It follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) as he goes off to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Rose (Allison William) and her family. Chris soon learns that this might not be the nice, liberal family that he expected.
Get Out has become such a huge hit because it’s a story told really well that many can relate to. It also addresses race-based issues in a way that’s easy for most people to digest, so they can find a connection to the subject. Black History Month isn’t just about looking at the past, but also about addressing some present issues facing Black people and the world. There also aren’t many mainstream horror movies with Black leads, so Get Out is a revolutionary film for the genre.
Coming To America (1988)
Eddie Murphy stars in John Landis’ Coming to America. The film follows the Prince of Zamunda, Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) as he travels from Africa to Queens, New York to find a new bride. At 21, Akeem doesn’t feel like he’s really lived life and doesn’t want to accept his arranged marriage. Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, and Shari Headley also have supporting roles in Coming to America.
Coming to America is really a showcase of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s talent as comedians. Not only are they good main characters, but they play additional colorful characters. Another fun way to celebrate Black History Month is by watching your favorite film or TV show by your favorite Black creator. Coming to America is one of Eddie Murphy’s best films, so it’s a fun movie to watch during Black History Month, especially if you’re a Murphy or Hall fan.
Soul is the story of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged jazz singer still looking for his big break. He finally gets it, but then gets in an accident that separates his soul and body. He then goes to the Great Before where he must help a soul named 22 (Tina Fey) find its spark.
Soul is Pixar’s first film featuring a Black lead. Soul is not only a good film to watch for its historical significance to Black History, but it’s also a film all about appreciating all the things that life has to offer. It’s about living and loving life while you’re still alive. This is an important universal message that speaks to everyone.
Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther is a Marvel superhero movie about T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the king of Wakanda. Ryan Coogler directed Black Panther and it follows T’Challa as he faces off against his cousin, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Black Panther’s cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett.
T’Challa is one of the first mainstream superheroes of African descent. The Black Panther film is the only Marvel superhero movie featuring a mainly-Black cast. It was a huge box office success and a film that let many Black and brown children feel represented and seen as heroes in cinema. Black Panther also is a celebration of black strength and power.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary film by Raoul Peck. It’s based around the manuscript Remember This House by James Baldwin. Samuel L. Jackson narrates I Am Not Your Negro. The documentary gives more insight into Baldwin’s life and struggles with racism in America. It also addresses the race relations in America by discussing the assassinated civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers.
Raoul Peck highlights how issues faced by Baldwin, King, X, and Evers are still ones faced by Americans today, especially Black Americans. I Am Not Your Negro offers a snapshot of the Civil Rights era, while also reflecting on society, specifically America’s relationship with racism. It’s a great documentary to watch if you’re interested in James Baldwin and want to learn a little more about the challenges faced by Black Americans in the 1950s, 1960s, and today.
BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). He talks on the phone to David Duke (Topher Grace), the head of the KKK in Louisiana, and uses his charm to become a respected member of the organization, while his partner, Flip (Adam Driver), attends meetings and events in person pretending to be him.
Filmmaker Spike Lee has become associated with comedies that address issues of race and social justice. He is skillful at creating or highlighting iconic characters and leaving a lasting impression with his films. Lee continues this tradition with BlacKKKlansman. The film is able to teach about an important moment in Black History, tie it to current issues in America, and still finds humor in the dark situations it addresses.
Moonlight is Barry Jenkins’ film that follows Chiron (adult version played by Trevante Rhodes) as he deals with his drug-addicted mother, figures out his sexuality, and grows up in Liberty City, Miami. Moonlight’s cast also includes Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, and Mahershala Ali.
In 2017, Moonlight became the first film with a mainly all-Black cast to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Moonlight is also the first LGBTQ+ film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s an important coming-of-age film for Black History Month not only because of its award wins, but because it addresses masculinity and sexuality in a way that isn’t often seen in cinema, especially in films with Black leads.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Dolemite is My Name stars Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore, a struggling comedian who creates his character, Dolemite. Rudy gains a following and fame among the nightclub scene and Black audiences. He eventually sets out to make a Dolemite movie.
Blaxploitation films were big in the '70s and an important part of Black cinema. Dolemite is My Name is a tribute to that genre and the Black audience that gave these films and their creators power and success. The whole film is about the impact of a niche following and how they can help someone achieve success. Dolemite is My Name is a funny comedy but it’s also a movie about hope and dreams. It shows that nothing is impossible if you have a passion and continue to work for what you want.
Fast Color (2018)
Julia Hart directed and co-wrote Fast Color, a superhero film about Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman heading home to her daughter and mother as she’s being chased by law enforcement and scientists who want to study her and her powers. Ruth’s seizures trigger supernatural earthquakes. Her daughter and mother also have powers: they can take apart objects without touching them and reassemble them.
I included Fast Color because I think it’s a movie more people need to see, and there aren’t many Black-led science-fiction movies. I believe Fast Color is a superhero movie, but it’s also a science fiction film. Black History Month is a good time to see lesser-known films with Black-leads.
Do The Right Thing (1989)
Do The Right Thing is a Spike Lee movie about one hot day in a Brooklyn neighborhood. All day, racial tensions continue to rise until a major event turns tragic. Spike Lee stars alongside Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Giancarlo Esposito.
Do the Right Thing is one of Spike Lee’s best films. It includes a bunch of future stars, including Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence, and Samuel L. Jackson. This is a film that uses clever writing to address topics of race that are, unfortunately, still relevant today.
Black History Month is only one month out of the year, but movies like Hidden Figures, Do The Right Thing, and Black Panther can be watched any time of the year, especially to celebrate Black artists and art.