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10 Best Movies To Celebrate Black History Month

10 Best Movies To Celebrate Black History Month

Selecting just ten best movies about black history is quite a challenge, but this is a very personal list. I am certainly not attempting to proclaim that this is “the” list. I would, however, be very interested to see what other ideas for great movies you have.

Meanwhile, you will notice that “Lincoln” is not mentioned here. As Joel Boyce pointed out in his excellent blog, many blacks whom Lincoln would have known are missing from the film, and especially notable for his absence is Frederick Douglass.

My faves:

1.  The Color Purple (1985) was directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker. Known especially for the roles played by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, it shows an African-American woman’s struggle to overcome poverty, adversity and a marriage to a brutal husband over a period of over forty years.


Photo Credit: terr-bo

2. To Sir, With Love (1967) stars Sidney Poitier as the teacher who brilliantly handles social and racial issues in a school in the East End of London. James Clavell both directed and wrote the film’s screenplay, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by E. R. Braithwaite. As a bonus, the film’s title song, performed by Lulu, reached number one on the U.S. pop charts. This is a must-see for teachers.


Photo Credit: screenshot from Youtube video

3. Malcolm X (1992) is based on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Alex Haley and tells the story of this compelling leader’s journey to civil right activism through religious conversion.  It’s a brilliant film, with masterful acting by Denzel Washington and direction by Spike Lee; however, I have mixed feelings because my would-be actor son was cast in the movie, but ended up on the cutting room floor!


Photo Credit: screenshot from Youtube video

4. How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) is a wonderful chick flick starring Angela Bassett as Stella Payne, a very successful 40-year-old stockbroker in California, who is persuaded by her New York friend Delilah Abraham to take a well-deserved vacation to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Once there, she meets a gorgeous man, just about 20 years younger than her, and the story goes from there.


Photo Credit: screenshot from Youtube video

5. Akeelah and the Bee (2006) features Keke Palmer as Akeelah Anderson, a young black girl from South Los Angeles, who struggles to take part in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This is not an amazing movie, but importantly, it examines issues of education in low socioeconomic African-American communities. It is directed by Doug Atchison and also stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.

6. Do the Right Thing (1989), directed by Spike Lee is both brilliant and highly controversial. That’s because it depicts temperatures rising, along with tensions between neighbors, on the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn. Lee essentially uses one street to explore the enormous issue of race relations and stereotypes.

7. Sounder (1972) had us all in tears when I showed this to my fifth grade class. Sounder is the name of the dog owned by a young boy who is growing up and learning to read while his father is in prison. We are taken into the world of an extremely poor family of black sharecroppers living in Louisiana during the Depression.

8.  In The Heat of The Night (1967) is a mystery story. Starring Sidney Poitier as a homicide detective from Philadelphia who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi, the movie does a fantastic job of portraying racism and prejudice. So good, in fact, that it won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

9. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is another choice that reveals my bias as a former English teacher, but this is one of the best films I know that explores justice, innocence and race relations. The movie is based on the award winning novel by Harper Lee, and portrays the lives of a white family in Alabama as Atticus Finch, the father, played by Gregory Peck, represents a wrongly accused black man in court.

10. Roots (1977) was a winner for Alex Haley, who chronicles the story of his own family across many generations. He goes back to Kunta Kinte, an 18th century African who is captured and sold into slavery in the U.S., and moves forward following the lives of his descendants, until he arrives at himself.

What would you add to (or take away from) this list?


Related Care2 Coverage

Frederick Douglass Day: Time to Give Credit Where It’s Due

Air of Injustice: A Reason to Celebrate Black History Month

Black Herstory: Rosa Parks Did Much More Than Sit On A Bus


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Photo Credit: screenshot from Youtube video

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12:36AM PST on Dec 16, 2014


7:21PM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

I would also like to recommend "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story" with Cuba Gooding Jr.
Summary: true story about a renowned brain surgeon who overcame obstacles to change the course of medicine forever. Young Ben Carson didn't have much of a chance. Growing up in a broken home amongst poverty and prejudice, his grades suffered and his temper flared. And yet, his mother never lost her faith in him. Insisting he follow the opportunities she never had, she helped to grow his imagination, intelligence and, most importantly, his belief in himself. That faith would be his gift - the thing that would drive him to follow his dream of becoming one of the world's leading neurosurgeons.

7:20PM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman

3:52AM PST on Mar 2, 2013

Driving Miss Daisy.
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?
The Green Mile.
The best pictures of any category is colored by individual taste.
I do agree about most movies in the list, but I do find The Color Purple movie lacking a lot from the book.

3:42AM PST on Feb 28, 2013

All these films are about struggling and suffering, living under the racist boot-heel of America. Where are the good-time films? The ones that celebrate! The ones where black people are not always seen as victims. 'Men in Black' for one, with Americas greatest living actor and all round talent Will Smith. A number 1 rapper, a number 1 TV star (fresh prince) and a number 1 film star. All his films are black films that are also crossovers'. If truth be told actors such as Brad Pitt, Clooney or DeCaprio are pretty one dimensional compared to your black stars, because all they can do really is just act. None of them compare to say... Ice Cube! Musician rapper producer and actor, the same with Ice T. LL Cool J, Michael Lawrence and must I even bring up Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx! Not since the days of Elvis and Frank Sinatra have any white stars had comparative talent to the black talent over there, if it wasn't because of the black talent creating the arts of Blues, Jazz, Rocknroll, R&B, Hip Hop etc, America would have been largely ignored by the rest of the everyone else on the planet the best thing about America is its blacks, and we congratulate and respect you for making the decision to choose your leader out of your brightest ranks.
Here in England we also admire the resilience and fortitude of our blacks in the face of our opposition towards them, but our stiff upper lips and our propensity for institutional racism also stops us from being tr

4:38PM PST on Feb 26, 2013

To Sir with Love is one of my favourites, but I am gonna see the others!! Thank you for this list..

12:06PM PST on Feb 26, 2013

I loved the Color Purple and Roots. I read the book and then watched the Roots miniseries and was absolutely IRATE when I read in TV Guide three years later that white people could not relate to Roots and only watched it because it was scheduled on consecutive nights. Apparently white people were too stupid to change the channel!!! These movies are not just for black history month or black people. They are for all of us.

6:56AM PST on Feb 26, 2013

My first thought was Glory, an exceptional movie. Wouldn't take any off. How about top 20.

6:03AM PST on Feb 26, 2013

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER must be in there!

8:38PM PST on Feb 25, 2013

Great list!

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