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10 Best Black History Movies to Watch Right Now

As important as it is to celebrate Black History Month, it can feel like a bit of a strange commemoration. As these movies show, Black history is at its core American history, and needs to be remembered as such. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is not always a simple story with villains or heroes. The best movies to watch in commemoration of this month are ones that challenge your notions of how Black people have lived in America, and what their lives have meant.

There are far more movies you could watch than will ever fit on a single list, so we’ve tried to boil it down to a few essential titles. Thankfully, though, there are plenty of great movies past the 10 that are listed below.

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

A Raisin in the Sun
87 %
8/10
128m
Genre Drama, Romance
Stars Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee
Directed by Daniel Petrie
A foundational text on the Black experience in America, Lorraine Hansbury’s widely acclaimed play was adapted into a movie of the same name starring Sidney Poitier. The story follows a Black family in the 1950s as they deal with the fallout of a large insurance payment, and must decide whether to leave their rundown apartment on Chicago’s Southside for a primarily white neighborhood, or remain where they are. Poitier gives an urgent, lived-in performance as the film tackles the issues of racism and assimilation through the prism of a single family.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do the Right Thing
93 %
7.9/10
120m
Genre Drama
Stars Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee
Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s magnum opus, Do the Right Thing is not strictly historical, but its sad, unmistakable relevance has endured for more than 30 years. The movie tells the story of one hot day in Brooklyn as tensions rise between the primarily Black residents of the street and the white owners of a pizza parlor that exists primarily to serve them. It’s a movie about anger and hurt, and it’s one that still feels like a primal scream today.

Malcolm X (1992)

Malcolm X
73 %
7.7/10
202m
Genre Drama, History
Stars Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall
Directed by Spike Lee
As one of the great filmmakers of all-time, it feels only fitting that Spike Lee should have two spots on this list. The second goes to Malcolm X, a sprawling epic that chronicles the life and ultimate death of the titular figure. Denzel Washington delivers what is almost undoubtedly a career-best performance, and he anchors a film that feels much more expansive than much of Lee’s work, but no less precise or urgent in spite of its extended runtime.

Selma (2014)

Selma
127m
Genre History, Drama
Stars David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by Ava DuVernay
The story of Martin Luther King Jr. is one that many people think they know, but Selma challenges the assumptions that most people have about who he was. The film tells the story of the march from Selma to Montgomery, and isn’t afraid to get into the weeds to explain exactly why the march was necessary, and how controversial it was at the time. The civil rights movement had already achieved the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but King kept pushing for the rights Black people had been deprived of since they arrived in America.

One Night in Miami... (2020)

One Night in Miami...
83 %
7.1/10
114m
Genre Drama
Stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge
Directed by Regina King
A movie this discursive and talky should not be as great as it is, but part of One Night in Miami‘s effortless charm is the way it brings together four Black icons at a time when they were each being pulled in different directions. Bringing together Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) and Jim Brown, the movie takes place on a single night and is largely an argument about how famous Black men such as themselves should be pursuing civil rights. It’s a beautifully acted and directed movie, and one that is alive with the ideas each of these men are fighting for.

I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

I Am Not Your Negro
95 %
7.9/10
93m
Genre Documentary
Stars Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr.
Directed by Raoul Peck
Decades after his death, James Baldwin remains one of the pre-eminent voices on the issue of race in America. In I Am Not Your Negro, documentarian Raoul Peck pieces together one of Baldwin’s unfinished works — a book that was meant to chronicle the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. In reviving the book, Peck tells the story of the civil rights movement through Baldwin’s eyes, and shines an urgent light on the ongoing struggle for equality in America.

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
96 %
8/10
117m
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Stevie Wonder, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jesse Jackson
Directed by Questlove
Telling the story of a series of concerts that were held in Harlem over the summer of 1969, Summer of Soul is about howmany aspects of Black history are suppressed, even if they don’t necessarily condemn America. Summer of Soul is a joyful, moving ride through highlights of footage from the concerts, which featured legendary talents like Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone. There are too many great moments to choose from, but on the whole, Summer of Soul is a reminder of the fullness of the Black experience that is so often ignored by Hollywood.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Judas and the Black Messiah
85 %
7.4/10
126m
Genre Drama, History
Stars Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons
Directed by Shaka King
Telling the remarkable true story of an FBI informant who gets close to Fred Hampton, a prominent member of the Black Panthers, and ultimately aids in his killing by the police, Judas and the Black Messiah is equal parts Spike Lee and Steve McQueen. It’s a viscerally entertaining movie, even as it focuses on an informant who becomes increasingly conflicted about his allegiances. Daniel Kaluuya delivers one of the finest performances of his already legendary career as Hampton, and Lakeith Stanfield is just as good in the lead role.

13th (2016)

13th
83 %
8.2/10
100m
Genre Documentary
Stars Jelani Cobb, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Directed by Ava DuVernay
A searing documentary about incarceraton, Ava DuVernay’s is an urgent exploration of the way that America’s modern prison industrial complex is rooted in the country’s long history of slavery. The documentary is not always an easy watch, but it’s a harrowing look at how the world got to be the way it is today. It’s easy to explain away the vast overrepresentation of Black people in prisons, but in 13th, DuVernay urges you to look closer, and see what’s really going on.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk
87 %
7.1/10
120m
Genre Romance, Drama
Stars KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins is still so young, and he has so much great work left to do, but the one-two punch of Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk has already cemented his legacy. If Beale Street Could Talk splits its time between a swoony love story and the stark aftermath of a wrongful arrest, If Beale Street Could Talk is fully vibrant and alive. It’s a beautiful movie about a couple in love, and the tragedy of a world that seeks to keep them apart.

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