It’s Black History Month, and I put together a list for you on my favorite movies that honor that rich and complicated history. Most are based on true stories, although not all (there are a few that are just so amazingly well done, I wanted them on here). Check back at the end of the month as well – I’m reading books focused on black history this month!
This movie was so well done, in my opinion. Before I saw it, I had no idea about the story of these “human computers” and by the end, I felt like the whole world should know their names. This movie will drive home the impact of these women’s contributions and also the obstacles they had to overcome. And I always love Octavia Spencer, of course.
Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, (Emma Stone and Alison Janney as well) – this movie was star-studded. And it was so well-done. It was hilariously funny at some parts, and sad at others. The story centers around a few maids who are suffering for the color of their skin, and have the chance to fight back by talking to an author about their experiences. I also appreciated that the few white women who were willing to befriend the maids were also ostracized for the most part.
Growing up, I was only ever taught about Malcolm X parallel to Martin Luther King, Jr. and even that wasn’t as in depth or well-rounded as it really should have been. By high school, except for a few exceptional teachers, I’d mostly lost faith in school, and was doing my own education at home in my free time, reading biographies and histories, trying to fill in all the gaps. So it wasn’t until that time that I learned how interesting and important Malcolm X was in his own right. In the movie Malcolm X, Denzel Washington plays the civil rights leader, and really does justice to him. I think the movie did a great job of showing the events, the day-to-day life that would lead someone to become who Malcolm X became. Contrary to what I was told in school as a child, Malcolm X was just as powerful of a leader as MLK, Jr. and just as right. Two different approaches, and there was value in each.
With Malcolm X in mind, how do you not discuss the flip side, MLK, Jr.? Selma covers the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama under MLK and the controversy that surrounded that. He goes toe-to-toe not only with the local police, but also with the President, for the ability to engage in peaceful protest, a right guaranteed under the constitution. This movie is very moving and very well-done, although somewhat limited.
12 Years A Slave
It’s important to remember that even though a person in the 19th century might escape, or even be born free, that didn’t save them forever in a number of circumstances. White society at that time was pretty determined to keep them under thumb. In 12 Years A Slave, Soloman experiences this when he is kidnapped into slavery. The movie is heartbreaking, riveting, and provides an honest and brutal portrayal of a shameful time in the USA’s history.
Nowadays, Jackie Robinson is remembered as an amazing baseball player, one of the greatest ever, and he is revered by all. It’s easy to forget that he played in the 1940’s, when black ball players weren’t a thing, especially not at the lofty standards he set for the sport. The movie is honest about the racism he encountered as he fought to make a name for himself. Plus, the lead is played by Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther, which was also amazing, although not on this list).
This movie tells the story of Cecil Gaines, who was the son of a sharecropper (the post-slavery form of slavery) and grew to become a butler in the White House, serving under 8 presidents. From that position, he watched as sharecropping faded into history, as the blatant racism of the 50’s came into play, as the civil rights movement rose, and finally, as Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president, and what that meant for someone like Cecil Gaines. It’s well done and reminds us that Black History is still being written.
The newly captured “slaves” on a Spanish ship are being transported to the USA revolt and kill their oppressers, which, upon their arrival in the US, leads to a court trial determining who they belong to. The movie is…so many things, all at once. Heartbreaking, inspiring, infuriating. It’s not a movie I can watch often, but it’s one everyone should see.
The Great Debaters
I’m a sucker for these “based on a true story”, feel-good, inspiring movies, and The Great Debaters fit this category perfectly. Denzel Washington (yes, he’s on this list a lot – deal with it!) mentors a debate team from a black college in the 1930s, led by Forest Whitaker, as they face off with Harvard at a time when no one believed that African-Americans could compete intellectually. It’s amazing, and well worth viewing.
To Kill A Mockingbird
This movie is an example of book adaptation gone right. Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a lawyer tasked with defending a black man on false rape charges in a time when black men were almost always found guilty. It’s a great example of how racism in the South affected people, even children, and how deep bias could run.
Remember The Titans
This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Again, Denzel Washington is in it, playing a football coach in a racist Southern town who integrates the football team. The movie shows how racism can cause people to turn even on their own race, simply for not playing into local expectations. It was funny, it was sad, it was amazing.
How many of these movies have you seen? Any I missed?