Black History Month is a really important time for everyone to focus on those men and women and movements which have shaped black history. However, it is important for us all to be focusing on and remember the history of black people all year round, especially in the current climate. Here are our picks of some of the most illuminating and brilliant films which shine a light on elements of black history.
Just Mercy – 2019
A fairly recent film, Just Mercy follows a young lawyer (played by Michael B Jordan) who fights to see innocent men on death row freed.
The film is based on the memoir and life of real-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson.
One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl.
Mr Stevenson continued to assist in cases that have saved dozens of prisoners from the death penalty and community-based reforms aimed at improving the criminal justice system in America.
In line with the Black Lives Matter protests, Just Mercy was made available to watch for free in the USA, while UK viewers can access it on Amazon Prime for a small fee.
Black history movies: The 5 films to watch about black history
I Am Not Your Negro – 2016
This 2016 documentary, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, features a focused look on the life of activist author James Baldwin.
The documentary features actor Samuel L Jackson reading excerpts from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House – a memoir which includes letters and notes between the author and some of his friends including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr.
I Am Not Your Negro has received critical acclaim and is also available in book form for those who wish to read the manuscript for themselves.
I Am Not Your Negro is available to buy and rent on Amazon Prime.
Blacks Britannica – 1978
This 1978 documentary, commissioned by PBS in Boston, examines racism through the lens of black, working-class British people in the 1970s.
Ashley Clark, Director of Film Programming at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, told TIME magazine of the documentary: “It was American-produced, but it was heavily censored in the US and banned outright in the UK”
The documentary was supressed for many years but gives a clear examination of the effects of racism in the UK, which still lingers to this day.
Blacks Britannica is available to rent for £2.50 on the BFI Player.
The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give – 2017
The Hate U Give, based on the 2017 young adults’ novel of the same name, received critical acclaim as it follows a young student who witnesses a police shooting.
The book by Angie Thomas, on which the film is based, was banned in some schools in the USA, supposedly for its ‘profanity,’ but was also lauded by critics.
The movie also received critical acclaim and shines a light on gang culture as well as police brutality against black and ethnic minority groups.
The Hate U Give is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
I Am Not Your Negro
Do the Right Thing – 1989
Spike Lee’s 1989 film has been classed as culturally significant for its depiction of racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighbourhood.
In the movie, a pizza delivery man (played by Lee himself) becomes embroiled in escalating racial tensions over the “Wall of Fame” in an Italian-American pizza joint, with various characters adding to this comedy.
Despite being a comedy movie, the film speaks into the tensions of racial relations in the USA in the 1980s, much of which is still true today.
Do The Right Thing is available on Amazon Prime.
Do the Right Thing
13th – 2016
This Oscar-nominated documentary from Ava DuVernay sees scholars, activists and politicians analyse the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.
The documentary begins with former President Barack Obama, speaking of how the US holds five percent of the world’s population, but a staggering 25 percent of its prison inmates.
Following this, a series of scholars, intellectuals, political figures and historians speak about the history of slavery, systems of racial control existent in the USA and how these have acted as a precursor to the current prison crisis in the US, also looking into police brutality against BAME people.
13th is available on Netflix.