Mandatory Movies For Black History Month (Including ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’)
February is Black History Month, and there’s no better way to celebrate than by binging on educational entertainment. (OK, there are better ways, like activism, but we’re here to talk about movies, so…) Hollywood has been a little slow on the uptake when it comes to telling the stories of important Black leaders and change-makers, but there are a handful of excellent films that depict the struggles, the triumphs, and the legacies of influential Black men and women in the U.S. We’ve rounded them up for you so there’s no excuse for not watching these films and getting more woke in the process. These are the Mandatory Movies for Black History Month.
Cover Photo: HBO
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Will Smith stars in this biopic about the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali, who didn't just assert himself in the ring but also in religion and politics.
This Spike Lee film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American detective who infiltrated the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK.
This semi-biopic is loosely based on the final days of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a young black man who was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer on New Year's Day in 2009.
It's hard to believe abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman had never before been the subject of a big biopic, but until this film, she hadn't. Cynthia Erivo's performance as the escaped slave who helped around 70 others find freedom through the Underground Railroad never falters. She convincingly conveys the grit, grace, and triumphant journey of one of history's most important women.
Among the many untold stories of how Black people shaped our nation is that of the female mathematicians who helped launch astronaut John Glenn into space in the 1960s. This film shows how they overcame sexism and racism to prove themselves in the white boys' club of NASA.
'Judas and the Black Messiah'
This new HBO Max biopic focuses on William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), an FBI informant sent to spy on Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Black Panther Party, in the 1960s.
This biopic tells the story of attorney and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who fought for the wrongfully convicted death row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) in Alabama in the late '80s.
This biopic, led by a career-defining performance from Denzel Washington, follows the trajectory of Malcom X, one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement and public figures of the Nation of Islam.
In this exceptional film, NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) teams up with Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) to defend Black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), who was wrongfully accused of sexual assault and attempted murder by a wealthy white woman (Kate Hudson) in the 1940s. The duo of underdogs battle racism and anti-Semitism as they pursue justice for Spell.
This drama documents the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his supporters, which led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
'12 Years a Slave'
This brutal but necessary film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free New Yorker who was illegally sold into slavery in the South. For 12 years, he suffered soul-crushing abuse at the hands of white men until a chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist returned him to freedom.
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