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Films to watch during Black History Month – and beyond

By Elena-Amalia Radu

It’s Black History Month, but how many of us took a second to commemorate all those lost in a fight for their rights? History teaches you many things (especially how to NOT repeat mistakes), but it also makes you forget as time passes by. Therefore, because we live in such a diverse world, free and fast-changing, we need to remember where we once were. And what better way to educate yourself than through art? Verve puts together a list of films about Black history you can watch. 

People watching a movie in the cinema. Picture Credit: Krists Luhaers.

“Film and TV can be incredibly useful and powerful mediums to introduce audiences to stories they may not encounter through books or journals (or on social media!),” said Louis Heaton, lecturer of Film and Television Studies at London Met. He particularly recommends “TV/streaming especially, through series like Underground Railroad (Amazon), Dear White People (Netflix), and Small Axe (BBC)”.

12 years a slave (2013)

Directed by Steve McQueen and an adaptation of the 1853 slave memoir Twelve Years a Slave, the movie tells the story of a born free African-American, Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northup ends up put to work on the plantations in Louisiana. His salvation comes once he begins working with a Canadian labourer who agrees to send a letter to Northup’s family. SPOILER: After his identity is confirmed by the sheriff, he is saved, freed, and safely returns to his family after 12 years of slavery.

13th (2016)

This American documentary directed by Ava DuVernay is named after the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, according to which slavery is abolished. The documentary relates the history of slavery after the Civil War: southern states arrest freedmen and force them into slavery, continuing the injustices made to the Black community over the decades. One of the final shots shows fatal shootings of Black people. This ‘raw’ documentary will give you chills down the spine. 

Malcolm X (1992)

This biographic movie shows the life of Malcolm X, one of the most controversial yet empowering figures of the Black community. It follows his story from the moment he was born to the moment he was fatally shot – allegedly by members of the Nation of Islam, although the case may be reopened. During his life, Malcolm was a minister and a humanitarian. While being criticized and accused of racism, he is widely appreciated in the USA for chasing racial justice.

Malcolm X. Picture Credit: WikiImages.

Judas & The Black Messiah (2021)

This film is a biography drama based on real events. It presents how Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, is betrayed by William O’Neal, an FBI agent working undercover. The aftermath of O’Neal’s infiltration results in Hampton being assassinated during a police raid in his apartment, right before he would’ve been put in prison. 

 The movie ends with raw footage from the archives consisting of Hampton’s speeches and his funeral procession. 

Do the right thing (1989)

This comedy-drama film directed by Spike Lee mirrors best the racial conflict between members of the Black community and white people. The movie tells the story of the Afro-American residents and the Italian-American owners of a pizza shop. The conflict leads to violence, tragedy, and even death. 

“Drama films and series provide a snapshot and insight into black life at key moments in time. A prime example would be Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’. It’s a work of fiction based on real-life events but also serves as a commentary on race relations,” said Louis Heaton, lecturer of Film and Television Studies at London Met.

Louis Heaton, lecturer of Film and Television Studies at London Met.