21 Movies About Black Music Icons You Should Watch ASAP

If you're skipping out on "Nina," we got you.
"Miles Ahead" came out the same day as N
"Miles Ahead" came out the same day as N

On Friday, the "Nina" movie controversy will culminated with the film's release. Since 2012, the biopic chronicling the life of Nina Simone has been plagued with legal drama and criticism from people who took issue with Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned black actress, playing the dark-skinned Simone.

The backlash only got worse when trailers cropped up in March, featuring Saldana wearing blackface and a prosthetic nose. 

The film's director (a white woman) still stands by casting Saldana, and says the makeup used to darken her skin and make her look more like Simone is just a part of the movie business. Many early reviews of the film are saying that while it's not very good, Saldana's performance (blackface aside) is decent

That said, there are many people who are still planning to boycott "Nina" on principal -- her estate has urged fans to avoid the film, and online petitions have even been made in protest. If you're choosing to boycott the movie, or if you just don't feel like seeing it, don't worry. We got you. Below are 21 movies about black music artists that you can watch instead of "Nina." And if you're still in the mood for bad movie makeup, the 2005 VH1 movie "Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story" (starring Flex Alexander) is highly recommended.  

  • 1 "What Happened, Miss Simone?"
    This Oscar-winning Netflix documentary is currently the definitive movie on Nina Simone. It chronicles her beginnings as an aspiring classical pianist, her activism, and her sad decline in old age, and the triumphant legacy of her career. This is the real Nina Simone. 

    Watch on Netflix
  • 2 "Miles Ahead"
    This biopic about the life of jazz legend Miles Davis features the stellar work of Don Cheadle, who not only stars in the film but also wrote and directed it. It is currently playing in theatres. 
  • 3 "Bessie"
    Queen Latifah gave one of her best onscreen performances in this HBO movie, directed by "Pariah" filmmaker Dee Rees. Latifah plays Bessie Smith, a jazz singer and pioneer of her day who was the highest-paid black performer in the 1920s. 

    Watch on HBO Go/HBO Now
  • 4 "Time Is Illmatic"
    Prolific hip-hop artist Nas takes us on a journey through his life and career in this documentary, which also features interviews with Swizz Beatz, Q-Tip, and Pharrell Williams. 

    Watch on YouTube
  • 5 "Lady Day At Emerson's Bar And Grill"
    Audra McDonald won a Tony Award for the stage version of this play, later filmed for an HBO special. In it, McDonald plays Billie Holiday during the twilight of her career, performing at a restaurant where she sings some of her most famous songs and reflects on her hard, fascinating life. 

    Watch on HBO Now
  • 6 "Ray"
    The vibrant life story of blues singer Ray Charles is brilliantly told in this 2004 biopic. It stars Jamie Foxx, in a performance that would earn him an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. 

    Watch it on YouTube
  • 7 The Temptations
    "The Temptations" was a four-hour mini-series that aired on NBC in 1998, telling the tumultuous story of the Motown group that gave us songs like "My Girl" and "Papa Was A Rollingstone." It is without a doubt a classic, full of memorable scenes like the one above ("Ain't nobody coming to see you, Otis!"). 

    Watch on Hulu
  • 8 "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser
    "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser" is a 1989 documentary that includes some of the most important footage ever taken of the legendary musician's technique. Once a rare find, you can now watch it on YouTube
  • 9 "The Jacksons: An American Dream"
    This four-hour miniseries first aired on ABC in 1992. It tells the full story of how five brothers from Gary, Indiana became the supergroup known as The Jackson Five. Starring Angela Bassett, Terrence Howard, Billy Dee Williams, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, it's an epic look at the lives of one of the most legendary music families in history. 

    Watch on YouTube
  • 10 What's Love Got To Do With It?
    Angela Bassett. As. Tina Turner. Enough said. 

    Watch on YouTube
  • 11 "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"
    "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" mixes humor and tragedy to tell the life story of Frankie Lymon, the troubled teenage pop star who left behind three widows to fight over his estate and reflect on his tumultuous career.

    Watch on YouTube
  • 12 "Jimi: All Is By My Side"
    Written by "12 Years A Slave" scribe John Ridley, this biopic focuses on a very specific time in Jimi Hendrix's career, when he joined the psychedelic music scene of London in the mid-1960s. Though constrained by being unable to use any of Jimi's recognizable hits thanks to copyright issues, the film does beautifully capture the complicated genius of the musician (played fantastically by Andre Benjamin). 

    Watch on Netflix
  • 13 "Get On Up"
    Chadwick Boseman made a stellar leading-man debut in this 2014 biopic about the life of James Brown. The film is filled with wonderful performances, especially that of Viola Davis, who plays Brown's absentee mother. But it's the music, including all of Brown's most memorable hits, that really makes this film worth seeing. 

    Watch on YouTube
  • 14 "Keep On Keepin' On"
    If you've never heard of Clark Terry, allow this 2014 documentary to introduce you to the genius and talent of this legendary jazz trumpeter, who worked with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones. 

    Watch on Netflix
  • 15 "CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story"
    A lot of people were skeptical when VH1 announced plans to make a TLC made-for-television biopic. But the pleasant surprise was that the movie, starring Lil Mama, Keke Palmer, and Drew Sidora as the hip-hop trio, wasn't actually that bad. 

    Watch on iTunes
  • 16 "Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart"
    From music stardom to bankruptcy to a comeback decades in the making, this Lifetime movie about Toni Braxton was a television event when it premiered in January. 

    Watch on Vudu
  • 17 "Notorious"
    "Notorious" is the cinematic retelling of Christopher "Biggie" Wallace's rise from a teenaged drug dealer to one of the greatest rappers alive. 

    Watch on Google Play
  • 18 "Straight Outta Compton"
    "Straight Outta Compton" was the surprise hit of last year, breaking box office records and earning Academy Award nominations. The movie, produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, is a gritty look at the legendary rap group NWA. 

    Watch on YouTube
  • 19 "Lady Sings The Blues"
    OK, so no, Diana Ross does not make a very convincing Billie Holiday in this 1972 movie about the troubled jazz singer's life. But if you're going to watch a music biopic starring an actor who looks absolutely nothing like the person their supposed to be playing, it might as well be this one. 

    Watch on YouTube
  • 20 "Tupac: Resurrection"
    There's a biopic about Tupac Shakur called "All Eyez On Me" coming out later this year, but until that comes out watch "Tupac: Resurrection." It's a brilliant documentary that uses archival footage and the voice of Tupac himself to tell his story.

    Watch on Netflix
  • 21 "Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story"
    Remember when VH1 decided to make a made-for-TV-movie about Michael Jackson. Starring Flex Alexander? And it was absolutely crazy? 

    Watch via Netflix


Nina Simone Photos