29 Classic Movies To Watch In Honor Of Black History Month

From 'The Color Purple' to '13th,' these are required viewing.
"The Color Purple"
"The Color Purple"
John R Shannon via Warner Bros Pictures/Photofest Warner Bros Pictures

It’s Black History Month , which means there’s really no better time to see a great film that captures the diverse narratives of black people. In theaters, movies like “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” and “Fences” are telling little-known stories that focus on black lives.

But if you’re in the mood to watch something compelling and enlightening about the black experience right now, below are 29 feature films and documentaries to check out. Spanning everything from a portrait of Barack Obama in his youth to the rise of the Black Power movement in the 1960s, these films are sure broaden your black film vocabulary:

"The Loving Story"
This moving 2011 documentary tells the real story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who went on a legal crusade in 1958 to secure the right to be married to each other. Their legal battle resulted in the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal across the United States.

Streaming On: Netflix
"The Art of Rap"
Common, Nas, Ice-T, KRS-One and Kanye West are amongs some of the hip-hop heavy weights who appear in this documentary that chronicles not only the history, but the underrated artistry behind rap music.

Stream it on: Netflix
"Fruitvale Station"
Ryan Coogler's powerful directorial debut tells the true story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant. Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, was a 22-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Bay Area police in 2008 in a shocking display of brutality that went viral on YouTube.

Stream it on: Netflix
"Mama Africa"
In her decades-spanning career, Miriam Makeba became not only the most popular African singer in the world, but also the voice of the South African battle against apartheid. This comprehensive biographical documentary chronicles her humble beginnings, her artistry, her activism, and her subsequent exile from South Africa.

Stream it on: Netflix
Shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, "Tangerine" is one of the most important films exploring the black experience to come out in the last 20 years. The film focuses on two black trans woman sex workers as they navigate their complicated friendship and the everyday realities of survival.

Stream it on: Netflix
"The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975"
This stellar documentary consists of rare footage of people who were on the ground and active during the height of the Black Power movement. Based entirely from archives from Swedish filmmakers in the '60s and '70s, the film offers a unique glimpse into a seminal era in black history.

Stream it on: Netflix
"Barry" is one of two drama films (of what will surely be many) that take a glimpse at the life of a younger Barack Obama, the man who would one day become the first black president of the United States. Set during his days at Columbia, before he met Michelle Obama, the film is an exploration of young Barry coming to terms with his race and identity.

Stream it on: Netflix
No black history movie list would be complete without Ava DuVernay's most recent film, "13th." The captivating documentary outlines how slavery continued in America after the Civil War in the form of criminal punishment, eventually leading us to the crisis of mass incarceration and a fault criminal justice system today.

Stream it on: Netflix
"Malcolm X"
While he'll always be remembered for the stellar "Do the Right Thing," "Malcolm X" is in many ways Spike Lee's masterpiece. The sweeping tale featuring an iconic performance by Denzel Washington offered an alternative, comprehensive and deeply compelling narrative of the life of the civil rights hero.

Rent it on: iTunes
"What Happened Miss Simone?"
"How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"

This is just one of the many nuggets of greatness from this look at the life of the complex and brilliant Nina Simone. Through the use of archival footage and interviews with the people who knew her best, the film seeks to unravel the genius that made Simone so unique, and that ultimately destroyed her.

Stream it on: Netflix
Ava DuVernay made history with "Selma" in 2014, becoming the first black woman to have her film nominated for "Best Picture" at the Oscars. "Selma" is a portrait piece of Dr. Martin Luther King as he led the march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.

Stream it on: Amazon
From British director Amma Asante, this period drama tells the real-life story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race woman and the daughter of a slave who grew up in the British aristocracy during the height of the slave trade.

Rent it on: Amazon Prime
"The Watermelon Woman"
Cheryl Dunye wrote, directed and starred in this charming indie feature from 1996 about a young black lesbian woman navigating life and love as she researches a mysterious black actress credited only as "The Watermelon Woman" in a series of mammy roles from the '30s and '40s.
Free black men were conscripted to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, but as this 1989 period drama shows, not even their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country was enough to shield them from racism and segregation. Denzel Washington stars in the role that would nab him his first Oscar.

Stream it on: Amazon
"What's Love Got To Do With It?"
Everything about this film is simply iconic. Angela Bassett delivers what is possibly her greatest on-screen performance ever in this biography of Tina Turner.

Stream it on: YouTube
"Eve's Bayou"
Kasi Lemmons hit it straight out of the park with her 1997 directorial debut starring Lynn Whitfield, Samuel L. Jackson, and a young Jurnee Smollet. It's a Southern Gothic drama about a black family in 1950s New Orleans that is shaken to its core when hidden secrets finally come to light.

Stream it on: Amazon
"A Raisin in the Sun"
Starring Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier, this 1961 adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's iconic play is the definitive screen version. It's a film about one black family's quest for the American Dream -- and what happens when that dream is deferred.

Stream it on: YouTube
"Paris is Burning"
This classic 1991 documentary gives a vivid and dynamic (though cursory) glimpse into the gay ballroom culture of the '80s and '90s that was dominated by young queer black and Latino people who used the scene as not only a form of escape, but also survival.

Stream it on: YouTube
"The Princess and the Frog"
Though flawed, this 2009 Disney animated film features not only some beautiful artwork and great original songs -- it also has the first African-American Disney princess ever, voiced by the talented Anika Noni-Rose.

Stream it on: YouTube
There are so few coming-of-age movies about young black girls, which makes Spike Lee's "Crooklyn" such a vital part of black movie history. Starring Zelda Harris and Alfre Woodard, the film is set in the 1970s and follows the young tomboy Troy (Harris) during her both idyllic and difficult childhood in Brooklyn.

Stream it on: Amazon
"Black Girl"
Directed by legendary Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, "Black Girl" (or "Le Noire De...") is a seminal moment in black cinema. Released in 1966, it tells the story of Diouana, a young Senagalese woman who travels to Europe with the hope of a better life -- only to be forced into full-time servitude by her rich French employers.

Stream it on: Amazon
"When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts"
This 2012 documentary from Spike Lee presented the first truly in-depth look into the human rights disaster that developed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The mismanagement and disregard of government officials is juxtaposed in stark contrast with the devastation endured by the mostly poor, black residents of New Orleans.

Stream it on: YouTube
"Within Our Gates"
Before there was Spike Lee there was Oscar Micheaux, a prolific black director who in the 1920s made a series of seminal "race films" starring all black casts. Tackling the daily horrors of Jim Crow including lynching and rape, "Within Our Gates" is perhaps Micheaux's most important movie. It's a striking cinematic answer to the racist imagery of D.W Griffith's wildly popular "Birth of a Nation" that every film buff should see.

Stream it on: YouTube
"The Wiz"
"The Wiz" is the feel-good screen adaptation of Charie Smalls 1975 Broadway musical. Starring Diana Ross and a young Michael Jackson, this movie serves up a "black" version of the classic Wizard of Oz story.

Stream it on: Netflix
"Carmen Jones"
Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress award at the 1954 Oscars for her role in this epic musical, based on Bizet's tragic opera "Carmen."

Stream it on: YouTube
"The Color Purple"
Based on a novel by Alice Walker, starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, there's not much more to say than: This. Is. A. Classic.

Stream it on: YouTube
"Purple Rain"
What better way to celebrate black history and the life of music legend Prince than by watching "Purple Rain"? The musical drama features some of Prince's most iconic songs -- and outfits.

Stream it on: YouTube
"Hollywood Shuffle"
Representation in Hollywood has been a hot topic for the past several years, but decades ago in 1987, writer-director Robert Townsend made "Hollywood Shuffle." The movie is a hilarious, often poignant satire of life as a black actor in Hollywood, from losing out roles for not being "black enough," to being forced to play the same stereotypical roles over and over.

Stream it on: Amazon

Before You Go

Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005)

35 Queens Of Black History Who Deserve Much More Glory

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