February is known as the month of love because of Valentines day, but more importantly, it’s black history month. I admit that I have found myself overlooking this fact because there just simply is not enough mention of it. It comes and goes so quickly that by the time I realize it, it’s over.
I am honestly even more ashamed that I didn’t really know how black history month ended up being in February, so I did some research. While searching, I found an article titled “The Reason Black History Month Is In February.” which was very insightful, and I absolutely recommend.
Growing up, one of the most important things my mom wanted was for me to understand my black history. In school they barely scraped the surface of it so any other history lessons I got came from reading books and watching films about the black experience.
Film can be a great tool in providing education when it’s done in the right way. I have so many favorite films that are great to watch during black history month.
Here are a few of my favorites:
This series based on Alex Haley’s novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, is quite possibly one of the most important movies I have ever watched, and one of the first I can remember seeing when I was a kid. Roots centers around an African boy named Kunta Kinte played by Levar Burton, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Roots is a raw film that can definitely make people feel uncomfortable watching it, but maybe we could all do with a little discomfort when it comes to things like this. This movie taught me so much about slavery, but most importantly, it taught me about strength and showed how resilient black people are when dealing with injustice.
Roots is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Imitation of Life (1959)
Imitation of Life was the first film that taught me what it means to be “passing for white.” For those of you that don’t know what that means, let me educate you. When a black person is so fair-skinned to the point of looking white, people often say they “pass as white.”
In Imitation of Life, Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) is a single mother raising her young daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), who is struggling with her race. Sarah Jane, is very fair-skinned and has grown up her entire life denying her black race. She goes through life passing and constantly denies her mother. It is truly heartbreaking to watch, and I won’t say anymore because I think it’s such an important movie to watch.
Imitation of Life is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
The Ernest Green Story
The Ernest Green Story is still one of my favorite films about the black experience. It tells the true story of Ernest Green (Morris Chestnut) and eight other black teens who in 1957, went on a historic journey to integrate Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each and every one of the teens had their struggles and they were definitely difficult to watch. Ernest Green was the first black senior of the “Little Rock Nine” to graduate from the school in 1958. This film taught me about determination and showed me that you have to be willing to fight for what you believe in if you really want something. It’s unfortunate the only place it can be found is on Youtube but I highly recommend it.
The Ernest Green Story is available to watch on Youtube.
In The Heat of The Night
One of Sidney Poitier’s most iconic film roles to this day, In the heat of the night, tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black detective who is asked by Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) a racist police chief in Sparta Mississippi to help solve a murder. What makes this film so iconic is the fact that it’s a great lesson in judging a person based on their skin color.
Virgil, who was in Mississippi to visit his mother, is waiting to catch a train when he is mistakenly arrested for the murder of prominent businessman Mr. Colbert. After the confusion is quickly cleared up, the police chief who finds out that Virgil is the number one homicide expert for the Philadelphia PD, asks him to stay and help him solve the case. Virgil and Gillespie work together despite their differences and ultimately solve the case.
I would like to mention that this film is well known for one of the most controversial scenes in cinematic history. Virgil and Gillespie go to see Endicott, a powerful businessman that would have had the most to gain from Mr. Colbert’s death. During the interrogation, Endicott is highly offended and slaps Virgil who slaps him back. It is a powerful scene because it was a very controversial thing for a black person to put their hands on a white person. It’s definitely a scene that remains a classic to this day.
In the heat of the night is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
The Color Purple
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple takes a look at the trials faced by black women at the turn of the century in the South. The entire story focuses on Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg) a young woman who has gone through years of abuse and heartbreak. It is a film about strength and courage and each cast member is outstanding. Steven Spielberg did an incredible job with the story.
The Color Purple Is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Often times I have found myself extremely shocked to learn about the contributions of black people and watching Hidden Figures was one of those times. Hidden Figures is about 3 mathematicians who are not just women but black women working for Nasa at the height of the space race.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackosn (Janelle Monae), worked as “human computers” by assisting NASA with their mission to get an American astronaut into space. I had never even heard of these women until the movie was announced. It just goes to show how much of our history doesn’t always make it out into the world. Sending someone to space is a huge accomplishment and to know that 3 black women were part of that is extremely gratifying.
Hidden Figures is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give, based on the book by New York Times Bestseller Angie Thomas, deals with one of the most prominent issues happening right now; unarmed black men being killed by the police. Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the death of her best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a policeman. After his death, she is faced with dealing with the pressures of two different communities, both of which she is part of.
Starr in a sense is living a double life because she lives in the mostly poor neighborhood of Garden Heights while going to predominantly white private school Williamson Prep. She has to be one way in Garden Heights and another at school. It’s a challenge for her since she is the star witness in Khalil’s case. She knows that revealing this information would risk her friends finding out where she comes from and could change the way they see her. Khalil was her best friend, and is being portrayed as a gang member by the public and Starr knows that was not the case. She looks deep within herself and ultimately makes the decision to come forward in order to defend his honor.
The Hate U Give is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Now, I know this one has some comedy in it but it deals with a very real issue of black men being wrongly convicted for crimes they didn’t commit. Ray Gibson (Eddie Murphy) and Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence) are two strangers who in 1932 are framed by a local sheriff and end up arrested for a murder they did not commit. They are sentenced to life in prison and spend 65 years behind bars.
There are lots of moments when I laugh watching Ray and Claude together, but then there are some really sad moments. There is one scene in particular that sticks with me even now. Claude, who is now an elderly man, goes with the Superintendent they are working for to pick up the new one. As Claude waits by the car, he looks around at all of the people. You can clearly see how overwhelmed he is to be out in the world seeing how much everything has changed. Martin Lawerence captured that scene perfectly.
Life is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
These are some of my favorite films to watch during black history month. I know there are so many others out there, so if there are any that should have made this list, please let us know in the comments below!