The films everyone should watch this Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month, HUNGER is looking back at the most impactful films that have represented Black culture over the years whilst also celebrating the productions that have elevated Black actors and filmmakers.

One Night In Miami (2020)

Directed by Regina King, One Night In Miami reimagines the events of February 25, 1964 when Muhammad Ali, still called Cassius Clay then, NFL star Jim Brown, musician Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X spent a night together in Miami – the same night Clay became the heavyweight champ. In the film, the foursome discuss being Black in America, religion, and their own legacies.

Do The Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing is eerily as relevant now as it was when it first hit theaters more than 30 years ago. The film focuses on the racial tensions and biases of one Brooklyn neighborhood on the hottest day of the summer, but represents the kind of pervasive racism that exists throughout the United States today.

The Color Purple (1986)

An epic tale spanning forty years in the life of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), an African-American woman living in the South who survives horrific abuse and bigotry. After Celie’s father marries her off to the equally debasing “Mister” Albert Johnson (Danny Glover), things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister in Africa.

The Photograph (2020)

When famed photographer Christina Eames unexpectedly dies, she leaves her estranged daughter Mae Morton (Issa Rae) hurt, angry and full of questions. When a photograph tucked away in a safe-deposit box is found, Mae finds herself on a journey delving into her mother’s early life and ignites a powerful, unexpected romance with a rising-star journalist, Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield).

Love & Basketball (2000)

Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) grew up in the same neighbourhood and have known each other since childhood. As they grow up, they fall in love, but they also share another all-consuming passion: basketball. As Quincy and Monica struggle to make their relationship work, they follow separate career paths through high school into college basketball and, they hope, eventually into stardom in the professional big-leagues.

The Hate U Give (2018)

A young girl straddling two worlds – her Black community and the privileged and predominantly white world of her private school – is devastated by a tragic killing of her best friend by a local police officer, forcing her to discover her voice and take a stand for what’s right.

Dancehall Queen (1997)

Marcia Green (Audrey Reid) is a single mum and street vendor barely scraping by even with financial help from the seemingly avuncular Larry (Mark Denvers), a gun-toting strongman with a twisted desire for Marcia’s teenage daughter Tanya who he then decides to pursue. Complicating things further is Priest (Pauline Campbell), a murderous man who killed Marcia’s friend and is now terrorising the defenceless woman. Facing three big problems spanning finances, advances on her daughter, and a killer, Marcia arrives at an inspired solution: develop an alter ego – a dancing celebrity called the Mystery Lady who can compete in a cash-prize contest and pit Larry and Priest against each other.

Boyz N the Hood (1991)

This Spike Lee-directed flick follows the lives of three young males – Trae (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Doughboy (Ice Cube) and Ricky (Morris Chestnut – living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles. The three struggle to come to terms with their dangerous surroundings and after Ricky is murdered, things take a turn for the worse. By dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence, and future prospects, Boyz N the Hood cemented itself as a true classic.

Passing (2021)

Based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, the film follows two Black women living in 1920s New York. One of the women, Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), passes for being white and even has a white husband who doesn’t know that she’s Black – a decision that her friend, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), struggles to understand. It’s a tragic story and one which has been praised for its complex depiction of race, gender and sexuality.

Roxanne Roxanne (2017)

The creators of Fruitvale Station and Dope tell the story of Lolita “Roxanne Shanté” Gooden, a teen from New York trying to make it as an MC in the ’80s while also helping to provide for her family. Not only is the story itself compelling, but Mahershala Ali and Nia Long are also in the film, which should be reason enough to watch.

The Woman King (2022)

Directed by Gina Maria Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with military skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, the film follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Viola Davies).

Malcolm X (1992)

This powerful Spike Lee film starring Denzel Washington chronicles the life and influence of Malcolm X. He was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement. If you don’t know the story of the charismatic Black Nationalist leader and Nation of Islam member, consider this your primer.

Moonlight (2016)

In this Academy Award Best Picture winner, a young Black boy living in Miami during the ’80s struggles to come to terms with his sexuality while being raised by an abusive mother. Featuring some of the most applauded performances and cinematography of the 2010’s, Moonlight is a must-see.

Candyman (1992) 

Candyman does an excellent job of blending together “real” urban legends to create compelling new narratives. As a character, the Candyman (Tony Todd) mixes Bloody Mary (a murderous ghost summoned by saying a phrase a certain number of times in a mirror) and the Hook (a hook-handed murderer) with classic horror elements from Dracula. He’s looking to exact revenge on his father, an enslaved Black man who was horribly maimed and murdered by a white mob in the late 19th century for his relationship with the daughter of a wealthy white man. 

Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Eve’s Bayou is a Southern Gothic tale of spirituality, family, secrets, and the ties that bind them together. The story follows the awakening, both spiritual and emotional, of young Eve Baptiste (Jurnee Smollett). The middle sibling of the Baptiste family, 10-year-old Eve, navigates childhood while enduring the tumultuous relationship between her mother (Meagan Good) and father (Samuel L. Jackson). 

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

This Shaka King directed masterpiece tells the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, who was assassinated in 1969 by a Cook County tactical unit on the orders of the FBI and Chicago Police Department.

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Directed by Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is based on Ron Stallworth’s (John David Washington) real life as Colorado Springs’s first African-American police officer who went undercover to infiltrate the racist, murderous and white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Detective Stallworth and his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) penetrate the KKK at its highest levels in an attempt to thwart its takeover of the city.

Hidden Figures (2017)

Hidden Figures tells the true story of three brilliant Black female mathematicians — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — who use their intellect and skill to supersede both segregation and sexism at NASA and propel the United States in the Space Race that dominated the 1960s. 

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Jimmie Fails (who plays himself) dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors), Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. As he struggles to reconnect with his family and reconstruct the community he longs for, his hopes blind him to the reality of his situation.

Summer Of Soul (2021) 

In his filmmaking debut, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson tells the previously overlooked story of a music festival that, like Woodstock, took place in the summer of 1969. The whole thing was filmed, but the footage was never made public until now. Finally getting its proper due in this Sundance Award-winning documentary, the Harlem Cultural Festival brought together more than 300,000 people to Harlem’s Mount Morris Park from June to August. It was a time of political, cultural and social change, and the festival served as a massive platform to celebrate Black history, culture, and fashion.

WriterChris Saunders