February is here again, which means it’s officially Black History Month. It’s a time in which we reflect on the past struggles that Black Americans were able to overcome as a people, as well as a time to celebrate their unique triumphs in spite of those struggles and often in the noble effort to end them.
If you yourself are interested in taking in a bit of the black experience, the following feature films and documentaries offer unique, compelling narratives that might just give you a newfound appreciation for what their courageous black subjects were able to achieve.
The Color Purple
It probably comes as no surprise nowadays that this coming-of-age story and period drama went on to become a cinematic classic, considering it was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey in her film debut. The 1985 film depicts the problems particularly faced by African American women living in early 20th century by telling the story of Celie Harris, who slowly finds her self-worth with the help of two other strong women in her life.
It was a critical and box office success, receiving a whopping 11 Academy Award nominations and earning $142 million off of a $15 million budget.
This war film depicts the heroic efforts of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first military units in the Union Army to consist entirely of African American soldiers during the American Civil War. As the movie demonstrates, the honorable men of the 54th Regiment faced racism and segregation despite serving their country under their white commanding officer, Colonel Shaw. The film is also notable for netting Denzel Washington his first Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Private Silas Tripp.
The Loving Story
Here we have an HBO Documentary about the real-life love story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who took on a lengthy legal battle in 1958 to secure the right to stay married to each other after being sentenced to the state penitentiary for it. Their sheer determination to be with each other led to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia that made interracial marriage legal in the United States.
This biopic is historical in two regards. One because it follows the life of civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. around the time of his efforts to lead the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, but also because its director Ava DuVernay made history by becoming the first black female director to be nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards and the first to have her film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2015. Both are testaments to the quality of this historical drama.
Another biopic about another civil rights legend, this Spike Lee-directed epic spans the whole life story of Malcolm Little, A.K.A Malcolm X. From troubled youth to small-time burglar to human rights activist and American icon, it’s a deeply compelling narrative with a masterclass performance from Denzel Washington in the titular role.