By Sarah Beth Huntley
Happy Black History Month! I’ve always tried to find ways to celebrate this month each year and one way I’ve wanted to do this is through watching great movies featuring Black casts. Because of this wish, I decided to make a list of my top ten Black narrative films to watch to celebrate all things Black. As an added note, I made sure to include films that deal with Black perseverance and accomplishment so that we can celebrate the triumphs of our Blackness rather than reflect on the pain of our past.
The first film I have selected is Black Panther (2018). The most obvious choice, this film tells the story of T’Challa, ruler of the African country Wakanda, as he takes over his father’s legacy as defender and leader of his people. Starring some incredible Black talent from Chadwick Boseman (rest in power) to Angela Bassett, the story focuses on family and, ultimately, doing what is right. While this might be harder to watch if you have no history with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I believe it is a watchable movie, even without this background.
My second choice is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016). Following the life of Chiron, this is a journey of a Black man through life, love, and struggles with his sexuality. One of the greatest films I have seen and the winner of the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture, Moonlight is beautifully shot, written, and performed, while also inspiring a dialogue surrounding toxic masculinity and homophobia in the Black community. I believe that everyone should watch this movie on any day of the year, but I could not imagine creating a list surrounding Black cinema without including this film.
My next choice is The Harder They Fall (2021). One of the newest films on this list, it is a Western about a man seeking vengeance on the man who killed his parents and scarred his face. While there is much violence in this film, I included it on this list due to the fact that it is not racial violence. I also think its inclusion is important due to the overly white composition of the Western genre and how refreshing it is to see one of these films with a Black cast. I have never really been into Westerns, but I was immediately drawn in and hooked with this film, partially due to how historic it was to see Black people dominating this genre of film.
Fourth up is Hidden Figures (2016). Following three Black women working for NASA during the Space Race, this story is all about the intelligence and strength of Black women. It also holds much star power, starring Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji P. Henson (who I believe deserved to win the Oscar for Best Actress that year for this role!). For all those STEM majors out there, especially the women, this movie is truly an inspiration as it actively combats stereotypes surrounding Black women as less intelligent and/or simply sexual objects.
Next is my favorite film of 2021, King Richard. This is the true story of Venus and Serena Williams’ early tennis careers as their father, Richard Williams, coached them to greatness. It has a spectacular cast, an incredible performance by Will Smith (fingers crossed for a Best Actor win this year!), and six nominations at the upcoming Oscars. This movie quite literally gave me chills and made me feel so emotional, which doesn’t often happen for me when watching films, and I think it is an incredible story of Black success, while also diving into the early lives of two women the world loves and respects.
Speaking of respect, my next film is Respect (2021). Starring the incredible Jennifer Hudson (who was very rudely snubbed by the Oscars this year), the film follows the life of Aretha Franklin through all her trials and tribulations. The music is incredible, the storytelling is very well executed, and Jennifer absolutely shines and amazes in this role, fully convincing me that she truly was Aretha. This movie is a true celebration of one of the greatest Black entertainers of all time, and I think it is the perfect tribute to watch during Black History Month.
At number seven is another Jennifer Hudson movie, Dreamgirls (2006). She stars alongside Beyoncè and Anika Noni Rose, who take on the roles of three women trying to make it in the music industry. The cast in this movie is stacked, with Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy also being major players in the film, among others. It is also the only musical on this list that has an incredible soundtrack from “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” to “Listen.” If you’re really into musicals, this is a great one to watch while also recognizing Black performers.
The next film is Girls Trip (2017). This film follows a group of friends as they travel to New Orleans and rekindle their friendships with each other through a wild series of adventures. I love this film because of its overall focus on friendship, as well as it being a lighthearted and comedic film. It’s also a film centered around Black women and their friendships with each other, which I don’t think there are enough films about, and it is incredibly refreshing to see that represented on screen.
By far the funniest film on this list is my next choice, The Proud Family Movie (2005). If you’re like me, you grew up watching this film and television series about a Black family living their regular suburban life. This is the only animated option on this list, but one I think is comedic enough to provide it merit. From peanut monsters to family members performing long-winded versions of the National Anthem, this is a movie that always has my family and me laughing and is sure to be a Black narrative film that can only bring you joy.
Finally, my last film for this list is Akeelah and the Bee (2006). One of my favorite films growing up, it stars the multi-talented Keke Palmer as a young girl who ends up winning her school spelling bee and discovering her passion and intelligence in her journey to win at the highest level. Keke Palmer is one of my favorite Black actors and as a Black girl who participated in many spelling bees back in the day, this movie inspired me down to the rhythm at which I spelled words. It is a wonderful, family-friendly movie that showcases Keke’s talent from a young age, with the star power of Hollywood staples such as Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett as her adult influences. It is also great for breaking stereotypes and highlighting a young Black girl for her intelligence and drive despite the path many would expect her to go down.
I hope you all enjoyed this list, and I hope I didn’t miss any of your favorites. Please take the time to enjoy the rest of this month and celebrate the rich history of African Americans who, like many of the people in these films and more, persevere no matter what.