The powerful movies to watch this Black History Month

These Black History Month movies will not only educate but inspire you...

FILM 'WAITING TO EXHALE' BY FOREST WHITAKER, film still of Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston
(Image credit: Getty Images / Frank Trapper)

Black History Month is here, and while there are plenty of ways to celebrate it, watching movies that tell true stories of Black culture, history, and identity is a good place to start.

This doesn't just mean movies about the hardships of the Black experience, from slavery to the civil rights movement (though these are important, no matter how difficult they may be to watch) but rather films that represent Black culture through love and joy, while acknowledging the truth about Black history in America and beyond. 

Here, we've compiled a list of some of the most powerful Black history movies to date. From cinematic celebrations of Black heroes and notable milestones throughout time to hard-hitting movies exploring the complexities of race, racism, and inequality, these are the films you need to watch immediately...

'Malcolm X', 1992

Spike Lee's beautiful tribute to Malcolm X, activist and leader of the struggle for Black liberation, is one of the Oscar-winning filmmaker's finest work. It stars Denzel Washington in the titular role and chronicles the highs and lows of his life whilst highlighting his immeasurable contribution to the civil rights movement and empowering Black people. From his imprisonment in the 50s to becoming a leader in the Nation of Islam and his ultimate assassination, he revisits the foundation for the legacy of Malcolm X and the way he instilled racial pride in the Black community. 

'Hidden Figures', 2016

Starring Taraji P Henson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures tells the story of three Black women at NASA, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, all of whom contributed to one of the greatest human achievements in history—the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space. Based on a true story, it's both inspiring and insightful. 

'Selma', 2014

Ava Duvernay's Selma not only featured a star-studded cast (she had everyone from from Oprah to Tessa Thompson and Common involved) but it tells the important story of the racial struggles that continued to prevail in America even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South. It tells the story of the fight for justice in 1965 Alabama, where despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on a march from Selma to Montgomery. Their efforts led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

'Judas and the Black Messiah', 2021

Also known as the movie that earned Daniel Kaluuya his first Oscar, Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton and how a man named William O'Neal infiltrated the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence against him after making a deal with the FBI. The true story that not only includes some seriously good acting from the entire cast but will no doubt teach you a thing or two!

'Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise', 2016

This documentary tells the story of the mighty Maya Angelou, poet, writer, actor and activist. Angelou's life intersected some of the most significant moments in the recent history of not only African Americans but the US as a whole. 

'Do The Right Thing', 1989

Another classic Spike Lee joint, Do The Right Thing tells the story of racial tension in a Brooklyn neighborhood. It stems from a disagreement between Italia pizzeria owner, Sal, and local 'Buggin' Out' when Buggin notices that there are no Black actors on the restaurant's Wall of Fame, which only consists of Italian actors. He feels that since the restaurant is in a Black neighborhood, there should be Black representation. Naturally, things escalate but the movie as a whole (and its core message) portrays a realistic view of African American life in New York. 

'13th', 2016

The Netflix documentary is a powerful and educational watch, dissecting the history of racial inequality in the US. It focuses on the fact that the nation's prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans and features several activists, academics, political figures from both major US political parties, and public figures, such as Angela Davis, Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, Jelani Cobb, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker and Henry Louis Gates Jr among others. 

'I Am Not Your Negro', 2016

Based on James Baldwin's unfinished 1979 manuscript, Remember This House, the documentary explores the work of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., all told through Baldwin's own experiences and personal observations.

Waiting to Exhale

Waiting to Exhale is the ultimate feel-good movie, showcasing the beautiful friendship between four Black women as they each navigate through careers, family and romance.  The star-studded cast includes Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon and Loretta Devine and you can expect all the love life drama, from 'other woman' status to heartbreak and divorce, the excitement of new love and power of friendship in all of it.  

Sylvie’s Love

Starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as leads (with a supporting role feature from Bridgerton's very own Regé-Jean Page), Sylvie's Love is a love story about, you guessed it, Sylvie (Thomspon), who has a summer romance with a saxophonist who takes a job at her father's record store in Harlem; when they reconnect years later, they discover that their feelings for each other have not faded with the years. It's a beautiful and honest portrayal of Black love. 

One Night in Miami...

Set on the night of February 25, 1964, in Miami, Regina King's directorial debut sees Cassius Clay join Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcom X, as they discuss the responsibility of being successful Black men during the civil rights movement.

The Photograph 

We love anything starring Issa Rae and The Photograph not only has that but it tells a beautiful story of Black Love. Mae Morton (played by Issa) and Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) fall for one another as Mae sets out to investigate a photo she found of her estranged mother while cleaning out her things. 

Sagal is a journalist, specialising in lifestyle, pop culture, fashion and beauty.  She has written for a number of publications including Vogue, Glamour, Stylist, Evening Standard, Bustle, You Magazine, Dazed and Wonderland to name a few.