10 Best Black History Movies

Friday, February 25 by William Gish

The 10 best black history movies examine the hardships and triumphs of African-Americans in the United States. A number of these films address marginalized populations, systemic violence and institutionalized racism. They are not uniformly uplifting, but they are great films.

  1. “A Raisin in the Sun” This classic, based on the play of the same name, examines the effect a $10,000 insurance check has on an African American family from Chicago. Each family member has different ideas as to what they would do with the money, and their combating opinions divide them. It's a very powerful black history movie.
  2. “Nothing But A Man” “Nothing But a Man” is a forgotten classic. It's intricate and complex in its examination of race. Not only does it tackle relationships between blacks and whites in the American south, but also racism and classicism within the black community. It's a brilliant, contemplative film.
  3.  “In The Heat Of The Night” “In The Heat of the Night” is an examination of race relations in 1960’s America cleverly disguised as a classic Hollywood tale of murder and intrigue. Starring Sidney Poitier and featuring taut direction and loaded dialogue, it's one of the ten best black history movie.
  4. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” This film examines a romantic relationship between a black man and a white woman. At the time of its release, interracial marriage was illegal in more than a dozen states. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a daring and optimistic testament to the paramount power of humanity over prejudice.
  5. “Do The Right Thing” Spike Lee addressed racial tensions and class warfare in his native Brooklyn with “Do The Right Thing.” Set at the end of the 1980’s, the film explores the manner in which the economic woes, drug problems, and epidemic crime of that decade incited unbearable tension in overcrowded, multi-ethnic ghettos, and how those tensions lead the downtrodden to take those frustrations out on similarly disenfranchised racial and ethnic groups.
  6. "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" This suspiciously forgotten Ken Burns film is one of the 10 best black history movies. The complex, deeply detailed documentary explores the life and career of the first ever African-American heavy weight boxing champion and all the problems of race and class that accompanied Jack Johnson’s rise and fall. 
  7. “Rosewood” “Rosewood” is not for the faint of heart. It tells the true story of an all-black community in Florida that was besieged by a mob in 1923 and burned to the ground. It’s a violent tale of racism and retribution that is one of the 10 best black history movies.
  8. “Malcolm X” This biopic is not without its flaws. For instance, Malcolm X insisted in his autobiography that he was not a good man until he found Allah. However, as portrayed by Denzel Washington, the Civil Right leader is shot through with dignity even at his most depraved. Despite this, it's one of the 10 best black history movies for its massive scope, which documents a full half-century of race relations in America.
  9. “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” This independent film from the '70s has long languished in obscurity. A low-budget piece based on a book by the same name, “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” examines the extreme anger of young black men during the Black Panther movement and the resultant violence.
  10. “American Gangster” While “American Gangster” is first and foremost entertainment, it teaches us about race relations and the plight of blacks in the 1960’s and 70’s. While it’s easy to look at the time of revolution and think that racism was minimal, this film shows us that, from Vietnam to the drug-flooded ghettos, institutional racism was going strong.
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