Over the past decades, many black films have stood out as a means to highlight and honor the accomplishments of black people world-wide. Some of these masterpieces capture the long history of racism and oppression, and highlight some of the race-related problems that are still relevant today.
In recognition of the exceptional creativity of black talents in the movie industry, here are 10 excellent films that tackle the enduring issue of racism.
Do the right thing (1989)
Starring; Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Aiello, Rosi Perez, etc.
The movie, directed by Spike Lee, shows a Brooklyn neighborhood where racial unrest is present and reaches a peak on the hottest day of the summer. The main character of the movie is a young black man named Mookie, who works at Sal’s Pizzeria, a place owned by Italian, Sal, and his sons, one of whom is very prejudiced against Mookie and the other black residents of the area.
The story was motivated by true events that occurred in Howard Beach, New York.
Malcolm X (1992)
Starring; Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Spike Lee, Delroy Lindo, etc.
Directed by Spike Lee, the movie is a celebration of the controversial black activist and pioneer of the black liberation movement, Malcolm X. The film encompasses his lowest point while he was imprisoned in the 1950s, after which he converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam as a Black Muslim. Malcolm then publicly announces the creation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which promotes tolerance over racial segregation, after losing faith in the Nation of Islam. His 1965 murder left a legacy of racial pride and self-determination.
In the movie, Malcolm’s character, instead of encouraging hatred and retaliation, tries to promote empathy and tolerance.
12 Years A Slave (2013)
Starring; Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Bradd Pitt, etc.
Directed by Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave is an adaptation of the popular memoir written in 1853 by Solomon Northup. It tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was forcibly taken from his home in upstate New York’s Saratoga Springs and brought to Washington, D.C. in 1841. He was sold into slavery in the South in the years preceding the Civil War.
As he fought relentlessly to survive and retain some of his dignity, he is subjected to the brutality of one malicious owner, but he also encounters an unexpected act of kindness from another. Afterward, a chance encounter with a Canadian abolitionist in the 12th year of the depressing ordeal alters Solomon’s life irrevocably.
The famed film brought into focus the violent legacy of American slavery, heightened awareness among audiences in the North, and brought attention to the inhumane treatment wrought on him on a scale that spanned the nation.
Mandela: Walk to Freedom (2013)
Starring; Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Riaad Moosa, Tony Kgoroge, etc.
Director Justin Chadwick walks us through Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life as a South African revolutionary, president, and global icon, based on Mandela’s book.
Mandela started out in a rural village as a herd boy, however, he soon joined the anti-apartheid movement and helped to form the African National Congress Youth League. His actions ultimately resulted in his detention on Robben Island from 1964 to 1990.
Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994. The moving film portrays a man who is more passionate about equality and human rights than even his own well-being.
Dear white people (2014)
Starring; Justin Simien, Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Brandon P. Bell etc.
This TV series was directed by Justin Simien. The 4 seasons of the movie unfold when the staff of a humor magazine throws an offensive Halloween party which sets in motion a campus culture war between blacks and whites at a school with a largely white student body.
The movie humorously weaves a universal tale of finding one’s own unique path in the world, while exploring racial identity in acutely-not-post-racial America.
Starring; Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Angela Davis, Stephen Colbert, etc.
Director, Ava DuVernay, examines the course of racial inequality in the US, highlighting the fact that African-Americans make up an overabundant amount of the population in prison.
The film conveys a message that argues that since the American Civil War, slavery has been maintained through the criminalization of behavior, which allows police to detain poor freed-men and force them to work for the government under convict leasing; the repression of African Americans through Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and disenfranchisement; politicians’ declaration of a war on drugs that disproportionately affects minority communities; and, by the late 20th century, mass incarceration affecting communities of color.
DuVernay discusses the amount of money that corporations are making from such incarcerations as she looks at the prison industrial complex and the newly emerging detention industrial complex.
I am not your negro (2016)
Starring; Raoul Peck, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Curtis, Louis Platt, etc.
Director, Raoul Peck, centers this story on the unfinished book by James Baldwin. In a letter to his literary agent in 1979, Baldwin discussed his upcoming book, “Remember This House.” Three of his close friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., were to be the subjects of a revolutionary, first-person account of their lives and assassinations in the book. Baldwin had only 30 completed pages of this manuscript when he passed away in 1987.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is a stinging case of America’s shameful history of racial inequality.
Get Out (2017)
Starring; Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Catherine Keener, etc.
Jordan Peele’s film revolves around a young African-American man who discovers shocking secrets after meeting the family of his white girlfriend.
The protagonist, Chris, initially interprets the family’s overly accommodative actions as anxious efforts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, however, as the weekend unfolds, a series of increasingly unsettling revelations lead him to a reality that he never could have thought possible.
Get Out was a social commentary that raised a number of contemporary and historical societal issues. The film touches on a number of issues, including slavery and police brutality.
The hate you give (2018)
Starring; Amandla Stenberg, Regina hall, KJ Apa, Russell Hornsby, etc.
The movie was directed by George Tillman Jr. The movie’s lead actress, Starr Carter alternates between the wealthy, predominately white prep school she attends and the impoverished, largely black neighborhood where she lives.
The uneasy balance between these worlds is soon upended when she sees her childhood best friend being fatally shot by a police officer. Starr must find her voice and make the decision to stand up for what is right in the face of pressure from all corners of the community.
The movie“The Hate U Give” addresses important issues like racism, white privilege, and discrimination. It raises awareness of the persistent stereotypes of African-Americans as thugs.
Starring; Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr. Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn etc.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, this is a story of brave abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, and her escape from slavery to the perilous missions in the 1840s, she desired to free hundreds of slaves through the notorious Underground Railroad.
Tubman was a key player in the abolitionist movement that fought to abolish slavery in the United States. She was also an essential leader on the Underground Railroad, an abolitionist network that assisted enslaved people in escaping to freedom in the North, and a supporter of women’s suffrage and civil rights, among other things.