• Librarian Ninja Girl

Films about the Black Experience to get the Conversation Started on Race in America

We all have seen the protest, pictures, social media posts about George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement. No matter how you feel about the issue, we all must talk about race relations one way or another. Sometimes films about the black experience can get the conversation started or shed some light on the anger and rage felt in our country. Movies can change, move, and educate us in general. Here is a list of films and documentaries that chronicle the black experience in America for anyone interested in understanding the movement or wanting to do more to help. This article will provide a list of films on the black experience in no particular order:

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Selma (2014) Oscar Nominated film directed by Ava DuVernay tells the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s preparation for the infamous march on voting rights for blacks from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. One of the reasons I enjoyed this film is its focus on the purpose of the march and the toll it took on MLK's life. The film stars David Oyelowo, Cuba, Oprah Winfrey, and Cuba Gooding Jr. Selma is free to stream on all digital platforms such as iTunes and Amazon throughout June.

"13th" (2016) Netflix's original documentary about the American prison system and its ties to racial inequality. Ava DuVernay partnered with Netflix in creating this powerful and gripping film. One of the things I like about this documentary is the chronological timeline; it focuses on slavery to the present-day injustices. No, it does not excuse a crime that has been committed by African American prisoners, but exposes the amount of time served compared to white prisoners with the same crime. 13th is available to stream on Netflix.

Eyes on the Prize (1987) is a PBS 14 episode documentary that chronicles the 1965 Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This documentary provides news archives and interviews from civil rights leaders, politicians, and authors who were presented at the time of the movement. Some of the events covered are the Montgomery Bus Boycott, School Segregation in the south, and the infamous Selma march for African Americans' voting rights. Eyes on the Prize is one of my favorite documentaries because it centers around the Civil Rights Movement and interviews those who were alive. It is a rare and fantastic documentary I highly recommend. Eyes on the Prize is available on Youtube, but the episodes are not entirely listed in order and on Amazon prime to rent. In general, this documentary is so rare it can be tough to find it at times but worth watching.

Harriett (2019), directed by Kasi Lemmon, is a biopic about the courageous life of Harriett Tubman. The film brings Harriett Tubman to life outside of the history books you read in school. It humanizes her journey from runaway slave to a freedom fighter. Also, the challenges she faced as a woman as well. Harriett is available on Amazon Prime to rent for 5.99 and other streaming platforms.

"I Am Not Your Negro" (2016), is a Documentary film that brings to life African American and LGBT author James Baldwin's unfinished work "Remember this House;" that he wrote before his untimely death in 1987. Baldwin's unfinished work is based on his thoughts dealing with the loss of his dear friends Malcolm X and Medgar Evans, as well as the black consciousness of the African Americans living in America. Samuel L. Jackson brings to life Baldwin's words along with a series of historical clips of featuring Baldwin's appearances on television shows, lectures at universities, and interviews. This film is available on Amazon Prime, Youtube, and other streaming platforms.

Ray (2004), is the epic biopic film based on the life of singer/ songwriter Ray Charles's childhood trauma, life as a musician, and recovering addict. This film is more than entertainment as it depicts Charle's childhood in rural Georgia with his brother and sharecropping mother. Also, his stance against segregation in the south during his tours in the 1960s. Ray is available to rent on Youtube, Amazon Prime, Itunes, and Hulu.

Just Mercy (2019) continuing with the Jamie Foxx train, we roll into another biopic based on the life of Walter Mcmillian, who was falsely accused of murdering an 18 white woman in 1987, Alabama. An outsider lawyer Bryan Stevenson agrees to take his case and challenge the justice system, racism, and the truth of this young woman's death. You can watch Just Mercy for free on Amazon Prime, Youtube, and other streaming services.

African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), is a PBS miniseries hosted by historian Dr. Louis Gates. Jr. This miniseries traces the lives of African Americans from slavery, reconstruction, and present times. It is a great miniseries that is not only educational but deeply rooted in African American history. You can catch this series on PBS.org, Youtube, Amazon Prime, and Vudu.

Remember the Titans (2000), starring Denzel Washington and Will Patton as Black and white coaches integrating two football teams from the T.C. Williams High School football team in Alexandra, Virginia, in 1971. This film tackles the subject of school segregation and racial harmony in sports. Remember the Titans is available on Disney +, Google Play, Youtube, and Itunes.

When They See Us (2019) is a Netflix original movie directed by Ava DuVernay, which tells the real-life story of "The Central Park Five," five African American and Hispanic teenagers in New York City in 1989 accused of raping a young white woman in central park. This story focuses on the racial divide that continued in the 1980s, young men being at the wrong place at the wrong time, the justice system, corrupt police force, and the aftermath of these men's lives once they got out of prison and eventually found innocent as the real killer confessed in 2016. This film is available on Netflix now! I also suggest the documentary by Ken Burns "The Central Park 5" ( 2012) on Amazon Prime.

Dear White People (2017- Present) Netflix Orginal comedy/drama series that centers around a group of African American students at an ivy league college facing discrimination and finding their place in the world.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) Spike Lee's Netflix film about five African American veterans. They return to Vietnam to claim the body of their fallen captain and the stash of gold the U.S. left behind during the Vietnam War. This film had its high and low moments. Still, it addresses the duality of African Americans fighting in the Vietnam War and experiencing continued prejudice in America. I also like how Spike addresses the children the soldiers left behind in Vietnam and the racism those kids encountered being half black and Vietnamese. Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix

Malcolm X (1992) continuing on the Spike Lee film circuit, this biopic focuses on the life and death of Malcolm X, the controversial black activist of the Nation of Islam and eventually venturing off to form his religious temple. The movie stars Denzel Washington and Angela Basset. You can catch this film on youtube for 3.99 or other streaming platforms. Also, be sure to read the "Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley as well as the Netflix documentary "Who Killed Malcolm X?" Now streaming.

Do the Right Thing (1989). Another Spike Lee film featured on this list which focuses on racial representation and discrimination between an Italian pizzeria owner and the black customers he serves in their neighborhood. It also touches on police brutality and interracial relationships. This film stars Danny Allileo (Moonstruck), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad and every movie), and Spike Lee. Oh ! did I mention this was Rosie Perez debut film? You can watch this film on Youtube and other platforms.

Moonlight (2016), directed by Barry Jenkins, tells the coming of age story of Chiron, a shy black teenager living in the hood and coming to terms with his sexuality as a gay man. This film tackles discrimination of black LGBTQ+ men in the African American community and in general. It presents another side to the black experience that rarely sheds light on the subject of being gay and black in America. It stars Mahershala Ali and is available on VUDU, Netflix, and other streaming services.

12 Years A Slave (2013) is a biopic that tells the true story of Solomon Northup kidnapped and taken into slavery in 1841 by white slave traders. Solomon was born a free man and a talented violist. He is tricked into going to Washington DC to perform for the elite class. As with all things too good to be true, his white companions that accompany him are slave traders who sell him on the black market. Also, be sure to read Solomon Northup's autobiography, he wrote of the same title. 12 Years A SLaveis available to rent on Amazon Prime, Youtube, and Google Play.

Last but not least is The Butler (2013), directed by Lee Daniels and starring Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitacker, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Goodling Jr, and many more. The Butler came out the same year and month as 12 Years A Slave but did not receive the accolades and attention. The film is inspired by Will Haygood's article in the Washington Post about an African American butler who served in the White House from Truman to Regan eras. The Butler is available to rent on Youtube, Amazon Prime, and other services.

There are hundreds of films about the black experience you can find online free or to rent but I have shared only a few with you all. Here are some links to the others for your reading and viewing pleasure :






Once again, no matter your view or politics about the Black Lives Movement, at the end of the day we all must fight for the civil and human rights of all Americans no matter their creed, age, religion, and sexual orientation! America is built on that right? or we aspire to be as Americans?

Happy Watching!

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