Movies for Black History Month

Viewing suggestions from our readers and staff.

“Akeelah and the Bee” (2006)

The story of an 11-year-old girl with a gift for words who is coached for a series of spelling bees by a college professor (Lawrence Fishburne) and inspires her entire school and


“Australia” (2008)

Director Baz Luhrmann uses the panorama and adventure of the conventional movie epic to tell the story of the capitalist, racist, land-grabbing, destruction of Aboriginal families, sexual predation and use of brute force that have been key parts of even Australia’s modern history. The movie stars several superb Australian Aborigine actors in addition to the box office luminaries required to get big movies funded, in this case Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

“Chameleon Street” (1989)

A bizarre comedy about an even more implausible true story of an African American imposter who pretends he’s a surgeon (among other things) and actually fools everyone! Loaded with social overtones. It won the Dramatic Grand Prize at the 1990 Sundance Festival.

“Cooley High” (1975)

A great mix of comedy and social commentary set in the projects in 1964, made in Chicago, written by Eric Monte and directed by Michael Schultz (who also did “Car Wash”), stars Glynn Thurman and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, with a Motown sound track.

“The Ditchdigger’s Daughters” (1997)

A true story of how a poor workingclass Black family struggles to educate six daughters in spite of racism and sexism.

“Ethnic Notions” (1986) and “Color Adjustment” (1991)

“Ethnic Notions” is Marlon Riggs’ brilliant documentary about racism in popular U.S. culture. “Color Adjustment” is Riggs’ documentary on television’s portrayal of African Americans from the early days to the 1970s.

“Eyes on the Prize” (1987, 1990)

The landmark PBS series chronicling the history of the civil rights movement.

“Glory” (1989)

Award-winning film with Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman about the Civil War and the first all-Black volunteer company, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

“The Great Debaters” (2007)

Based on a true story from the early 1900s this film chronicles how Professor Melvin Tolson, the coach of the debating team at a small Black college in the deep South, transforms his students into a world famous debating team. Denzel Washington stars.

“In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

Based on the John Ball novel published in 1965, which tells the story of an African-American police detective — played brilliantly by Sidney Poitier — from Philadelphia who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a racist small town in Mississippi. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, and remains relevant for today.

“Malcolm X” (1992)

Teenagers and young people have watched this movie over and over to learn and know about the famous Black leader. The film also inspired many who witnessed that time period. The story is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, directed by Spike Lee.

“Men of Bronze” (1977)

The story of the courageous 369th Infantry Regiment (the Harlem Hellfighters) who fought alongside the French Army in World War I because of racism in the U.S. Army.

“Miracle at St. Anna” (2008)

Follows four Black soldiers of the all-Black 92nd Infantry Division in World War II who are trapped in an Italian village and save the life of an Italian boy. Directed by Spike Lee.

“Mississippi Masala” (1992)

The love story of an Indian immigrant girl for an African American man in the contemporary deep South, a film that deals with the new ethnic configurations of contemporary America.

“Standing in the Shadows of Motown — The Story of the Funk Brothers” (2002)

A terrific movie (documentary, but don’t let that scare you off) about the music, the people, the city, the history.

“Nothing But a Man” (1964)

Starring Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln, Gloria Foster and Yaphet Kotto among others. The powerful story of an African American railroad worker and his wife fighting for dignity in the changing South, it encapsulates both the oppression that African-Americans faced and the struggle against that oppression. Selected as “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

“Paul Robeson: Here I Stand” (1999)

The life of Paul Robeson as athlete, singer, scholar and champion of the rights of the poor, workers and the African American people.

“Pride” (2007)

Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac and Kimberly Elise star in this true film about Jim Ellis’ inspiring accomplishment of organizing, training and coaching a neighborhood swimming team in a neglected Philadelphia recreation center.

“Proud Valley” (1940)

Paul Robeson stars in this British film about an African American man stranded in a Welsh coal mining village where he must adjust and overcome many challenges.

“Rosewood” (1997)

Grim but powerful fictionalized portrayal of what was in essence a pogrom against an African American community in Florida in the 1920s.

“Struggles in Steel — The Fight for Equal Opportunity” (1996)

Documentary about African American steelworkers’ quest for equal rights in the steel industry; directed by Tony Buba and Raymond Henderson.

— Teresa Albano, Rosita Johnson, Norman Markowitz, Bill Meyer, Barbara Russum, Susan Webb, John Woodford, Marguerite Wright.


PWW Editorial Board
PWW Editorial Board

PWW traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924. On the front page of its first edition, the paper declared that “big business interests, bankers, merchant princes, landlords, and other profiteers” should fear the Daily Worker. It pledged to “raise the standards of struggle against the few who rob and plunder the many.”