Films and Shows To Celebrate Black History Month
The following is a list of television shows and films featuring black issues and all-black casts. A mixture of classics and contemporary, these works are important for the black community’s representation in media, as well as addressing prominent issues that they were facing at the time. Many of these are timeless. Not only because these stories are told well with great casts, but because many of the issues that these characters face are still being dealt with today.
According to Dr. John Lessard, English Associate Professor here at Pacific, these many notable black works have shown a history of resistance.
Whether it is from Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1919) to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017), these films are, how Dr. Lessard best put it, “what one might broadly call counternarratives, counterimages and also counter-industrial practices and institutions.”
- “Soul Train” (1971 – 2006)
This American music-dance television show presented important representation for future black artists. “Soul Train” featured R&B, Soul and Dance/Pop performances. Additionally, funk, jazz, disco, gospel and hip-hop artists appeared as well. However, the host of the show, Don Cornelius, was not fond of hip-hop. Fun fact: Cornelius was the first black owner of a nationally syndicated TV franchise.
- “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (1990 – 1996)
“Fresh Prince of Bel Air” defied the stereotypes as well as put these stereotypes in their place. A wealthy African American family in Bel Air, Los Angeles takes in a relative from Philadelphia who got caught into some trouble. It’s considered a classic. This is a show that one could watch over and over again because of the hilarious antics of Will and his family to the serious and all too real moments that they face.
- “Proud Family” (2001 – 2005)
This animated show had a distinctive art style and cast. Another show about a pretty well-off family comes into contact with Penny Proud (voiced by Kyla Pratt), trying to understand her heritage. The Kwanzaa episode was memorable and for a Disney show, was quite ahead of its time. Aside from the usual teenage angst Penny and their friends go through, feminism also came into play when Penny wanted to join the football team. Through all the obstacles that life may throw at Penny, at the end of the day, her zany family was always by her side.
- “Dear White People” (2017 – present)
A predominantly white university comes in growing conflict between university politics, social injustice and ill-judged activism. The comedy-drama, satirical show “Dear White People” takes a look into not only external conflicts that the black community faces, but also inner conflicts. “Dear White People” can take the audience in an emotional rollercoaster ride: frustration, glee and shock. But the most memorable moments are ones of near-heartbreak, because some moments just hit too close to home.
- “Within Our Gates” (1919)
This film deliberately counters movies like D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) that consisted of actors in blackface and deemed giving power to blacks as a threat to the white characters’ livelihoods. Black filmmaker, producer and distributor, Oscar Micheaux, tells the story of a young black woman trying to keep a Southern school for poor black children open to the public. Check this movie out as it’s one of the earliest black films to go against Hollywood’s imagery and narratives of the black communities.
- “Bamboozled” (2000)
I can’t talk about black films without mentioning one of the most notable figures for black film: Spike Lee. “Bamboozled” doesn’t get as much recognition as “Do The Right Thing” (1989) or “Malcolm X” (1992), but it’s a look into the hypocrisy of the entertainment industry, where a black writer pitches a show in which black people put on black face.
Dr. Lessard describes it as “a very bleak satire that takes a very critical look at Hollywood’s history and present of racist films and images.”
- “Moonlight” (2016)
In terms of black films, there has been a release of great studio films that are not just for entertainment, but also a way of painting the world around us in a color we are not all too familiar with. In “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins, we watch a young black kid grow into an adult in Miami. In three important stages of his life, this character goes through much physical and emotional abuse as well as difficulties with his identity. This films shines a light on a part of the unspoken difficulties that those who are black and LGBTQ+ face.
- Get Out (2017)
In American horror films, stereotypically, the token black character always dies first. But what happens when the main character is black? Reminiscent to Stanley Kramer’s “Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (1967), “Get Out” is a horror film where a young man meets his girlfriend’s parents for this first time. They just don’t know that he’s black. Alongside “Moonlight,” “Get Out’ received a lot of praise. It’s an original and innovative film where its subtlety is one of its greatest features.