Here are a few films that reflect the Black pioneers that have helped shape our world today. These eleven films are the pinnacle of top tier black cinema and they help us to never forget the work of these individuals and their stories that fueled the movement.
Malcolm X (1992)
Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley. A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his imprisonment in the ’50s, he became a Black Muslim and then a leader in the Nation of Islam. His assassination in 1965 left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride.
Directed by Spike Lee, Written by Spike Lee & Arnold Pearl
Rosewood, Florida, is a small, peaceful town with an almost entirely African-American population of middle-class homeowners, until New Year’s Day 1923, when a lynch mob from a neighboring white community storms the town. Among the carnage, music teacher Sylvester (Don Cheadle) and mysterious stranger Mann (Ving Rhames) stand tall against the invaders, while white grocer John (Jon Voight) attempts to save the town’s women and children.
Directed by John Singleton, Written by Gregory Poirier
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Though he once spent time in San Quentin, 22-year-old black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is now trying hard to live a clean life and support his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and young daughter (Ariana Neal). Flashbacks reveal the last day in Oscar’s life, in which he accompanied his family and friends to San Francisco to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and, on the way back home, became swept up in an altercation with police that ended in tragedy.
Directed/Written by Ryan Coogler
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, Written by Paul Webb
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
In 1988, a groundbreaking new group revolutionizes music and pop culture, changing and influencing hip-hop forever. N.W.A’s first studio album, “Straight Outta Compton,” stirs controversy with its brutally honest depiction of life in Southern Los Angeles. With guidance from veteran manager Jerry Heller, band members Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren navigate their way through the industry, acquiring fame, fortune and a place in history.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, Written by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus
The Birth of a Nation (2016)
Nat Turner is an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation owned by Samuel Turner. With rumors of insurrection in the air, a cleric convinces Samuel that Nat should sermonize to other slaves, thereby quelling any notions of an uprising. As Nat witnesses the horrific treatment of his fellow man, he realizes that he can no longer just stand by and preach. On Aug. 21, 1831, Turner’s quest for justice and freedom leads to a violent and historic rebellion in Southampton County.
Directed by Nate Parker, Written by Nate Parker & Jean McGianni Celestin
Hidden Figures (2016)
Based on Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.
Directed by Theordore Melfi, Written by Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder
In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession. By the end of the night, three unarmed men are gunned down while several others are brutally beaten.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Written by Mark Boal
Ron Stallworth is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman, into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.
Directed by Spike Lee, Written by Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott & David Rabinowitz
Just Mercy (2019)
Warner Bros. made the film free to rent!!!
Based on Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for McMillian’s life.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Written by Destin Daniel Cretton & Andrew Lanham
When They See Us (2019)
Miniseries created by Ava DuVernay
In 1989 a jogger was assaulted and raped in New York’s Central Park, and five young people were subsequently charged with the crime. The quintet, labeled the Central Park Five, maintained its innocence and spent years fighting the convictions, hoping to be exonerated. This limited series spans a quarter of a century, from when the teens are first questioned about the incident in the spring of 1989, going through their exoneration in 2002 and ultimately the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.