Although Black History Month takes place during the shortest month of the year, it is still a time to take pause to celebrate Black History. At MCCN we celebrate culture all year round. The Black Diaspora is wide-reaching. Our list tells of stories from countries including Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Gambia and the United States. It celebrates leaders such as Stephen Biko, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela to the unsung hero. It acknowledges the so-called “dirty little secret of race mixing” which is prominent in the American story. Almost every Black American has European ancestry. Conversely, many caucasian Americans have no idea their lineage may include an African-American light enough to pass to begin a new life as a White person. The book “One Drop” also addresses this issue. Without further ado, MCCN’s Black History Movie List.
Roots– Written by Alex Haley, Roots was the TV movie that shocked America. Never, had the imagery of slavery in America been depicted onscreen. It made people angry. It made people sad and apologetic but most importantly it brought enlightenment to millions of people. Every parent regardless of race should educate and share this film with their children. The story begins with Kunte Kinte being abducted from the shores of Gambia.
Amistad– Directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring an unknown actor back in 1997, Djimon Hounsou, Amistad is a story of About a 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that is traveling towards the northeastern coast of America. Much of the story involves a court-room drama about the free man who led the revolt. Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins star.
Invictus – Many films have produced about Nelson Mandela but this story tells of his political life intertwined with the world of Rugby. As a former athlete, Mandela understood the power and influence of sports. He identified its ability to unify people. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star.
Harriet – Harriet manages to layer a well known historical figure. From her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman is told. Leading actress Cynthia Erivo earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal.
Loving – Interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving fell in love and were married in 1958. They grew up in Central Point, a small town in Virginia that was more integrated than surrounding areas in the American South. Yet it was the state of Virginia, where they were making their home and starting a family, that first jailed and then banished them. Richard and Mildred relocated with their children to the inner city of Washington, D.C., but the family ultimately tries to find a way back to Virginia.
Sally Hemings: An American Scandal or Jefferson in Paris: This is the story of former President Thomas Jefferson and his slave/mistress Sally Hemings. Thomas Jefferson is still one the most celebrated presidents in American history so the story of his mistress, his descendants with Black skin living in a America is a hard pill to swallow for some. Visit Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. They have accepted incorporating some discussion of Hemings in the tours. Thandie Newton stars in the 1995 Jefferson in Paris but the more popular forbidden love story of Jefferson and Hemings is the TV movie, Sally Hemings, An American Scandal.
Malcolm X- When this movie was in theaters I didn’t love it but I did appreciate. I did read Alex Hailey’s biography of Malcolm X and like people who appreciate a book the movie don’t quite appeal in the same way. But over the years, it has been a classic with moving performances by Angela Basset and Oscar worthy performance by Denzel Washington. And we even have the famous quote, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.”
Hidden Figures- 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.
Selma– A very humanizing and layering picture of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Selma is a moving story and unsettling story about the true uphill battle over true voting rights for African Americans without hindrance.
Hotel Rwanda – Starring and produced by Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda is a film which reminds us of Holocausts repeating its cycle throughout the world. How long do super power countries turn a blind eye toward crimes against humanity? It also recognizes sometimes we do not want to be heroes but we need to be heroes.
42– In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), legendary manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, defies major league baseball’s notorious color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the team. The heroic act puts both Rickey and Robinson in the firing line of the public, the press and other players. Facing open racism from all sides, Robinson demonstrates true courage and admirable restraint by not reacting in kind and lets his undeniable talent silence the critics for him.
When They See Us – 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. The cast is full of Emmy nominees and winners, including Michael K. Williams, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, and Blair Underwood. Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Ava DuVernay co-wrote and directed the four episodes.
Skin – Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo) is markedly different from her parents. Born in 1950s South Africa during the height of apartheid, Sandra, who looks like a light-skinned black girl, has been confirmed as the biological daughter of her mother (Alice Krige) and father (Sam Neill) — who are both white. But in her racially divided homeland, where the government does not know how to identify her, she faces racism at school and struggles to be accepted and understood by her own family.
This list is composed by Crystal A. Johnson, MCCN & Colorstream Media Editor, a former film critic with a masters in English/ Screenwriting. Her undergraduate minor is in history from Historically Black University, Morgan State University. She is also teaching artist of Media and Theatre Arts in Los Angeles.