Here is a roundup of movies to watch in Black History Month this year, based on historical and fictional figures who influenced policies or spread awareness on issues affecting Black lives from Europe to America.
Hidden Figures (2016)
(Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox Film Corporation)
Based on the book, Hidden Figures tells the true story of three Black mathematicians who worked for NASA in the ‘60s. We are introduced to the West Computers, women who worked in the segregated part of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson helped successfully guide the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Mary Jackson was the first African-American female engineer, working alongside the senior aeronautical research engineer at the time. Dorothy Vaughan became the first Black supervisor of The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In the film, we watch the lives of these women play out as they help NASA beat the Russians in the Space Race.
(Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Belle tells the remarkable story about Dido Elizabeth Belle, the biracial woman from an 18th century portrait at Scone Palace, Scotland. Stumbling across the real-life woman of colour, neither portrayed as a servant or inferior, inspired the filmmakers. The film centres around Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Belle, the great niece of Lord Chief Justice William Murray. While living at the Kenwood House in London as the illegitimate daughter of a Royal navy officer, she struggles to overcome discrimination from the English aristocracy. Through her journey, she learns to embrace her identity, falls in-love with someone who loves as she is and inspires her great uncle to end slavery in the British Empire.
The Butler (2013)
(Anne Marie Fox/Butler Films, LLC)
The Butler brings history to film through the story of Eugene Allen, an African-American butler who worked at the White House for 34 years and served eight presidents. In the film, Allen inspired the creation of Cecil Gaines, the fictional butler who serves presidents during eras like the Civil Rights movement in America and copes with the transitioning of his country over the decades.
(Courtesy of Atsushi Nishijima)
Selma delivers a powerful depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) by David Oyelowo in the 1965 marches for Black voting rights. We see him in iconic scenes like his appeal to the White House to outlaw discrimination in voting. The film is also timely. As we see changes between the racism of King’s time and ours, we also see ways in which institutional racism still affects our society today. Another thing Selma does show us just how human MLK was. We see him frustrated and exhausted with the heavy burden a leader often deals with. Directed by Ava DeVernay, this 2014 portrayal of the infamous civil rights leader is emotionally charged and heartfelt.
Malcolm X (1992)
Denzel Washington shines in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. The film chronicles the brilliant, yet controversial leader, narrating significant events in X’s life from his criminal past to his assassination. His name change, a crucial moment in Malcolm X’s life, provides us with the history that inspired him to become who he was. The Black nationalist leader had a rich, complex history that started long before he was born. His own parents were involved with Black nationalist movements, making them targets of white nationalists. We also witness Malcolm X’s rise in the Nation of Islam and his inevitable parting from the organization; leaving behind rivals who would eventually plot his assassination. Considering the detail that went into this film, it’s no wonder it took over 20 years to develop.
Black Panther (2018)
Considered one of Marvel’s first Black superhero movies, Black Panther boasts a majority Black cast and a rich storyline that will keep you interested and elevate your sense of Black pride. T’Challa returns to the big screen after his father’s death and must take his place. As he faces the challenge of living up to his father, he must also defend his kingdom from a ruthless enemy. For children of African descent, this film gives them a superhero to look up to who looks like them. At the same time, it is inspiring to see a thriving African nation through the fictional Wakanda.
Tashon Daley | Contributing Writer