Picture from Movies for Black History Month

Movies for Black History Month

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher trying to help young people understand complex racial and historical issues, check out these films. We recommend them as a way to inform and launch deep discussions.

Slavery and Freedom

Harriet Born into slavery, Araminta “Minty” Ross runs for freedom after her enslaver threatens to sell her “down river” like he sold her sisters. When she arrives safely in Philadelphia, she renames herself Harriet Tubman before returning to the South to lead more enslaved people to freedom via the Underground Railroad. This is a powerful film that will inspire teens and adults who watch it. PG-13, Grade: A

12 Years a Slave Born free in the state of New York, Solomon Northup is enjoys a comfortable life until he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. This heart-wrenching film graphically illustrates the horrors of slavery and provides a powerful lesson for our need to recognize the humanity of every person. Despite its violence, 12 Years a Slave can be an impactful teaching tool for mature teens. Restricted, Grade: B+

Lincoln Although President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, thereby freeing the slaves, he’s increasingly concerned that the proclamation will be abrogated at the end of the Civil War. To ensure that all Black Americans are forever free from chattel slavery, Lincoln is convinced that a constitutional amendment is required. This fascinating film follows Lincoln’s political machinations as he works toward the 1865 ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Suitable for teens. PG-13, Grade: A-

Belle Although it took a bloody civil war to end slavery in America, the British Empire abolished slavery gradually – and peacefully. This historical film tells the true story of Dido Belle Lindsay, the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral and a Black slave. A ward of her uncle after her father’s death, Dido enjoys an excellent education and the affection of her guardians, who struggle to help her find a role as a biracial woman in 18th century England. Their family life gets complicated when her uncle, who happens to be Lord Chief Justice of England, must rule on a court case with profound implications for the legality of slavery. Suitable for teens. PG, Grade: A

Amazing Grace This inspiring biopic explores the life of William Wilberforce, a British parliamentarian who dedicated his life to ending slavery in Great Britain and its empire. A moving story of dedication, sacrifice, integrity, and moral courage, this film is an outstanding choice for teens (and their parents). PG, Grade: A

Civil Rights

Red Tails The civil rights movement didn’t burst into being with Martin Luther King but built on the work and sacrifice of thousands of Americans. Red Tails recounts the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen who enlisted in the Air Force despite its policy of segregation. Their valor and dedication result in 95 Distinguished Flying Crosses and, in 1948, a policy of desegregation in the USAF – and a boost for the civil rights movement. Grade: PG-13, Grade: B+

Marshall Thurgood Marshall is a lawyer for the NAACP and in 1940 he’s sent to Connecticut to defend a Black chauffeur who’s been accused of rape. There’s just one problem – Marshall isn’t a member of the Connecticut bar, which means he’s going to have to work with Sam Friedman, a local Jewish lawyer who wants to stay under the radar. This film is suitable for mature teens and provides a disturbing look at racialized justice. PG-13, Grade: B

Selma tells the story of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Protesting the police murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, Black marchers run a gauntlet of violence as they cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This film is a story of courage and dignity and introduces viewers to Martin Luther King, John Lewis and other civil rights leaders. PG-13, Grade: B+

MLK/FBI draws on exhaustive research to document the harassment Martin Luther King underwent at the hands of the FBI. This documentary raises big questions about surveillance, harassment, and institutional racism. It’s educational and suitable for teens. Unrated, Grade: A

Mississippi Burning The murder of civil rights activists brings the FBI to small town Mississippi to identify the killers – but the sheriff’s department is assisting in the coverup and white supremacists are setting fire to the homes and churches of Black Americans. This is a disturbing and very violent film, but if you want to expose older teens to the horrors of racial violence, Mississippi Burning is a good place to start. Restricted, Grade: C

John Lewis: Good Trouble This moving documentary depicts the legacy of this remarkable American, from his days as a civil rights activist alongside Martin Luther King and other notable leaders to his 33 years of service in Congress. It provides a first person view of the Civil Rights Movement and is a call to everyone to work towards a more just and equal world. The film is an excellent choice for tweens and teens. PG, Grade: A+

Malcolm X While Martin Luther King preached non-violent responses to oppression, Malcolm X advocated a more assertive strategy for African Americans. A leader in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X’s charismatic speaking style gave him influence beyond Black Muslim circles. This film features an inspired performance by Denzel Washington in the lead role. PG-13, Grade: A-

Loving It’s 1958 and, like two dozen other states, the Commonwealth of Virginia forbids interracial marriages. So when a white man named Richard Loving decides to marry his Black girlfriend, Mildred, the couple go to Washington D.C. for the wedding. This isn’t the end of it, though. After Virginia police raid their home and throw the pregnant woman in jail, the couple flee the state. Mildred is homesick, so with the help of the ACLU, they launch a lawsuit that goes all the way to the Supreme Court. PG-13, Grade: A-

Son of the South A university assignment on race relations brings Bob Zellner up against the violence and intimidation faced by his Black neighbors. Pushing back against his grandfather, who is in the Ku Klux Klan, Zellner throws himself into the Civil Rights Movement, becoming the first white southerner to serve as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is a compelling look at man who learns what it means to “be the change”. PG-13, Grade: B+

Hidden Figures Racism and sexism are a toxic combination, as three women discover while they work to help put Americans on the moon. Hired as “computers” – skilled mathematicians who perform the calculations needed for space flight – the women battle entrenched prejudice as they struggle to complete their challenging tasks, adapt to evolving technology, and assert their right to equal treatment. With messages that stress the value of hard work and education and the equality and dignity of all, this is an excellent choice for families with children. PG, Grade: A

The Best of Enemies Based on a true story, this film explores racial tolerance, forgiveness, and unlikely friendships. It tells the tale of Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist, and CP Ellis, head of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. When the Black elementary school in Durham, North Carolina catches fire in the early 1970s, the two community leaders are forced to work together to find solutions in a charrette – a formal arbitration system where stakeholders unite to solve problems. PG-13, Grade: A-

Just Mercy When Harvard grad Bryan Stevenson moves to Alabama to open the Equal Justice Initiative, he begins decades of advocacy on behalf of prisoners on death row. And he’s shocked to discover how many of them are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. PG-13, Grade: A

The Hate U Give When Starr sees a police officer shoot a Black teenager at a traffic stop she has to choose whether to testify or stay silent. This is a superbly acted film with strong themes of racial pride, self-respect, and family unity. It’s also a great way to raise to issues of race and policing with teens, especially as we grapple with the murder of George Floyd. PG-13, Grade: B

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