Director Ava DuVernay of “13th” accepting her award during The 76th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony

Director Ava DuVernay of “13th” accepting her award during The 76th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony at Cipriani, Wall Street on May 20, 2017 in New York City. Photo/ Wikimedia Commons

Black History Month is an annual celebration to recognize the achievements of African Americans. 

Since 1976, The United States has recognized the month as a time to reflect on America’s history, and support African Americans in their achievements and struggles since the time of slavery. 

In taking a look at the potential entertainment for this month, here are some amazing films that highlight the African American community. Whether it be through documentary, true stories or fiction, these films bring strength, resilience and cultural pride to the screen. 

The first film that probably comes to mind when people think of iconic Black stories is “Selma” (2014). 

“Selma,” for the few that haven’t seen it, is a retelling of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. The film displays scenes of intense mistreatment, segregation and violence placed upon African Americans after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite the Civil Rights Act, segregation made it impossible for Blacks to register to vote. 

Alabama became a state in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, and despite violent opposition, jailing and loss of loved ones, Dr. King Jr. marched. The movie is a cinematic masterpiece with David Oyelowo playing Dr. King Jr., and Ava DuVernay as the film’s director. DuVernay took the 1965 march and brought it to life, with captivating shots, a brilliant cast and a film that took viewers into the heart and soul of the Civil Rights Movement. This film was given four NAACP awards, a BET for Best Movie and the PGA Visionary Vanguard Award. “Selma” is not one to miss, especially during Black History Month. 

Another film that takes viewers into a deep dive of the racial inequality in America is Ava DuVernay’s documentary, “13th” (2016). 

An accurate phrase to describe this documentary is “insanely transformational.” 

While this film is notable for its nine awards and insightful investigation into why African Americans disproportionately fill America’s prisons, “13th” used the visual technique of motion graphics unlike any documentary critics had seen. 

“When you watch ‘13th,’ you feel that you’re seeing an essential dimension of America with a new vision,” Owen Gleiberman said, an American film critic for Variety. “That’s what a cathartically clear-eyed work of documentary art can do.”  

The visuals and soundtrack of “13th” will give viewers chills as they process the film’s imagery and meaning. 

DuVernay’s work has texture, and while the concepts are easy to grasp, it’s the message of “13th” that will start the water works. This documentary is stunning in every possible way, and is a must-watch this month. 

Before jumping into more historical retellings, a few lighthearted mentions might be nice for your watchlist. 

In the realm of animated movies, “The Princess and the Frog” (2009), “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) and “Soul” (2020) are a great place to start. While Disney has had its fair share of cinematic controversies, these three films celebrate Black stories, and are great for family and friends.

“The Princess and the Frog” will make you laugh, and if you haven’t already seen it you will most definitely fall in love with the characters and soundtrack. Following many of the Disney princess themes, “The Princess and the Frog” is a musical and the infectious tunes will get stuck in your head, which is notably the best part. 

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a new take on the classical Peter Parker story arc. Miles Morales and his new spider-like abilities will captivate audiences, and the animation is a sight in itself. The film borders on comedy and seriousness, and each spider-type character from varying parallel universes are witty and add a lot of diversity to the film. Not only do we get to see characters that haven’t been brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we also get a new take on Spider-Gwen. 

“Soul” is also a fun loving musical movie that greatly represents family and following your heart. This film was just recently released to the Disney Plus platform, so be sure to watch it before the plot gets spoiled. 

“Hair Love” (2019) and “Canvas” (2020) are also two lovely animated short films that display African American girls embracing their natural hair texture, themselves and their ability to create art. These two films are also family-friendly and can be enjoyed by the younger and older audiences. Both of the films are between seven to nine minutes long and will not disappoint. 

Next in our Black History Month lineup are some fun comedy dramas that are amazing for movie nights. The beautiful part about celebrating Black stories this month is that while there is importance in facing the seriousness of cultural and political challenges, there are also times of joy and laughter. “Sister Act” (1992), “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” (1993), “Cool Runnings” (1993) are old but iconic. The jokes from the Sister Act movies are not to be missed. “Cool Runnings” on the other hand has been a film under the radar for many years. It’s one of those films you usually only watch once, but it’s a timeless true story that shouldn’t be forgotten. 

Last in our lineup are four remarkable true stories about love, courage and will power. “Loving” (2016), “Hidden Figures” (2016), “Freedom Writers” (2007) and “Remember the Titans” (2000).

“Loving” is an intimate look at an interracial married couple in 1958. The couple experience segregation, inequality, jailing and banishment from their small town in Virginia. What’s amazing about this true story is that while their love is tested, it only makes the couple stronger and it helps them fight for interracial marriage equality. 

“Hidden Figures” is also a powerful film that highlights three women and their contributions to the NASA space program. These women were not merely wives and mothers, but the brains behind getting Apollo 11 to the moon. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monáe) skill rivaled that of the best mathematicians at NASA. This movie not only highlights the unheard stories of the African Americans who worked for NASA in the 1960s, but the women who are a part of the U.S. space program that won the space race. 

“Freedom Writers” and “Remember the Titans” are also true stories showing the willpower of youth, and their stories deserve to be heard. If you haven’t seen these films, they are ones to add to your watchlist. 

Apropos of film recommendation lists, my honorable mentions include “Fences” (2016), “Black Panther” (2018) and “The Hate You Give” (2018). All three of these movies are completely different genres but can be appreciated in various ways for their cultural, historical or fictional excellence. 

Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at emilier@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @emilieemeree.