One way to celebrate Black History Month is to immerse yourself into the multifaceted world of Black Cinema. These films can teach, enlighten, inspire, and reflect a country’s past and present. Streaming services, like Netflix, have made it much easier to watch films about, created by, and starring Black talent. In recent years, Netflix has been one of the leading companies producing and hosting highly acclaimed Black films, like Dolemite Is My Name, Da 5 Bloods, The Harder They Fall, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
For this list, I wanted to highlight a diverse collection of Black films and TV shows that are available to view on Netflix. Many of these movies and shows are ones that you’ve heard of, but a few may be new to you. Let’s look at some of the best Black-centered content on Netflix.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Spike Lee directed the war drama Da 5 Bloods. It is one of his most socially relevant films. Da 5 Bloods is a movie about four Black Vietnam War veterans returning to Vietnam to find the remains of one of their fallen brothers and to obtain buried gold. Da 5 Bloods’ cast includes Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and the late Chadwick Boseman.
Spike Lee has quite a few movies on Netflix worth watching during Black History Month, but I chose Da 5 Bloods to highlight because its subjects, Black soldiers, are not often seen and discussed in American cinema. We have plenty of great war epics, movies that showcase the effects of War, like PTSD, and the bonds of brotherhood films, but we rarely see these types of stories told through the eyes of Black protagonists. Da 5 Bloods is a drama that not only gives life to these fictional characters but makes time to honor real Black historical heroes. Delroy Lindo also gives one of the best performances of 2020 in Da 5 Bloods, even if the Academy criminally ignored it, that alone makes it worth including on your Black History Month to-watch list.
See You Yesterday (2019)
See You Yesterday follows two Black teen science prodigies who discover how to time travel. They first plan to use their discovery to win a science award, but a tragedy strikes and it becomes a much bigger tool in these teens’ lives. Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow play the main characters CJ and Sebastian. It also features Michael J. Fox in a small supporting role, which is fun casting as he was in one of the best time-traveling movies.
See You Yesterday is a powerful Black Lives Matter sci-fi drama. The focus of the film is how an unarmed young black man, CJ’s brother Calvin (Stro) is murdered. She spends the rest of the movie trying to prevent his death. The shooting of an unarmed young Black man makes See You Yesterday tragically relevant in today’s society. Through the unpredictable variables that come with time-traveling, the film is able to demonstrate the helplessness that one can feel when these stories of young Black men fatally wounded by the police continue to happen, even when variables change.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Dolemite is My Name stars Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore. It follows Moore’s journey to make the film Dolemite and his early days as a comedian. Dolemite Is My Name’s cast also includes Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Wesley Snipes, Titus Burgess, and Keegan-Michael Key.
Dolemite is My Name is the celebration of Rudy Ray Moore’s dream, and how Black culture and blaxploitation films helped give him a niche audience. In many ways, Dolemite is My Name is a film about hope and the American dream. If you continue to fight for something you want, you can achieve it. It’s also a celebration of the importance of how this Black audience allowed him to achieve fame.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom tells the story of real-life blues singer Ma Rainey and her band. It focuses on one day in Chicago in 1920 during a recording. Viola Davis plays the title role and Chadwick Boseman plays her band member Levee Green, who dreams of his own musical success.
The role resulted in him winning a Golden Globe award. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom deals with such issues as discrimination, black trauma, exploitation, and religion. Not only does this film offer one of Chadwick Boseman’s best performances but it also gives a little insight into Ma Rainey as the “Mother of the Blues,” and it’s a reminder of why August Wilson’s plays continue to find new life and audiences in various forms. They’re riveting and speak to the soul. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is truly a fascinating look at Black artists on many different levels (the playwright who wrote it, Ma Rainey and her band, and the actors bringing all this together).
Loving is a film based on the true-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving and how their marriage resulted in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play Richard and Mildred Loving.
Black History Month is all about highlighting true-life events that shaped the lives of Black people and the world. Loving v. Virginia was a case that changed the lives of many by making it legal for people to marry whomever they wanted without facing legal ramifications. Loving is about the love between Richard and Mildred. It’s also a courtroom drama that emphasizes how one person’s story can impact the entire world.
When They See Us (2019)
When They See Us is a mini-series directed by Ava DuVernay. It tells the true-life story of the Central Park Five, five Black and Latino teens who were accused and tried for raping a woman in Central Park. They were later acquitted of all charges after the real rapist confessed to the crime.
When They See Us is a powerful mini-series that takes a look at how the justice system sometimes fails. It shows a very painful moment in history that should not be forgotten, but instead, act as a reminder of how the justice system needs to do everything in its power to make sure something like this never happens again. When They See Us cast includes Jharrel Jerome, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, and Niecy Nash.
13th is a documentary by Ava DuVernay about the American prison system. It goes through the history of the prison system and how mass incarceration especially affects men of color. It’s a documentary that you need to watch for many reasons, including its critical look at the prison systems.
13th makes you take a different look at incarceration and the prison system in general. Even if you have your mind made up about prisons, this film is worth watching, especially during Black History Month, to get a different perspective and history surrounding the prison system and its relation to race.
Canvas is a short animated film about an artist who stops painting because of his wife’s death. Through his granddaughter, he starts to paint again.
Canvas is one of the many great Black animated films that are perfect to watch Black History Month. Canvas is a simple concept animated very well. It’s heartwarming and visually stunning.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
If Beale Street Could Talk is Barry Jenkins’ follow-up film after his Oscar-winning Best Picture Moonlight. The film revolves around Tish (Kiki Layne), a young woman who finds herself pregnant while her boyfriend, Fonny (Stephan James), is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The If Beale Street Could Talk cast also includes Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and Brian Tyree Henry.
It’s based on James Baldwin’s book of the same name. If Beale Street Could Talk takes on a semi-lyrical tone as it explores a couple and family’s fight to be freed from literal imprisonment and metaphorical chains. It also tackles holding on to love and dreams when the world tries to destroy them.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
What Happened, Miss Simone is a biography and documentary about Nina Simone. It takes you on a journey through her life, ups, downs, and things that defined her as an artist and person.
Netflix has a lot of great documentaries on historical Black figures, but What Happened, Miss Simone is definitely one of the best. It includes videos and recordings from the legend herself, which allows Nina Simone to tell her own story. It’s a fascinating look at her life and a smart way to showcase her story.
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker (2020)
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker is a Netflix mini-series inspired by the life of Madam C. J. Walker. Walker is the reported first self-made female millionaire. Octavia Spencer stars as C. J Walker in Self-Made.
Netflix and the team behind Self-Made play fast and loose with actual facts for this four episode series. So it may not be the best show to watch if you want an accurate look at the life of one of the most well-known Black figures. However, the show could act as an introduction into Madam C.J Walker’s life.
Passing follows two Black women who grew up together but took different paths in life. Clare (Ruth Negga) chose to pass as white and live life as a white woman. Irene (Tessa Thompson) stayed true to her identity. Neither women have perfect lives but both find themselves questioning their choices after a chance encounter brings them back into each other’s orbits.
Passing is a superbly acted movie that’s also beautifully shot. It has an underlying tension that adds even more layers and depth to this movie. Passing gives you a compelling look at a time when Black people were still trying to find their home in America.
The Harder They Fall (2021)
The Harder They Fall cast includes Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, and Regina King. It’s an American Western film with an all Black main cast — a rarity in these types of films.
It’s a film with lots of action and great performances. American Westerns have been a big part of the cinema landscape for decades. However, it’s very rare to see one starring or featuring many Black actors or actors of color. The Harder They Fall showcases the long ignored Black cowboy in an exciting and fun way. It may be one of the best modern Western films.
These are only a few films currently available to stream on Netflix that showcase Black talent and stories. One thing Netflix has done well in the last couple of years is to continue to diversify its content, and appeal to many different races, genders, sexualities, and a variety of film and TV lovers. Netflix will be adding more Black stories in the coming months, so make sure to monitor Netflix new releases list for future Black films and TV shows.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.