Black History Month is meant to be a time of celebration, learning and reflection. Personally, as those who are loyal readers of this site, or follow me on either Instagram or the newly created Spoutible, can attest, I choose to honour the month through the medium of film. One of the beautiful things about film is that there are plenty of works that can provide an entry point into different aspects of the Black experience. Unlike the early days of cinema where works like D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation were used as tools of propaganda to spread misinformation and stereotypes, we thankfully live in a time where Black directors and artists have taken control of their own rich narratives.
Below are some film recommendations that you might consider streaming, either via paid (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crave, Criterion Channel, Apple+, Shudder, etc.) or free (e.g. NFB.ca, Kanopy, Tubi, CBC Gem, etc.) services, this month. Please note that not every film on this list has something profound to say about the Black experience. In fact, some of these films are not even about being Black. They are just entertaining works that happen to have Black characters in lead roles. They are included on this list to remind you that not every film featuring a Black individual revolves around trauma (e.g. slavery, police brutality, etc). It is just as important to see films where Black people are allowed to be heroic, vulnerable and complex…you know, regular people.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Disney+
In this emotionally rich sequel to one of the best Marvel films ever made—ya I said it—the people of Wakanda fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T’Challa.
Losing Ground – The Criterion Channel
One of the first feature films to be written and directed by a Black woman, Kathleen Collins’ film explores female sexuality and marriage through the tale of a scholar and artist that find their relationship at a crossroads.
Across the Line – Netflix, CBC Gem
Director X’s feature debut shines a light on the racial tensions within Nova Scotia. The film follows a young Black hockey player whose must navigate both his career ambitions and his racially divided community.
Chameleon Street – The Criterion Channel
A criminally underrated piece of cinema, this film tells the true story of Michigan con man Douglas Street who successfully climbed the socioeconomic ladder by pretending to be everything from a magazine reporter to a surgeon.
Coffy – Tubi
In this Blaxploitation classic, Pam Grier plays a nurse turned vigilante who wages a one-woman war against the drug dealers who got many in the inner-city, including her sister, hooked on drugs.
Stateless – NFB.ca
Those who enjoyed Michèle Stephenson’s latest film, the Sundance hit Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, about legendary poet Nikki Giovanni, should give Stateless a spin. The film looks at the complex history and politics that led the Dominican Republic to strip citizenship from anyone with Haitian parents, rendering over 200,000 people without a nationality, identity or homeland.
The Woman King – Crave (available on Feb 17th)
Inspired by true events, this action epic starring Viola Davis tells the remarkable story of the Agojie, an all-female unit of warriors, who protected the Kingdom of Dahomey from outside forces who wanted to claim the kingdom’s power and resources.
Black Ice – Crave
Produced by Lebron James and Drake, Hubert Davis’ documentary looks at the history of Black hockey players and the racism and inequality that they still face to this day.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit – Disney+
Taking the To Sir with Love route in the sequel, Sister Mary Clarence and her fellow nuns are tasked with teaching music to a group of Catholic students, including one played by Lauryn Hill, whose run-down school is slated for closure.
My Brother’s Wedding – Kanopy
Charles Burnett’s film follows a thirty-year-old man whose life is lacking direction. A fact that hits home even harder when he becomes the best man at his successful brother’s wedding.
Sidney – Apple TV+
Reginald Hudlin’s documentary explores the life, career, and legacy of legendary actor and trailblazer Sidney Poitier.
Moonlight – CBC Gem
Barry Jenkins’ Academy Award winning film follows the journey from childhood to adulthood through the eyes of a Black male as he navigates identity, sexuality, and fractured familial bonds.
Portrait of Jason – The Criterion Channel
In this documentary that ranges from amusing to heartbreaking, Jason Holliday offers a candid portrait of the highs and lows that came with being a gay hustler and aspiring cabaret performer.
Show Girls – NFB.ca
No, this is not the infamous 1995 film about show girls, but rather the other film that came out in 1998. Meilan Lam’s documentary recounts Montreal’s Black jazz scene from the 1920s to the 1960s, and the changing racial and political climate, through the eyes of three Black women who danced in many of the iconic clubs and burlesque shows of the time.
Nanny – Amazon Prime
The first horror film to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, the film follows a Senegalese immigrant, working as a nanny in New York City, whose American Dream is in jeopardy due to a truth she can no longer run from.
Love Jones – Tubi
Following the romance between a poet and a photographer, and backed by a killer soundtrack, this film is a reminder that love can be complicated, but ultimately worth it.
Saloum – Shudder
Saloum is the entertaining gift that keeps on giving. Jumping across various genres, and nailing them all, the film revolves around three mercenaries who find themselves in the mystical region of Saloum, Senegal when their latest mission goes horribly wrong.
Subjects of Desire – Kanopy
Jamaican-born Canadian director Jennifer Holness’ documentary deconstructs the complicated ways in which race and beauty have intertwined throughout history.
The Tragedy of Macbeth – Apple TV+
Denzel Washington doing Shakespeare on the big screen again, what more do you need? For those unfamiliar with the iconic play, Macbeth tells the tale of a Scottish lord whose rise and fall is sparked by a trio of witches who convince him that he will become the next King of Scotland.
Friday – Crave
The phrase “bye Felicia” has been co-opted by so many people on social media that it has become its own meme. However, not many folks outside of Black Twitter actually know who Felicia is or the film that made the phrase popular decades before social media got a hold of it.
Test Pattern – Kanopy
This drama offers a searing look at systemic racism can in the health care industry through the lens of an interracial couple whose relationship is put to the test as they go from hospital to hospital in search of a rape kit.
Coming to America – Amazon Prime
One of the great romantic comedies, Eddie Murphy shines as a young prince who tries to avoid an arranged marriage by traveling to America in search of true love.
Malcolm X – Crave
Spike Lee’s masterful drama charts the life of Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) from his early life and career as a small-time gangster to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.
Beloved – Disney+
Adapted from Toni Morrison’s book, the film is a chilling portrait of a runaway slave who is haunted by the past.
Finding Sally – CBC Gem
This documentary presents a personal look at an Ethiopian aristocrat who disappeared during the Ethiopian Revolution.
Blade – Netflix
The legacy of Wesley Snipe’s half-vampire, half-mortal man vampire killer is far more important than simply being an entertaining action horror. The fact of the matter is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would not exist today if it wasn’t for the success of the Blade franchise.
Neptune Frost – Kanopy
A wildly original work, this afrofuturist musical tells the tale of a group of escaped miners who form an anti-colonialist computer hacking collective to take on an authoritarian regime.
Bruiser – Hulu (U.S.), Crave (Canada) – available on February 24th
While this film divided audiences at TIFF, I found Miles Warren’s debut feature to be a fascinating exploration of masculinity, identity, and the toxicity that is often woven throughout both.