15 films to check out during Black History Month . . . or any time!

Happy Black History Month! Do you remember? . . .  It was a year ago . . . I gave you a list of 13 films that you could watch during Black History Month. It’s ok if you don’t remember because here is my 2021 list, Black History Month film recommendations.

Well, a new year means a new list of films and this year I am going to give you 15. And because I don’t want you to wonder what streaming service you can find them on, I have included that information as well. Like last year, this isn’t a ‘Best of’ list but simply a collection of films to check out.

I’ll be the first to say you don’t need to wait until February to watch these films no more than we shouldn’t just be discussing mental health on one day, but I digress.

Hopefully, with this list, I can point you in the direction of something you haven’t seen before as we celebrate Black History Month.

Barry (2016)

Synopsis: A look into the early life of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Director: Vikram Gandhi
Stars: Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Mitchell
Streaming Service: Netflix

I remember seeing this film during its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. This is a film that doesn’t touch on President Obama’s campaign, more so his time in university. This film takes us to another perspective and time when he was just ‘Barry’. It is a poignant look at a time in Obama’s life before the dazzling Senator who became the first Black President and a household name.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Synopsis: Follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence, and future prospects.
Director: John Singleton
Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Ice Cube
Streaming Service: CTV, Cineplex

Required viewing! The late John Singleton was the first African-American director nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards with this film and maybe one of the first to not visibly pretend he wasn’t disappointed when he lost.

This is an incredibly powerful film exploring the struggles and dreams of several young men with statistics against them while they work to survive and thrive.

I’ll say it again, Required viewing!

Dolemite is my Name (2019)

Synopsis: Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.
Director: Craig Brewer
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps
Streaming Service: Netflix

After being away from Hollywood for many years this is Eddie Murphy’s comeback film, and it didn’t disappoint. The film tells the story of a man who wants to break into Hollywood. Many feel that Murphy was snubbed for not being nominated; I feel your movie viewing will be snubbed if you don’t see it. This is a wonderful combination of established talent like Murphy and Wesley Snipes, with less familiar talent like Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who is fantastic in this film.

Dreamgirls (2006)

Synopsis: A trio of black female soul singers cross over to the pop charts in the early 1960s, facing their own personal struggles along the way.
Director: Bill Condon
Stars: Beyonce, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson
Streaming Service: Paramount

After being nominated for writing the script for Chicago (a film that won Best Picture), Bill Condon had the confidence to direct his own musical. He also had the good sense to get this all-star cast: Beyonce, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx. What an embarrassment of riches. The film tells the story of celebrity, greed, and dreams. It’s also the film that earned Jennifer Hudson an Academy Award. Take that American Idol!

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Synopsis: The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
Streaming Service: Crave

Before they were directing and starring, respectively in Black Panther, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan worked together on this film. It’s based on a true story and if you’re familiar with the story you know how it ends. The storytelling and acting are incredible. It’s no coincidence that both of their careers took off after this project.

Girls Trip (2017)

Synopsis: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there's enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Stars: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish
Streaming Service: Cineplex

This is the film that launched Tiffany Haddish’s career but it’s also the film that demonstrated that a film led by Black women could work. Made with a budget of $19 million this hilarious comedy about a girl’s weekend made over $140 million. The only mystery around this film is why haven’t we seen a sequel yet?

He Got Game (1998)

Synopsis: A basketball player’s father must try to convince him to go to college so he can get a shorter sentence.
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen
Streaming Service: Disney Plus

This is a very strong film that shows off the collaborative relationship between Spike Lee and my unofficial twin brother, Denzel Washington. The film explores the relationship between a father and son as well as some interesting US college recruiting tactics. Denzel plays a desperate father trying to get his son to do something he may not want to do. The result is a very strong film in a canon of great films by Lee.

Loving (2016)

Synopsis: The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton
Streaming Service: Cineplex

Interracial relationships are common these days and why wouldn’t they be? You love who you love! That wasn’t the attitude in the 1960s. This film examines the real-life relationship of the Lovings. He was white, she was black and the police weren’t having it. It’s a film with strong performances and is definitely worth the watch. Negga received an Oscar nomination for her performance in this potent film.

Passing (2021)

Synopsis: "Passing" follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.
Director: Rebecca Hall
Stars: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, Andre Holland
Streaming Service: Netflix

This was a great achievement for Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut. It examines what some Black people, in the 1920s, did to avoid racism and prejudice. Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson are both impressive in this film. From the costumes and the set decoration, this film didn’t miss a beat with re-creating a 20’s vibe. The story is intense and I was very impressed with this.

Purple Rain (1984)

Synopsis: A young musician, tormented by an abusive situation at home, must contend with a rival singer, a burgeoning romance, and his own dissatisfied band, as his star begins to rise.
Director: Albert Magnoli
Stars: Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day
Streaming Service: Crave

This is nostalgia. Prince, in my opinion, was the greatest artist of all time. This film, which features the greatest album/soundtrack, is somewhat biographical as it focuses on a musician referred to as ‘The Kid’. We see his struggles at home, with his band and a newfound love interest. This Academy Award-winning film, you better believe it won an Oscar, is a touching story of chasing one’s dreams. Come for the music, stay for the story.

Remember the Titans (2000)

Synopsis: The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.
Director: Boaz Yakin
Stars: Denzel Washington, Will Patton
Streaming Service: Disney Plus

You could really pick any Denzel Washington movie and have a winner. There should be a ‘Denzel wing’ in the Film Museum where you can have access to movies from this incredible icon. I chose this simply because it combines several things I love: Denzel, sports, and overcoming obstacles. Denzel plays a football coach who takes responsibility for a team and he isn’t well-received by the community.

Small Axe (2020)

Synopsis: Small Axe is based on the real-life experiences of London's West Indian community and is set between 1969 and 1982.
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: John Boyega, Gary Beadle, Sheyi Cole
Streaming Service: Prime Video

From the director of 12 Years a Slave comes Small Axe. A collection of five fantastic films focussing on the Black experience in England. Each movie is different. For example, we have Mangrove which focuses on Black-run businesses being harassed by the police. Speaking of the police, we have John Boyega’s (Star Wars The Force Awakens) powerful turn as a police officer in Red, White and Blue. His character tries to navigate through all of the things he observes while on the force that he isn’t comfortable with. The last one, Lovers Rock, is a beautiful film set around one night at a house party. All five entries are well done and worth a watch.

The Gospel According to Andre (2017)

Synopsis: This intimate portrait for André Leon Tally, a fixture in the world of fashion, takes viewers on a journey from André’s roots growing up to becoming one of the most influential tastemakers and fashion curators of our times.
Director: Kate Novack
Stars: Andre Leon Talley
Streaming Service: CBC Gem

It’s kind of funny for me to talk about or even reference fashion. After all, for the last two years when I have had to be on camera, I am constantly thinking ‘Which Manchester City jersey do I want to wow them with today?’ . . . But here we are.

It wasn’t until I saw the film Sex and the City that I had any idea who Andre Leon Talley was.

He was a fashion icon who unfortunately passed earlier this year. Fashion houses around the world yearned for his approval. He was so incredibly respected in the industry and this film does an amazing job telling his story.

What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)

Synopsis: The story of singer Tina Turner's rise to stardom and how she gained the courage to break free from her abusive husband, Ike Turner.
Director: Brian Gibson
Stars: Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne
Streaming Service: Disney Plus

Bassett and Fishburne each earned Academy Award nominations for their intense performances in this film. There is a biopic called Tina that was released last year but from a nostalgic point of view, these are some of the best performances from either actor as they bring Tina and Ike Turner to life.

When They See Us (2019)

Synopsis: Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story.
Director: Ava DuVernay
Stars: Jharrel Jerome, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ethan Herisse
Streaming Service: Netflix

This is a hard watch but something that needs to be seen. Ava DuVernay explores the true story of a jogger in the late ’80s who was raped in New York and the five men who were wrongly accused and convicted for the crime. This Emmy Award-winning show is gripping, powerful, and frustrating. It is a look at a justice system that isn’t always just.