Historical movies to watch for Black History Month


Photo via Disney Plus

Actresses Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures,” streaming on Disney Plus.


Black history is long and expansive. Just as storied is the documentation of black history on screen. 

These are historical movies I enjoy and recommend you watch in the final days of Black History Month and thereafter, separated by era.

Slavery era:

Roots (1977) 

I was initially intimated by this 10-hour miniseries, but my mom insisted “Roots” was a monumental on-screen portrayal of American slavery; half the nation tuned in during the 70s. Based on a true story, “Roots” begins in 1750 Gambia and shows the capture and life of an African boy turned slave, Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton). While I’m still working through this one, the first few hours were riveting and eye-opening. “Roots” is streaming on HBOMax.

Harriet (2019) 

“Harriet” follows the life of Harriet Tubman as she escapes slavery and goes on to free hundereds of slaves. I was on the edge of my seat when I first watched this “Harriet” in the theater. “Harriet” is not only adventurous and engaging, but also enlightened me on lesser-known facts of a Black history icon. “Harriet” is streaming on HBOMax.


Sounder (1972)

Set in 1933, “Sounder” tells the story of the Morgan family, poor Southern sharecroppers. We follow 13-year-old David Morgan (Kevin Hooks) as he copes with his father being falsely accused of theft. This movie is an illuminating tear-jerker. “Sounder” is streaming on Brown Sugar and Hulu with the Live TV add-on.

Civil Rights Era: 

Hidden Figures (2016) 

“Hidden Figures” is the true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Black mathematicians working for NASA. As a Black girl named Katherine who loves math, I immediately connected with this movie when I saw it in the theater. I loved seeing the sisterhood between the three women and the contributions they made to the space race. “Hidden Figures” is streaming on Disney Plus.

Four Little Girls (1997) 

This Spike Lee documentary tells the story of the murder of four girls in a bombing, in a city known at the time for its racial-motivated bombings, Birmingham “Bomingham,” Alabama. “Four Little Girls” features the victims’ families as well as political figures like Mississippi governor George Wallace. This devastating, chilling documentary moves me every time I watch it. “Four Little Girls” is streaming on HBOMax.

Ruby Bridges (1998)

Disney’s “Ruby Bridges,” set in 1960s New Orleans, tells the true story of the titular little girl who integrated a white school, walking past dozens of adult hecklers daily. Seeing this story through kindergarten Ruby’s eyes made for an occasionally adorable and often heartbreaking movie. This childhood favorite of mine is streaming on Disney Plus.

A Long Walk Home (1990)

Set in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, “A Long Walk Home” is the story of the Montgomery bus boycotts, a beautiful show of collective action and fortitude against segregated buses. This movie focuses on a fictional domestic worker, Odessa Carter (Whoopi Goldberg). “A Long Walk Home” is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Actresses Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek and Octavia Spencer in “The Help.” (Photo via Netflix)

The Help (2011) 

Set in 1960s Mississippi, “The Help” showcases the lives of black domestic workers and the white women they work for. “The Help” is historical fiction, but I doubt that the prejudices depicted were farfetched. “The Help” is a cinematically gorgeous and deeply moving movie that grips me from beginning to end of every rewatch. “The Help” is streaming on Netflix.

The Ernest Green Story (1993)

Following in the same vein as “Ruby Bridges,” Disney’s “The Ernest Green Story” tells the story of Ernest Green (Morris Chestnut) and the other nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. This movie had me rooting for Ernest and the other eight black students as they overcame prejudiced parents, students and teachers on their journey to academic success. 

“Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” (2009)

“Gifted Hands” tells the story of Ben Carson (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the first neurosurgeon to perform a successful separation of twins conjoined at the head. From the 1960s to the 1990s, this movie portrays Carson overcoming challenges during a time of segregation and racial injustice. I was cheering on Carson through his struggles with poverty, prejudice and mental health while watching. “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story” is streaming for free on Crackle.

These favorites of mine are sure to entertain as well as educate for the rest of Black History Month and onward.