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4 Black History Month Movies for Students

by Lorraine Jones

Image courtesy of © She’s SINGLE New York w/ Chris Mary Martinez

It’s more important than ever that we commemorate and honor the Black community this February. In the 2020 aftermath of racial injustice, it is evident that we cannot fail to educate future generations about Black history.


Celebrate Black contribution to society and highlight the Black experience with these must-see movies! Over the years, film has been used as a form of activism and a gateway to deeper conversations about race.


Lee Daniel’s “The Butler”

“The Butler” depicts the story of Cecil Gaines as he witnesses monumental events in history. As a butler in the White House, Gaines has seen many presidents come through the Oval Office. A witness to their decision making, some as significant as the desegregation of schools and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His son, Louis Gaines was a Freedom Rider who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, joined the Black Panthers, and eventually became a politician himself. You witness Cecil protest against South African apartheid and continue to fight for equality. This movie is based on the real-life of Eugene Allen who served as a White House butler for decades.


This 2013 film puts time in perspective. Cecil Gaines ran away from slavery in the South and lived long enough to meet the newly-elected first Black president of the United States in 2008. It’s incredible to see how much the world has changed around you. A lot of iconic Civil Rights figures are still alive today or have recently passed within the last few years. Rosa Parks died in 2008. Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to desegregate an all-white school is only 66-years-old.

Black history is now. We are living Black history every day. With the newly elected first Black female Vice President, we are living proof that history is still being written and progress continues to be made.

“Loving”

Released in 2016, “Loving” tells the story of the interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving as they fight to create marriage equality. This significant event is often left out in many history courses, so to shine a light on such influential people is vital. “The opportunity to be a part of something so monumental and to tell the story of something that was groundbreaking in American history; they were the first people to get the law passed, and to be able to shoot in Virginia and then go to their actual hometown and meet their family was surreal. Working on actual plantations and feeling the love of the ancestors and slaves surrounding me—people lost their lives on the plantation that we shot on—so that was hands down one of the most exhilarating experiences that I’ve had,” said Terri Abney, an actress who played Garnet Jater, Mildred’s sister in the movie.


The Supreme court case, Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, was a huge win for racial equality. Similar to the movie “Guess Who,” this movie displays how interracial couples are often viewed in a different light than other couples. Interracial couples and mixed-raced people need to be normalized. History isn’t just Black and White. Interracial identities and accomplishments have value. The Loving’s helped pave the way for equality for other groups such as the legalization of gay marriage. This historical event is an essential part of Black history and American history as well.


“Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is a historical drama depicting the betrayal of Fred Hampton—the leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party during the 1960s—at the hands of an FBI informant. This Warner Brother’s film was released on February 1, 2021, online and in theaters. When this film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, audiences and critics were in awe. Fred Hampton is a cornerstone of American history because of his fight for social and racial equality. “And while this is certainly a dark and regrettable part of American history, its importance is completely clear. This is a pivotal event in Afro-American history and proof that Black people in the United States never had full equality, despite the legislative changes throughout the years. The movie is history, but there is a lot of the present echoing within the screenplay, as recent events during the Trump Administration have shown us that such situations can and still do happen even today when they are supposed to be history,” said Hrvoje Milakovic.


“Judas and the Black Messiah” shows us the actual experiences of the Black Panther Party in contrast to the government’s perception of the Party. This movie depicts theposition of African American people in today’s America and how we need to overcome the issues we are faced with to become a better country. “The movie is a rollercoaster of emotions that range from anger and frustration to pride—depending on which scene you focus on, but overall, it has that didactical element that shows us why movies about Afro-Americans and their historical problems are so important. These facts are not always known and people take the perils of the Afro-American people for granted – as a piece of history, something we have left behind us – but this movie and others like it show us just how important it is to watch them and to encourage people to change their points of view and become better.”

Ma Rainey's “Black Bottom” This film tells the story of how Ma Rainey and her band revolutionized Blues in Chicago in the 1920s. Blues was a genre of music that gave a voice to oppressed African Americans. Black people used Blues to express the experiences and anguish they felt in the Southern U.S. Blues are part of the foundation of Black culture. Blues gives a voice to a silenced people and is a reflection of African American life.


It’s important to learn the true origin of Blues because a lot of cultural appropriation is done in music such as Blues and RnB. Many Black musicians aren’t given the credit or recognition for their contributions to music. This movie showcases a powerful Black female voice that is often overlooked in history and the media. Ma Rainey is the mother of the Blues and yet most have never heard of her. The characteristics of the Blues inspired the birth of Rock n’ Roll and many other genres and artists.


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“While watching the movie I felt both proud at the musical aspects as well as the respect that Ma Rainey demanded from those around her. I also felt a sense of sadness while watching the onscreen downward spiral and rage that was displayed by Chadwick Boseman's character. He was dealing with a lot of pain and anger and seemed to feel that he had been frequently dismissed and disrespected,” said Licensed St. Louis Psychologist, Dr. Jameca Woody Cooper.

As a psychologist, Cooper sees trauma every day. She hopes when others view this movie, they’ll understand the impact racism and trauma have and how the built-up rage can fester from being oppressed for so long. As an African American, Cooper related to the characters through their shared experiences of systemic racism. “Although racism was different in those times, we should all be able to look at the movie and see similarities with how we experience racism today,” said Cooper.

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Black history is our history. Movies like these are an easy and convenient way to ingest past times. What else is there to do in a pandemic? The culture that Black people have created for themselves and the contributions they’ve made to this country runs deep and wide. Black History Month is a time to thank our ancestors for their hearts, persistence, and courage. Take a break from the shows you typically binge and watch movies that’ll open your eyes to the beauty and strength of Black culture.


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