Roots (1977)

Starring LeVar Burton of “Reading Rainbow” fame, “Roots” adapted Alex Haley’s famous novel about his lineage into a television miniseries. The series shows the intense struggles and horrific situations his ancestor Kunta Kinte endured while enslaved. Although the historical accuracy of the series has been a point of controversy over the years, the message at its core has stood the test of time.

 

‘The Color Purple’ (1985)

Starring acclaimed actors and figures in the Black community, “The Color Purple” was adapted from Alice Walker’s seminal novel. The narrative follows Celie, a young black woman in the South struggling to find her identity and overcome the trauma of abuse she has been a victim of her whole life. Starring Whoopi Goldberg in her first feature film, it’s an incredibly emotional performance with a message about overcoming trauma and oppression that has left a lasting impression. 

 

‘Do the Right Thing’ (1989)

“Do the Right Thing” shows one particularly hot day in a neighborhood of Brooklyn with racial tensions among the area’s diverse populace increasing as the uncomfortable heat and anger reach unbearable levels. One of director Spike Lee’s first feature films, he holds nothing back in asking audiences to question when violence is warranted and if peaceful resolutions between races are actually possible under the country’s current societal structure.

 

‘Boyz n the Hood’ (1991)

This movie is known as the first of its kind, because of the way it showcased inner-city struggles for Black youth at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. It came at a time when the country turned its back on the Black community and the horrors of police brutality, poverty, gang violence and substance abuse. Many critics believe that it also contributed to the racial tensions of Los Angeles surrounding the beating of Rodney King by LAPD and the LA riots. 

 

‘Malcolm X’ (1992)

Malcolm X was one of the most influential leaders of Black empowerment in history. Portrayed by acclaimed actor Denzel Washington, “Malcolm X” portrays the figure’s life, from his troubled teenage years growing up in Boston, to becoming a preacher for the Nation of Islam as an adult, to his assassination on Feb. 21, 1965. Washington received over 10 nominations and awards for his career-defining role of a civil rights defining leader.

 

‘Friday’ (1995)

This stoner comedy written by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh went on to make nearly $27 million in gross. In a Buzzfeed article, Ice Cube explained his reasoning creating the film "After movies like ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ ‘Menace II Society,’ and ‘South Central’ came out, everybody thought the way we grew up was the worst thing ever in life. I didn’t see it that way,” He said. “Of course it was rough, but we had fun with everything. We tried to laugh at things that most people would cry at.” Despite being released over 20 years ago, the film has developed a cult-like following and enjoys a solid place in pop culture.

 

‘Love & Basketball’ (2000)

This movie is a love story that follows the lives of two young people, Quincy and Monica, who bond and fall in love through their shared passion for basketball. The director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, a lifelong basketball player, made the film to tell her story in a way that she had yet to see on film.

 

‘Paid in Full’ (2002)

This movie is based on the real-life tragic story of Richard “Rich” Porter, an infamous drug kingpin in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, who was gunned down by his friend Albert “Alpo” Martinez. The story follows three friends on their “rags-to-riches” story as they make their new fortune from selling crack cocaine, and the tragedies that ensue. 

 

‘Ray’ (2004)

This movie depicts the life of famed singer and pianist, Ray Charles, from his humble beginnings in Georgia to the top of the charts. Often referred to as “The Genius,” Charles was one of the most influential R&B musicians in history. The film also won two Oscars: Best Actor for Jamie Foxx and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing.

 

‘Black Panther’ (2018)

Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” starring Chadwick Boseman was a big step forward for Black superheroes and superhero movies overall. In the movie, the titular character — also known as T’Challa — must take on his new role as king of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda. I think the question that I’m trying to ask and answer in Black Panther is, ‘What does truly mean to be African?'” Coogler told the Rolling Stone in 2018. The movie went on to win three Oscars, and it received nominations for three more, including Best Picture.

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