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It’s always the right time to celebrate Black people’s accomplishments in America by looking back at their important, past work and applauding the new, great work being done today. That work includes entertainment.
In the past, we’d subsist on Black History Month programming from ABC or TNT, where we’d get whatever few shows or movies that those networks happened to license. Those offerings weren’t bad per se, but one can only watch Boomerang and Do The Right Thing so many times.
In 2021, however, video streaming services serve up a buffet of top-notch programming. There’s more space for Black content than ever before, as streaming services scramble to differentiate themselves. So here are the recommended films and television shows that you should watch in celebration of Black History Month.
One Night in Miami
Based on the stage play of the same name, One Night in MiamiOne Night in Miami is a semi-fictional tale that sees Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X gather to celebrate Ali’s win over Sonny Liston in February, 1964. The film deals with their feelings about being successful Black men during the Civil Rights Movement. One Night in Miami is also the directorial debut of Regina King (The Boondocks, Watchmen), and she pulls amazing performances from Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. It’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video.
When Shonda Rhimes announced that she was leaving ABC—where she created Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal—to sign a $100 million deal with Netflix, it sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry. BridgertonBridgerton is the first show to emerge from that deal. The show stars Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page as Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, respectively, who fall in love during Regency-era London’s high society gatherings.
The spin is that Simon is Black, and this era is a racially integrated alternate reality. Think Pride and Prejudice, but with Black people. The eight-episode first season is already a hit, and more content is on the way. Bridgerton is based on Julia Quinn’s nine-novel book series, reads that are available on Amazon Kindle or Audible.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Despite the Biblical-sounding title, this film is actually set in the 1960s. Judas and the Black MessiahJudas and the Black Messiah dramatizes the betrayal of Black Panther Party founder Fred Hampton (Get Out, Black Panther, and Queen & Slim’s Daniel Kaluuya) by William O’Neal (Sorry To Bother You, Knives Out, and The Photograph’s LaKeith Stanfield). Indie comedy director Shaka King brings this story to life on Feb. 12, courtesy of HBO Max.
Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out and Up, delivers another fantastic Pixar film. Soul follows Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who dies on the day that he achieves his dream of becoming a serious jazz musician. As a soul heading to the Great Beyond, Gardner must help a cynical soul, 22, find her spark so that he can return to his body. It’s an excellent journey that deals with the meaning of life. You’ll probably cry.
Docter is joined in the director’s chair by Kemp Powers, the first African-American director in Pixar history. In addition, musician Jon Batiste served as a consultant for the film’s many jazz performances. You can watch SoulSoul on Disney+ right now.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Ma Rainey’s Black BottomMa Rainey’s Black Bottom is the final film appearance of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who made a name for himself playing Black historical figures in films like 42, Get on Up, and Marshall (oh, you may have also seen him in Black Panther).
Viola Davis stars as the eponymous Ma Rainey, a blues singer who’s about to record an album with white producers. Boseman is Levee Green, the trumpeter for Ma’s band who wants to break out with his own compositions—something that the band is none too happy to hear. Director George C. Wolfe delivers this fantastic film, a movie produced by Denzel Washington and based on August Wilson’s play. You can watch Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix.
I May Destroy You
Creator Michaela Coel produces, writes, co-directs, and stars in this award-nominated television series. I May Destroy YouI May Destroy You follows writer Arabella Essiedu, as she seeks to write a second book following her sexual assault. Coel’s own experience with sexual assault inspired the series. The entire 12-episode season is available on HBO Max.
Black Art: In The Absence of Light
Black Art: In The Absence of LightBlack Art: In The Absence of Light is a celebration of African-American art, a film based on David Driskell’s Two Centuries of Black American Art exhibition. Veteran documentarian Sam Pollard directs this look at that pioneering exhibition and all the artists that it inspired. You can find Black Art: In The Absence of Light on HBO Max.
Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready Season 2
Tiffany Haddish’s They ReadyThey Ready is back for another laugh-filled season. The series showcases Black stand-up comedians, using Haddish’s name and spotlight to give them shine. This year, the Emmy-nominated comedy series features Barbara Carlyle, Kimberly Clark, Dean Edwards, Godfrey, Erin Jackson, and Tony Woods. You can catch both seasons on Netflix.
If you’re looking for something with a little more action, and a little more magic, then look no further than Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country. Based on Matt Ruff’s novel, the series centers around the life and times of Atticus Freeman, a former soldier who finds himself the heir to a magical heritage.
Lovecraft Country jumps genres, touching fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. It’s not as entirely successful as HBO’s earlier genre series, Watchmen, but it’s still well worth watching for the excellent cast, which includes Aunjanue Ellis, Jonathan Majors, Wunmi Mosaku, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. Vance, and Michael K. Williams. You can find the first season on HBO Max. There’s no word yet on whether the show will have a second season.
Your Attention Please
Hosted by actor Craig Robinson, Your Attention PleaseYour Attention Please tells the stories of contemporary Black creators and innovators. The first episode is a woman-focused entry, featuring engineer and entrepreneur Asmau Ahmed, stunt performer Jazzy Ellis, and NFL assistant coach Jennifer King. The first season is available on Hulu.
Set in the late 1950s, Sylvie’s LoveSylvie’s Love stars Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as two, young lovers. Sylvie and Robert meet in her father’s record store, but their life paths threaten to take them in different directions. Sylvie wants to be a television producer, while Robert is a bandleader in a jazz quartet. The film, written and directed by Eugene Ashe, follows their lives and their romance. It’s available on Amazon Prime Video.
Enter Black Excellence
There are more places and spaces where you can educate and entertain yourself. If you want to watch more Black art on streaming, here’s a list of the best streaming services to make that a reality. Learn how historians are doing their best to preserve Black internet culture. And if you want to hear the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., here are the services where you can find his speeches.
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