This post was written by Jennifer Borget, the writer and photographer behind the blog Cherish365.
I’ll never forget how it felt being the only Black kid in my 5th grade class as we listened to a lesson on slavery. It was uncomfortable. And I never want that for my kids. Much of what I learned about Black History was in school, and you can imagine that was extremely limited. I want my kids to have an understanding of our past, so they can feel empowered as they move toward their future.
Most schools teach a curriculum that focuses on the traditional achievements of white figures, so the contribution of Black achievements to society are often overlooked. As parents, it’s our job to fill in the blanks. Not just Black parents. All parents. While I believe Black History is EVERYONE’S history, and should be learned about year round (in our regular history classes), I love that Black History Month gives us special opportunities to give attention to the achievements of black people. And to remember that people of color helped make this country great.
One way to teach this at home is with movies! Diversity in film has improved over the years, and we are lucky to live in a time when there are so many great movies centered around the stories of Black heroes to share with our children. Black history movies are a great way to break the ice and educate your kids on diversity, inclusion, and race issues that our country has faced in the past and is still dealing with today. My kids can watch these movies and feel represented.
Every Friday night, our family piles together on the couch for a movie. This month, our picks will be all about Black history. I’ve broken down a list by what I feel are fair age-appropriate ratings for kids.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH MOVIES FOR ALL AGES
1) A BALLERINA’S TALE: A brilliant documentary on African-American ballerina Misty Copeland’s life, the first black ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre. There are some brilliantly touching themes around race, identity, and body image. A great watch.
2) AKEELAH AND THE BEE: A young girl from Los Angeles discovers she has a talent for spelling and tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee. Akeelah never gives up on her goal, which she attempts to achieve with the help of a whole community of supporters.
3) COOL RUNNINGS: (Slightly) based on a true story. When three Jamaican sprinters fail to make it into the summer Olympics, they try their hand at bobsleigh. A brilliant movie with a very poignant message and you might find your kids trying to re-enact the practice scene in the tub next time they’re in the bath!
4) GLORY ROAD: Another biography based on a true story. In 1966, Texas Western coach Don Haskins led the first all-black starting line-up for a college basketball team to the NCAA national championship.
5) HIDDEN FIGURES: A great movie released with huge fanfare. A team of African-American female mathematicians play a vital role in NASA during the U.S. space program’s early years.
6) QUEEN OF KATWE: Inspired by chess after watching The Queen’s Gambit? Queen of Katwe is the perfect next watch as a Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the beautiful game.
7) REMEMBER THE TITANS: Based on a real story – starring Denzel Washington – as a new African-American coach, his high school team must manage their first season as a racially integrated unit.
8) RUBY BRIDGES: Another true tale, as Ruby Bridges – just six years old – is picked to be the first African-American to integrate into her local elementary school in 1960. She is subject to racism for the first time in her life.
9) SAFETY: Ray-Ray McElrathbey is a freshman football player for Clemson University. But he must battle family adversity as he secretly raises his younger brother on campus after his home life starts to wobble.
10) THE COLOR OF FRIENDSHIP: A brilliant eye-opener of a film, as a white South African finds a new outlook on life after she spends a semester with a black family in America.
11) THE GABBY DOUGLAS STORY: The biopic of Gabby Douglas, who overcame immense adversity to become the first African American ever to be named Individual All-Around Champion in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games.
12) THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY: The original 1950s documentary of Jackie Robinson and his rise through baseball’s segregated divisions to become the first African-American to play in the Major League.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH MOVIES FOR AGES 10+
13) 42: The 2013 version of the Jackie Robinson story. The late Chadwick Boseman stars as Robinson in this updated, hard-hitting biography.
14) HAIRSPRAY: One of America’s greatest musicals as Tracy Turnblad, achieves her dream of becoming a regular on the Corny Collins Dance Show. And she uses that platform to speak out on segregation, much to the disgust of one of the show’s former stars.
15) LOVING: Richard and Mildred Loving are a beautiful couple arrested for interracial marriage in Virginia in the 1960s. Their legal battle ended with a historic decision in the Supreme Court in 1967. A brilliant story and one that means so much to my husband and me personally.
16) RED TAILS: While there’s segregation on the ground, in the skies, a crew of African-American pilots is called up to fight in Italy in 1944. A tribute to our unsung heroes in World War Two.
17) THE HELP: Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter Phelan played by Emma Stone comes back from college and wants to write a novel. But she turns her town upside down when she interviews the black servants who have spent their lives working for prominent white families. (Editor’s Note: Many believe that this movie displays the stereotypical “white savior” movie trope and Voila Davis has spoken out about her regret in filming it. You can read Viola’s explanation for why this movie is problematic in Vanity Fair.)
BLACK HISTORY MONTH MOVIES FOR AGES 13+
18) COACH CARTER: High school basketball coach Ken Carter played by Samuel L. Jackson imposes a strict regime of written contracts, respectful behavior, and academic success onto his side’s underperforming players.
19) JUST MERCY: A powerful and thought-provoking true-story. Renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson works to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner.
20) MALCOLM X: A biographical thriller covering the influential Black Nationalist leader, this movie explores every aspect, from Malcolm X’s early life to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.
21) SELMA: Based on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther king Jr’s campaign to secure equal voting rights is chronicled in a fascinating and absorbing movie.
22) THE BUTLER: Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents as a butler at the White House. A great film as Cecil watches the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other significant events affect his own life, his family, and American society.
23) THE GREAT DEBATERS: A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. Tolson inspired his African-American students to form a debate team, which eventually challenged Harvard in the national championship.
24) THE HATE U GIVE: Starr Carter is constantly switching between the black neighborhood she lives in and the white school she attends. But the two collide when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.
BONUS BLACK HISTORY MONTH MOVIES
The list above are family movies that are easier to digest with younger kids. I have a few other Black History movies (including documentaries) that I love, but I recommend watching them on your own first to see if you think your kids are ready.
26) The Last Dance
29) 12 Years a Slave
30) The Color Purple
31) Do The Right Thing
32) One Night in Miami
You can download Jennifer’s checklist from Cherish365 and read more of Jennifer’s movie picks (like movies to watch on Disney+ for Black History Month) here. Also, you can follow Jennifer and her beautiful family on @jenniferborget on Instagram!