Making an African-American film isn’t an easy job. The cruciality and the sensitivity of the subject have to be taken into consideration, given the fact that racism was widely prevalent in the United States and parts of the west as late as the ’60s. While the erstwhile racism was attributed to direct references to one’s skin color or origin and there were separate public utilities for the white and people of color, things sound a lot different now and racism, even if prevalent nowadays is mostly subtle in nature.
Netflix, in general, has a wide range of films, but it can be pretty difficult to find a movie that fits your mood. From documentaries to romantic comedies, these African-American features are not only interesting but captivating. While Netflix may not have the greatest collection of African American movies (many biggies are unfortunately missing), it is relevant not only on Black History Month but every month of the year. Here is the list of really good black movies on Netflix available for streaming right now.
25. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
Inspired by August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is a drama movie that features talented actors like Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, and Glynn Turman. The George C. Wolfe directorial centers upon the events that follow as the legendary American blues vocalist Ma Rainey and her band gather on a humid afternoon in Chicago to record a song. When the Mother of the Blues is late to the location, tension rises between her team members as harsh secrets come to light. In the following moments, Ma realizes the challenge that she has ahead of herself and, with the knowledge of the historical black oppression, vows to get her voice heard.
24. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Directed by Liz Garbus, ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ is a documentary film that centers upon the inspiring story of Nina Simone, who courageously faced challenges throughout her life and achieved her seemingly impossible dreams. Using archival footage and interviews with Simone’s loved ones, the movie tries to acquaint viewers with the child piano prodigy’s ascension to musical stardom. ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ also sheds light on Nina’s venture into activism and the subsequent decision to move to Liberia in light of the civil strife of the 60s.
23. Coach Carter (2005)
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Brown, Robert Ri’chard, and Rick Gonzalez, ‘Coach Carter’ is a biographical teen sports drama film written by Mark Schwahn and John Gatins. The Thomas Carter directorial follows Ken Carter, the coach of the Richmond High School’s basketball team, who manages to get the team on a winning track with his strict rules. However, when their grades suffer in the process, he makes unexpected decisions to force the students to not only excel on the court but in their studies as well.
22. Quincy (2018)
Quincy Jones is one of the greatest music producers in the history of the business, and it was high time someone documented the legend’s life on film. All thanks to Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones, (who wrote and directed this documentary), now this dream is a reality. Jones is the man behind some of the most iconic pop tracks of all time. He has won an unbelievable 27 Grammy Awards throughout his lifetime, has produced around 2900 songs, and is one of the 18 people in the world to be honored with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony Award. Jones is also the producer of the highest-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. This documentary honors the man’s life and also features interviews with some of the greatest artists he has worked with over the years.
21. Amateur (2018)
The title is perhaps derived from Amateur basketball if you know what I mean. ‘Amateur (2018)’ is a story surrounding 14-year-old Terron, an aspiring basketball player who, while in 8th grade, gets offers to join an elite prep school meant for training amateur basketball players. As he joins Liberty Prep, he is taken aback by the level of commercialization the sport has gone into, with private corporations sponsoring sports material and what not. While he learns the tricks of the trade, he is faced with an ethical dilemma when his father joins the team as an assistant coach – should he play along, with his flashy lifestyle, given he’s an aspiring player or should he get his father involved in a similar lifestyle as his own. The questionable moral principals of corporates versus the curiosity of a teenager have been aptly depicted in this Afro-American sports drama.
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20. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train (2017)
This is an independent African American film starring Rachel Crow and Ashleigh Murray in the main roles. It revolves around two teenage girls that start robbing trains to be able to support their family. With their mother in jail, they have to find ways to survive. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is an entertaining film about family, bullying, and self-esteem. The story engages you quickly and makes you root for the main characters. It is well worth a watch.
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19. Roxanne Roxanne (2017)
The biographical film of the 80’s hip-hop singer Roxanne Shante, ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ rather begins at a time when she was not aspiring to be a hip-hop artist. Shante is an independent woman who tries to make a living amidst an oppressive patriarchial mindset of a society but all in vain. After seeing no respite for her financial woes and given her financial liabilities towards her family – more importantly, her mother and her little sister Peggy, Shante turns to rap and gains quickly as an emerging artist. Although the moments of her accomplishments – namely the performances, the music labels and the commercials, are shortlived in the movie and the focus is mostly on her emergence from the clutches of her stereotypical inhibitions, ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ still packs a punch given its shoestring budget and lack of any bigger, popular names in the star cast. An inspired tale of a rapper who got lost in translation.
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18. Fifty (2015)
If you never watched a movie from Nigeria, this might be a good choice. “Fifty” follows four Nigerian women at the top of their careers. Tola, Elizabeth, Maria, and Kate juggle between family and work in one of the largest and most vibrant cities of Africa. It could be said that it falls into the soap opera category. However, this is an interesting look at a side of Nigeria that is often not portrayed.
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17. Homecoming (2019)
Beyonce is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the biggest names in the world of music today. Her legions of followers are spread all throughout the world, and it goes without saying that a concert film of the superstar will be watched by millions if it is released on Netflix. Beyonce collaborated with the streaming giants to do just that. Her performance at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the most famous music festivals in the world right now, has been made into a documentary film which is written, directed, and executive produced by the musician herself. Interestingly enough, before the film released on Netflix, several colleges which have a majority of African-American students, got to see screenings of the film at their own colleges.
16. Concrete Cowboy (2020)
Directed and co-written by Ricky Staub, ‘Concrete Cowboy’ is a Western drama movie that is inspired by Greg Neri’s book ‘Ghetto Cowboy.’ The film revolves around Cole, a 15-year-old boy who goes to live with his estranged father in North Philadelphia, unbeknownst to the life-changing implications of the decisions. Once there, he becomes acquainted with the cowboy subculture of the region and somehow finds kinship in the community plagued by violence and poverty.
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15. First Match (2018)
‘First Match’ is the tale of Monique, who has had a rough childhood and her foster care is about to end. She is fed up with her foster care mother who despised her during her entire childhood but she wants to patch up with her estranged biological father Darrel. Incidentally, Darrel was a wrestling champion during his formative years and to get closer to him, Monique decides to join the high school’s wrestling team. While Darrel doesn’t show any interest initially, he, later on, gives in as a spectator while having difficulty in understanding the level of emotions that Monique has for him. Throughout the film, we witness a struggling Monique who has a desperate goal to attain perfectionism amidst some visually compelling cinematography. ‘First Match’ is a rare gem which clearly depicts the difficulty of choice and the loneliness of making the right one.
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14. See You Yesterday (2019)
This science fiction comedy film might be a pure entertainer, but its subtextual meaning is of great importance in today’s society. Produced by Spike Lee and directed by Stefon Bristol, ‘See You Yesterday’ centers around two African-American teenagers who are science prodigies, and we witness how they use their superior mental acumen to save one of their brothers from death. And how do these two teenagers do that? By making time machines that look like backpacks! One might immediately argue that the premise itself is a bit of an exaggeration, but if we consider the fact that the film is doing a very important job of representing African-American characters with genius-level intellects, we can understand the cultural significance of the same.
13. The Incredible Jessica James (2017)
Written and directed by Jim Strouse, “The Incredible Jessica James” follows an aspiring playwright living in New York City, right after experiencing a break-up. One of the best things about this film is the perfect balance between drama and genuine comedy. The comedic side of “The Incredible Jessica Jones” makes the performances of Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd shine. On the other hand, the drama keeps it engaging and interesting. It is an original take on the romantic comedy genre.
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12. Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)
‘Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story’ is a documentary movie that chronicles the life of the legendary Willy T. Ribbs, a black driver who changed the sport through his extraordinary feats. Featuring interviews with his loved ones, sports stars, historians, and racing team owners, the film focuses its attention on the historical moment when Willy completely destroyed the color barrier of professional auto-racing.
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11. Beats (2019)
Directed by Chri Robinson, this Netflix original film is a coming-of-age drama about a boy who pursues his dream of being a famous musician after inspiration and encouragement comes from an unlikely source. August, an African-American teenage boy is the central character of this film. He suffers from PTSD after witnessing his sister’s murder in front of his own eyes, and the incident has affected him so much that he has even stopped going to school. August’s school’s security guard Romelo is the principal’s soon-to-be-divorced husband, and it is he who recognizes the boy’s talent in the first place. Romelo was also into the music business and believes that he can return back to the same using the talents of August. However, the duo’s dream of making it big goes through several obstacles. The film raises a lot of questions about the rising gun violence in America and even mental health conditions and their effects on a teenager.
10. Imperial Dreams (2014)
John Boyega appears in a leading role as Bambi in this Afro-American drama. The film begins with a 21-year-old Bambi who is being released from prison. Bambi, who has nothing but love for his family, especially for his son, and who has vowed never to go back to the criminal underworld that put him in the prison in the first place, is again at crossroads, for no one employs a felon. With a kid Dayton who has no one to look up to, for Bambi’s girlfriend is also in jail doing her time, he decides to write a novel about his life and the kind of people he met – good or bad – that led him into difficult situations and in prison – of all places. With a relentless Bambi pursuing righteousness amongst bad influence and drug abuse, ‘Imperial Dreams’ reminds us of the dark times when all one would want was a beacon of hope.
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9. Bright (2017)
This 2017 Netflix original film is set in an alternate universe where humans have learnt to co-exist with other magical creatures like orcs, elves, fairies, and so on. The film has two protagonists- Daryl (Will Smith) and Nick (Joel Edgerton), two police officers working for the LAPD. The two of them are given the task of protecting an elf female whose survival is essential for the survival of the world as we know it. The film not only is a densely packed action thriller, but also talks about important issues of race and discrimination that we tend to see in today’s world as well. Surprisingly enough, ‘Bright’ was unanimously rejected by critics, but it managed to find massive popularity among the audiences.
8. The Black Godfather (2019)
While the name Clarence Avant might not ring a bell with the average audience, he is a legend when it comes to the music industry. Some of the greatest African-American artists of all time have collaborated over the years with Avant whose life is nothing but a fascinating journey to the top of the music world. He started as a manager of the pianist Lalo Schifrin and then went on to found multiple record companies, and also organized some major concerts and events with black artists. Avant’s influence in the world of music is so far and wide that he is referred to as ‘The Black Godfather’ among his colleagues. This documentary features interviews with Barack Obama, P Diddy, Quincey Jones, Bill Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Kamala Harris, David Geffen, and others. Just the list of celebrities who love the man shows his influence in the world of music.
7. Mudbound (2017)
Nominated for four Academy Awards, “Mudbound” revolves around two families: the Jacksons and the Mc Allans, who are forced to share some land. As they struggle with poverty and adversity, prejudice and racism begin to shake their lives. With an incredible and talented cast, “Mudbound” is an engrossing drama about relevant issues like racism, violence, and female solidarity. Director Dee Rees did an amazing job, she created an astonishingly powerful and beautiful film that will stay with you for a long time.
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6. Dolemite is My Name (2019)
If you have watched blaxploitation films or happen to have an interest in the same, chances are you have come across the name of the film ‘Dolemite’. The eponymous central character of the film is portrayed by Rudy Ray Moore. Moore reprised the character in several other films and even used it while performing stand-up comedy. The Netflix original film ‘Dolemite is My Name‘ is a biographical comedy about Moore’s life. Eddie Murphy, the legendary comedian, plays the Moore in this film. Here we see how Moore chanced upon the idea of this character and then convinced a playwright to write a blaxploitation film on the same. Hilarious, brash, and keeping close to the aesthetics of blaxploitation films, ‘Dolemite is My Name’ is a film you should not miss out on any cost.
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5, I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
Written by James Baldwin and Raoul Peck, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is a documentary film and social critique film essay. Inspired by James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, the movie exposes the systemic racism in the United States by offering a close overview of the life of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. It also includes moving interviews of Baldwin in which he meditates on questions concerning the fate of his people in the country of his birth and the reasons for his disillusionment with the political system.
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4. Catching Feelings (2017)
Set in Johannesburg, ‘Catching Feelings’ is essentially a dark comedy which begins with Max, a former writer who is in his mid-30s now, who wrote a bestseller in his 20’s, thus earning him the necessary name and fame to get into a university job teaching creative writing. He lives in a Johannesburg’s suburb with his wife Sam. Enter Heiner, a rather successful and accomplished writer who is pursuing a residency programme at the university. Given Heiner’s flamboyant ways and his penchant for girls, drug-abuse and late-night parties, he suffers a mild heart attack, forcing Max to bring him home. The only challenge now for Max – to keep Heiner away from his wife Sam. ‘Catching Feelings’ has an aura of its own and has definitely caught the pulse of the audience with a compelling way of storytelling. Watched it yet?
3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
A harrowing experience to begin with, ‘Beasts of No Nation’ hits the audiences where it hurts. The movie begins with a boy named Agu, a young soldier sporting guns, fighting in a civil war in an African nation. Agu, like everyone else in his group of boy-soldiers, fears his commander (called as Commandant, played by Idris Elba) and is put up with ambushes, hauling ammo and training in small-arm combats. In his first road ambush mission, Agu is asked to kill a man with a machete, to which he complies reluctantly, after being joined by other kids of his age. As the war intensifies and the Commandant’s regiment is on the losing side after UN forces take over, Agu and his other friends are taken to a beach-side house where they spend time playing soccer and bonding with each other – as pre-teen kids do. ‘Beasts of No Nation’ is unrelenting, painful, yet true to its heart and highlights the sorrows of war in an honest and straightforward manner.
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2. 13th (2016)
“13th” takes an in-depth look at the prison system in the USA and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality. The documentary touches on slavery, the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Richard M. Nixon, Reagan’s declaration of the war on drugs and much more. This documentary is an excellent summary of American History. Although it interviews a lot of experts and gives you a massive amount of facts and statistics, it never feels like a lecture. Besides being highly informative, it is entertaining and an inspiring narrative. Despite your political view or nationality, this documentary should be watched by everyone.
1. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
Marsha P. Johnson was one of the leading figures in New York’s LGBTQ movement in the 1980s, and this Netflix original documentary tells us about her life and the mysterious circumstances under which she died. Johnson was a famous drag queen who rose to popularity after coming to New York with only $15 in her pocket. The central figure of this documentary is Victoria Cruz, who is also a trans activist and had worked closely with Johnson before her death in 1992. Johnson’s body was found floating on the Hudson river, and though the death was declared to be a suicide, many were left unconvinced and some still believe that the trans icon was murdered. After discovering some vital facts regarding her death, Cruz initiated the process of reopening the case. Johnson is one of the most well-known icons of the LGBTQ movement, and this documentary is a must-watch for those who are passionate about the cause and wish to know about one of the biggest activists of the same.
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