28 Films to Watch During Black History Month That Aren't About Black Trauma
Hollywood is full of movies about slavery, segregation, and the Black struggle, and while these films can serve as important educational tools – especially during Black History Month – it is important to step back and remember that films about trauma are not the be-all and end-all of Black entertainment. Black people deserve happy-go-lucky romances, cultural explorations, and cheesy coming-of-age movies, too! So, if you’re looking for a way to ring in Black History Month 2021, read books by Black authors, follow Black influencers, and check out this list of amazing Black films, minus the trauma.
Bad Boys (1995)
Starring dynamic duo Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys follows detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett as they track down millions of dollars worth of missing drugs under the pressure of the Miami Police Department. An action-packed comedy, Bad Boys is a classic Black movie enjoyable for the whole family with the added bonus of having two equally hilarious sequels.
Barbershop chronicles a day in the life of a shop on the south side of Chicago, diving into the camaraderie that exists between men and their barbers. Calvin (Ice Cube) inherits the struggling business from his father and immediately sells, but later comes to realize he may have made a mistake.
Beyond the Lights (2014)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker lead the underrated romance Beyond the Lights about a young singer who finally finds someone who sees her for who she truly is. There are dramatic elements, but this is a love story at its core.
In the first multiracial cast performance of the classic fairytale, singer-songwriter Brandy plays a Black Cinderella navigating life under the cruelty of her wicked stepmother, played by Bernadette Peters. Released in 1997, the film has a star-studded cast, including the late Whitney Houston and the Grammy-, Emmy-, Academy-, and Tony-Award-winning Whoopi Goldberg.
In this nostalgic coming-of-age film, high school students Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Jib (Tony Revolori), and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) embark on a wild adventure involving a wrong place, wrong time run in with a local drug dealer and his armed thugs. Presented at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Dope brings a fresh take to the John Hughes teen movie.
Set in the 1960s and based on the 1981 Broadway musical, Dreamgirls follows a trio of female musicians – The Dreamettes – in their pursuit of mainstream success. With a lineup that includes Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, this film has all the makings of a Black classic from the beginning.
Starring a young Nick Cannon, Drumline follows a drummer making the transition from his New York high school to the marching band of a fictional, historically Black college located in Atlanta. Between tension with his bandmates, relationship drama, and all the other challenges that come with young adulthood, Drumline is the perfect, trauma-free coming-of-age film.
The Fighting Temptations (2003)
With life not going according to plan, Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.) moves back to his hometown of Monte Carlo, GA. While there, he – alongside a beautiful musician played by none other than Beyoncé Knowles – is tasked with reviving a lackluster church choir, falling in love in the process.
Craig Jones (Ice Cube) loses his job, needs money for rent, and has a best friend who owes money to the town drug dealer. What could go wrong? As it turns out, everything. Jones, along with best friend Smokey (Chris Tucker), embark on a hilariously chaotic Friday adventure in this comedy staple.
Girls Trip (2017)
Four friends (Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish) who have grown apart over the years reunite for a weekend getaway to New Orleans. Looking to relive their wilder years, the Flossy Posse gets into tons of trouble, shares lots of laughs, and revives the sisterhood that brought them together. With an ensemble cast made up of some of the funniest and most-well-known Black female entertainers of our time, Girls Trip is bound to make you laugh out loud.
Good Burger (1997)
Dexter and Ed (Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson) thought they were getting a typical after-school job flipping burgers, but end up responsible for saving their entire restaurant from being overrun by the new chain in town. The unlikely pairing stops at nothing to get what they want, performing absurd antics and forging a real friendship throughout. Good Burger is one film that is just as funny now as it was then.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Based on a true story, Hidden Figures chronicles the US and Russian race to the moon and the Black women that helped the US win. Despite racism and sexism from their colleagues, coupled with the other difficulties that came with being a Black woman in 1960s America, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) get jobs at NASA and become instrumental in advancing the Space Race and restoring the nations faith in science.
Joyful Noise (2012)
An integral part of Black culture, the church choir, again, sits at the center of Joyful Noise. Only this time, they have hit an impasse: stick to tradition or jump on the train of pop, rock, and hip-hop gospel music. Led by Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) and G.G. (Dolly Parton), the choir must learn to work together or risk losing everything, including the national choir competition.
Jump In! (2007)
Starring High School Musical‘s Corbin Bleu and True Jackson VP‘s Keke Palmer, Jump In! focuses on a hallmark of the Black childhood: double dutch. When boxer and alpha male Izzy Daniels finds himself intrigued with the skill and intricate moves of the activity, he must make a choice: his dream and that of his dad. A Disney Channel Original Movie, Jump In! is one of the few with a primarily Black cast.
Jumping the Broom (2011)
A 2011 romantic-comedy drama, Jumping the Broom tackles the age-old trope of a wealthy girl falling in love with a poor boy, much to the dismay of her family. In this case, the pairing is Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) and Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), whose families clash on their wedding day due to differing traditions and family secrets. When all is said and done, only one question remains: will Sabrina and Jason finally jump the broom?
Last Holiday (2006)
New Orleans saleswoman Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) is forced to reconsider the cautious life she has lived when she is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Led to believe she only has a short time left, Last Holiday follows Georgia as she jets off to Europe to spend what she believes are her last days truly living her life.
Businesswoman Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is a no-nonsense business mogul who mistreats everyone around her, especially her employees. The night before a big presentation, she is magically transformed into a 13-year-old version of herself and now has to rely on the person she treated the worst . . . her assistant April. Also starring Marsai Martin and Issa Rae, Little is a beautiful representation of female Black excellence.
The Photograph (2020)
Starring Issa Rae as Mae Morton and LaKeith Stanfield as Michael Block, The Photograph is a romantic drama detailing the budding romance between the two. Mae, coping with the loss of her estranged mother, sets out to investigate a photo she found while cleaning out her things, leading her to Michael, a rising journalist. Intertwining love stories both past and present, The Photograph is the perfect film to watch this Valentine’s Day.
Poetic Justice (1993)
Told through the eyes of poet Justice (Janet Jackson), Poetic Justice tells the story of a young woman dealing with the aftermath of the murder of her first boyfriend. Along the way, she meets Lucky (Tupac Shakur), and the two embark on a road trip with Iesha (Regina King). If you haven’t seen this time capsule, put this on your must-watch list right now.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
The Princess and the Frog tells the story of a New Orleans waitress who dreams of one day owning her own restaurant. She meets a frog prince along the way and, trying to return him back to human form, kisses him. The problem? Not only does he not become human; she becomes a frog, too.
This film marked the first time Black kids were able to identify with Disney royalty who looked like them. Princess Tiana proved that blonde hair and blue eyes are not a requirement to be a princess.
Remember the Titans (2000)
With Denzel Washington at the center, Remember the Titans tells the true story of coach Herman Boone’s attempt to integrate the T.C. Williams High School football team, the Titans, in Alexandria, VA, in 1971. This movie deals directly with racism, so there are traumatic sequences, but the “feel-good” story at the center is softened by Disney.
Roll Bounce (2005)
In 1970s Chicago, Xavier (Bow Wow) turns to skating as a way to cope with the loss of his mom. He and his group of friends are the stars of the roller rink, but after it closes down, they are forced to migrate to the much fancier Sweetwater Roller Rink. Under the scrutiny of the reigning champions, headed by a skater named Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), the group must prove their skills to a whole new crowd.
Set It Off (1996)
With an A-list lineup featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise, Set It Off follows four friends who desperately turn to robbing banks to offset financial hardships. They are successful at first, but self-destruct with time.
Released this past Christmas, Soul is a Pixar animated film focused on a musician who, after a near-death experience that lands him in the afterlife, regrets the life he took for granted. Coming at a time of great uncertainty and stress in the real world, the film – featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, and more – stresses themes of community and finding purpose.
Much like the aforementioned animated films, Soul breaks huge racial barriers in animation. It is Pixar’s first Black protagonist and only the fourth American animated feature with Black leads.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
For decades, Peter Parker was a dorky white kid who did not fit in with his peers. In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man is Miles Morales, a young Afro-Latino who wears Air Jordan 1’s and listens to rap music. For many young kids of color who dream of being superheroes, this was the first time they went to the theater and saw someone who looks like them on screen.
The Wiz (1978)
A retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz through the lens of contemporary Black culture, The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” features the legendary likes of Michael Jackson and Diana Ross at the peak of their careers. Ross’s Dorothy is a Harlem teacher whisked away to Oz while trying to save her dog from a storm. Upon arrival, she’s told that the only way to get home is to meet the Wiz, played by Richard Pryor. Much like the original, Dorothy’s journey is made much more interesting when she meets the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell), and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross).
You Got Served (2004)
Featuring an early 2000s all-star lineup of Marques Houston and boy band B2K’s Omarion and Lil’ Fizz, You Got Served follows a talented dance crew as they compete in street competitions in urban Los Angeles. Things get heated when a rich white kid challenges David (Omarion) and Elgin (Houston) to a competition worth over five thousand dollars. In desperate need of money, the boys do whatever they can to win, losing relationships and even lives along the way.