The recognition of Black Americans and their historical contributions shouldn't be confined to February alone. There are numerous ways to honor the impact of Black individuals in the U.S., from visiting museums to supporting Black-owned businesses.
However, if you're seeking a way to celebrate and impart the historical contributions of Black people to the children in your life, staying at home and watching a movie can offer a enjoyable learning experience for all involved.
Explore a selection of movies to watch during Black History Month, categorized by age group.
Historically relevant movies for kids (ages 6+)
In 1997, Walt Disney Television embarked on a remake of Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale "Cinderella," a story that had already been adapted in various forms across different mediums. Traditionally portrayed by white actors, the tale of the mistreated stepdaughter turned princess had been depicted in ballets, operas, musicals, and animated films. Brandy's casting as Cinderella marked a significant milestone, making her the first Black actress to portray the iconic character on screen. The film's color-blind casting approach showcased a diverse lineup including Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, and Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalbán, delivering a powerful message to young viewers about inclusivity and representation.
"March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World" (2010) is inspired by a children's book authored by Martin Luther King Jr.'s sister, Christine King Farris. The film retells the story of the day when Farris witnessed her brother deliver his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech.
"The Princess and the Frog" (2009) is a contemporary reimagining of the classic tale, following Tiana, a waitress in New Orleans, who dreams of owning her own restaurant. However, her life takes an unexpected turn when she transforms into a frog, leading to a series of chaotic adventures. Tiana's character marked Disney's first animated Black princess, representing a significant milestone for both viewers and the studio, which returned to traditional hand-drawn animation for the project. Like the aforementioned films, "The Princess and the Frog" serves as an excellent catalyst for discussions with younger audiences about the importance of representation and inclusivity in media.
"Hair Love" (2019), an Oscar-winning animated short film, tells the story of a Black father's journey as he learns to style his daughter's hair for the first time. Through this experience, he imparts lessons of self-love and acceptance to his daughter. Narrated by Blue Ivy Carter, the eldest daughter of Beyoncé, and featuring Issa Rae as the voice of the mother, the film celebrates the beauty and significance of embracing one's hair and identity.
"The Lion King" (1944) is a timeless Disney animated film featuring a cast of distinguished Black actors, such as James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robert Guillaume. The movie is rich with imagery, music, and mythology inspired by various cultures across Africa, serving as a perfect catalyst for discussions about Black pride with young audiences.
Historically relevant movies for kids (ages 9+)
"Cool Runnings" (1993) is a heartwarming classic that chronicles the improbable journey of the Jamaica Bobsled Team at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Featuring a stellar cast including Malik Yoba and the late John Candy, the film offers valuable lessons in teamwork and explores themes of the Black diaspora. With memorable lines like "I see pride, I see power," the movie serves as an excellent introduction to fostering appreciation and pride in Black culture.
"The Watsons Go To Birmingham" (1963) follows the journey of the Watsons, an African American family, as they embark on a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights movement era. Through their travels, the Watsons experience moments of courage, strengthen their familial bonds, and navigate the challenges of the time, shaping their perspectives and resilience along the way.
"Garrett's Gift" (2007) presents children with the inspiring tale of Garrett Morgan, the inventor of the three-position traffic signal. Narrated by Queen Latifah, the short film depicts Morgan's journey as a young boy grappling with uncertainty about his future until he moves to a bustling city. There, he discovers the importance of inventing a traffic safety device, ultimately leaving a lasting impact on society.
"Our Friend, Martin" (1999) is an animated educational film that transports children to the Civil Rights era through the perspective of a contemporary middle schooler named Miles Woodman. Struggling to concentrate in school, Miles encounters a museum curator who guides him through various stages of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, offering valuable insights into history and the importance of social justice.
"Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story" (2015) features Chris Rock narrating the remarkable journey of Janet Collins, a real-life ballerina. In the 1930s, Collins made history as she was selected to dance for the prestigious Ballets Russes, ultimately breaking the color barrier in classical ballet.
"Remember the Titans" (2000) is another powerful film based on a true story, featuring Denzel Washington. Set in Alexandria, Virginia, high school football holds significant importance in the community, cherished by all. However, when the school board mandates the integration of an all-Black and all-white school, their football teams encounter numerous challenges that they must overcome together.
"A Ballerina's Tale" (2015) offers audiences a glimpse into the remarkable story of Misty Copeland, who made history as the first Black principal dancer at the New York American Ballet Theater. The documentary chronicles Copeland's journey to stardom while addressing the issue of representation in the ballet world. Additionally, the film features stunning dance sequences that captivate viewers.
"Space Jam" (1996) emerged during a period where Michael Jordan's NBA dominance was central to pop culture. Beyond his athletic prowess, Jordan's skills and business acumen reshaped perceptions of Black identity in America. While "Space Jam" doesn't directly address the racial issues of the '90s, it places Jordan in a kid-friendly universe where he teams up with the Looney Tunes to defeat villainous aliens in a basketball match. Despite its fantastical premise, the film serves as a catalyst for conversations with children about the diverse contributions of Black individuals across various fields in our modern era.
Historically relevant movies for kids (ages 12+)
"To Sir, With Love" (1967), based on the autobiographical novel of the same name, depicts the journey of a teacher confronting social, financial, and racial challenges in an inner-city school in London. Beyond its thematic depth, this classic film highlights the remarkable story of its leading actor, Sidney Poitier, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his activism and contributions to the entertainment industry. Poitier's work played a pivotal role in reshaping perceptions of Black masculinity, presenting a non-stereotypical image of what it meant to be a Black man.
"Crooklyn" (1994), a semi-autobiographical film directed by Spike Lee, unfolds in a Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City, where a 10-year-old girl resides with her family. Set during the summer of 1973, the movie follows young Troy's journey of coming-of-age amidst her family's challenges in the urban landscape. The film industry's limited portrayals of Black girlhood, combined with Spike Lee's significant cultural influence in cinema, render "Crooklyn" an excellent catalyst for initiating meaningful conversations with children.
"An American Girl Story: Melody 1963 - Love Has to Win" (2016) draws inspiration from the popular line of dolls known for their exploration of American history. This film delves into the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of Melody Ellison, a Black girl navigating racism and discrimination in her community and school. Through Melody's experiences, young viewers gain insight into the challenges faced by older generations during this pivotal time in history.
"42" (2013) is a biographical film that recounts the remarkable story of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball history. The late Chadwick Boseman, renowned for his role in "Black Panther," portrays Jackie Robinson in this inspiring portrayal of his journey.
"Hidden Figures" (2016) is a captivating film based on a true story, featuring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe. It illuminates the essential contributions of three Black female mathematicians who served NASA during the Space Race, showcasing their remarkable achievements and breaking barriers in the process.
"The Wiz" (1978) reimagines L. Frank Baum's classic children's novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," but upon its release, it faced commercial challenges. However, over the decades, the musical has garnered a cult following. The film features an impressive ensemble of Black icons including Diana Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, and Michael Jackson. Set in the vibrant cultural landscape of 1978, characterized by jazz, R&B music, and graffiti art, "The Wiz" serves as a testament to the profound influence of Black culture during that era.
"Imitation of Life" (1959) explores the intertwined lives of two single mothers, one Black and the other white, as they raise their daughters amid racial and economic challenges. This poignant narrative provides an opportunity to initiate meaningful conversations with children about the complexities of race in the United States, including topics such as colorism, "passing," and privilege.