Since 1976, Black History Month has been a celebration of achievements by African Americans, specifically within the context of US history. Spurred by an idea from historian Carter G. Woodson, Gerald Ford officially recognised Black History Month in February. Here are a selection of films now streaming on Showmax that celebrate aspects from this month-long event.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH | Biopic
Judas and the Black Messiah is inspired by the true story of the betrayal and assassination of Fred Hampton, chairperson of the Black Panther Party.
As Hampton, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther) won the Oscar, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor, while H.E.R’s Fight For You also took home an Oscar for Best Original Song. The drama also picked up Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actor (LaKeith Stanfied from Atlanta) and Best Cinematography.
Directed by Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah is ranked 13th on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best Black Movies of the 21st Century, with a 97% critics’ rating. As the Rotten Tomatoes critics’ consensus says, “An electrifying dramatisation of historical events, Judas and the Black Messiah is a forceful condemnation of racial injustice – and a major triumph for its director and stars.”
THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY | Biopic
Andra Day was nominated for a 2021 Best Actress Oscar and won Black Reel, Golden Globe and Webby Awards as legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, who was targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair.
Two-time Oscar nominee Lee Daniels (Precious, The Butler) directs this adaptation of Johann Hari’s book Chasing The Scream. Black Reel winner Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Screen Actors Guild nominee Garret Hedlund (Mudbound) and four-time Emmy nominee Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange Is The New Black) co-star.
As Deadline puts it, “You simply cannot say enough about what Day achieves in this role, particularly being a first-time actor. She gets beneath the skin of Holiday, giving a raw and honest portrait of an artist under duress but determined in her belief that she can use that art and talent to make the world a more just place.”
MISS JUNETEENTH | Drama film
In the multi-award-winning Miss Juneteenth, a former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the Miss Juneteenth pageant.
The drama is ranked 23rd on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best Black Movies of the 21st Century, with a 99% critics’ rating. As the critics’ consensus says, “Like a pageant winner walking across the stage, Miss Juneteenth follows a familiar path – but does so with charm and grace.”
Miss Juneteenth has won nine awards so far, including from SXSW, and was nominated for eight Black Reel Awards in 2021, including Best Actress for Nicole Beharie and Best Supporting Actress for Alexis Chikaeze.
HARRIET | Biopic
Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), Harriet is led by rising star Cynthia Erivo (The Outsider) in the title role, for which she received 2020 Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The cast also includes Emmy nominee Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, Central Park), multiple Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe (Moonlight, Hidden Figures), Clarke Peters (The Wire), and British-Nigerian actor Zackary Momoh (Seven Seconds, Doctor Sleep).
In addition to its nominations for Best Actress, Harriet was nominated for a 2020 Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Song (for the song Stand Up, written by Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell).
BLACKKKLANSMAN | Biopic
BlacKkKlansman tells the bizarre true story of Ron Stallworth, Colorado Springs’ first African-American detective, who attempts to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s… with the help of a Jewish stand-in.
The crime film won auteur-director Spike Lee a long-overdue Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2019, making it his first competitive Academy Award in a 34-year career that’s included films like Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X. BlacKkKlansman also won the Grand Prix at Cannes; was nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Drama; and is ranked fifth on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best Black Movies of the 21st Century.
John David Washington (Tenet) stars the Golden Globe-nominated lead role, with Adam Driver (Star Wars’ Kylo Ren and Oscar nominee for Marriage Story) in an Oscar-nominated supporting role.
WHAT’S MY NAME: MUHAMMAD ALI | Two-part sports documentary
What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, HBO’s two-part documentary on the three-time heavyweight champion of the world, tells the boxing great’s story in his own voice, painting a vivid picture of the man Sports Illustrated declared the greatest athlete of the 20th Century.
Directed by Black Reel winner Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and executive produced by another sporting legend, basketball star LeBron James, What’s My Name was named Outstanding Long Sports Documentary at the 2019 Sports Emmys, among other accolades, and has a 96% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
As critic Richard Roeper wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, “The greatness of What’s My Name is that if you’re young and you know very little of Muhammad Ali, this would be the perfect place to start learning about him — but if you remember Ali in his prime and you’re well-versed in his history, it’s still a must-see television event.”
MOONLIGHT | Drama film
Moonlight looks at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young gay black man growing up in Miami, whose epic journey to manhood is guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that helps raise him.
Directed by Barry Jenkins (The Underground Railroad, If Beale Street Could Talk), Moonlight won over 200 awards internationally, including Oscars for Motion Picture of the Year, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, who also won an Oscar for Green Book).
Moonlight is ranked fifth on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best Black Movies of the 21st Century, with a 98% critics’ rating. As The Independent (UK) says, “You won’t find a more sensitively rendered, evocative, or surprising coming-of-age film than Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight.”
12 YEARS A SLAVE | Biopic
12 Years A Slave is based on an incredible true story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man from upstate New York, who is abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War United States.
At the 2014 Oscars, 12 Years A Slave became the first film directed and produced by a Black filmmaker (Steve McQueen) to win Motion Picture Of the Year. It was also the first film written by an African-American (John Ridley) to win the category. In all, the film won over 200 international awards, including Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o) and Adapted Screenplay.
12 Years A Slave is ranked 19th on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best Black Movies of the 21st Century, with a 95% critics’ rating. As their critics’ consensus puts it, “It’s far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave’s unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant – and quite possibly essential – cinema.”