Beyond entertainment, one of the major functions of the period drama is that of “looking back.” The cinematic genre gives us a window on how a given moment in time is digested and seen in hindsight.

Loving, Courtesy of Focus Features

Though many of the period dramas included in the Black History Month: 100 Period Dramas* list strive to be accurate in the examination of a specific American historic event, such as the Civil Rights Movement, others may serve as educational in a more general sense in their portrayal of a belief system, people, culture, and place. Still others may illuminate by showing us how Hollywood depicted African Americans through film at a given time. Together, these period dramas help us make meaning of the distant – and recent – past.

Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco. Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and African-American slaves helped build the economic foundations of the new nation. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 solidified the central importance of slavery to the South’s economy. By the mid-19th century, America’s westward expansion, along with a growing abolition movement in the North, would provoke a great debate over slavery that would tear the nation apart in the bloody American Civil War (1861-65). Though the Union victory freed the nation’s 4 million slaves, the legacy of slavery continued to influence American history, from the tumultuous years of Reconstruction (1865-77) to the civil rights movement that emerged in the 1960s, a century after emancipation.History.com

As Robert Rosenstone (History on Film/Film on History) asks us to remember, film is not simply a visual account of written history, it is a visual language in itself, which “exists as a separate realm, one with its own set of rules and procedures for creating works with their own historical integrity, works which relate to, comment upon, and often challenge the world of written history.”

With this comes the potential to reveal larger historical truths.

“Stop expecting them to be a mirror of a vanished reality that will show us the past as it really was. Dramatic films are not and will never be ‘accurate’ in the same way books (claim to be), no matter how many academic consultants work on a project, and no matter how seriously their advice is taken. How could they be the same (and who would want them to be?), since it is precisely the task of film to add movement, color, sound, and drama to the past?”

Hidden Figures, Courtesy of Levantine Films

Time is condensed, multiple historical figures are often presented as a single character, alterations are made to the known sequence of events, while framing, pacing, lighting and sound create an emotionally driven response.

The Progressive Era in America (1890s – 1920s) was the nadir of race relations. During this period, African-Americans lost many of the civil rights gained during Reconstruction, and the fragile reconciliation between whites and blacks broke down as anti-black violence, lynchings, segregation, legal racial discrimination, and expressions of white supremacy increased. However, this was also a time of intense racial pride, which resulted in the foundation of various African-American advocacy and social groups…The ideological differences between Du Bois and Washington pushed black thought and uplift onto an international platform (the African Diaspora), and despite segregation and oppression, black Americans thrived in rural communities, all black cities like Eatonville, Florida and Boley, Oklahoma, or in the north.Edwardian Promenade

When a historian is writing about the past, s/he deems which happenings, people, and details are important and this selection shapes the factual narrative that is put forth. As cinema additionally requires a creation of “a past that fits within the demands, practices, and traditions of both the visual media and the dramatic form, this means having to go beyond ‘constituting’ facts out of traces of evidence found in books or archives and to begin inventing some of them. This process of invention is not, as some might think, the weakness of historical film, but a major part of its strength. Drama, Alfred Hitchcock famously said, is life with the boring parts left out. This applies perfectly to the dramatic history feature.” (Rosenstone)

The period drama can give the viewer a sense of direct experience of the feelings of those portrayed. This intimacy, and at times empathy, can create the feeling that we are part of past that we are viewing. When a film successfully allows us to “step back in time” to a particular moment, we have an opportunity to use this lens to respond anew to the written history about the same.

Nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in Southern states still inhabited a starkly unequal world of disenfranchisement, segregation and various forms of oppression, including race-inspired violence. “Jim Crow” laws at the local and state levels barred them from classrooms and bathrooms, from theaters and train cars, from juries and legislatures. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that formed the basis for state-sanctioned discrimination, drawing national and international attention to African Americans’ plight. In the turbulent decade and a half that followed, civil rights activists used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to bring about change, and the federal government made legislative headway with initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Many leaders from within the African American community and beyond rose to prominence during the Civil Rights era, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Goodman and others. They risked—and sometimes lost—their lives in the name of freedom and equality.History.com

Examining how history is adapted to the screen by a given country/culture/director, at a particular time, gives abundant room to engage in the ongoing larger discourse of history. Rosenstone sees the contribution of the historical drama “at the level of argument and metaphor…how the particular film relates to, reflects, comments upon, and/or critiques the already existing body of data, arguments, and debates about the topic at hand.”

Fences, Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Given the longstanding dominance of a white Hollywood, when discussing period films whose narrative is about the black experience, we need to take into account who is interpreting the experience. “Surprisingly, or perhaps not, films explicitly about black history in America are few and far between. Many find the stories mediated through the eyes of a white protagonist to better sell to a wider (read: whiter) audience.” – IndieWire

Blacks had made and distributed independent movies in the early days of filmmaking, led by the prolific Oscar Micheaux, the first black man to write, produce and direct a silent film (The Homesteader, 1918) and a talkie (The Exile, 1931). But no black man had ever directed a studio movie. In the late 1940s, studios began to insert small scenes with black actors into big releases, a ploy that attracted black audiences to those movies. – Desa Philadelphia

In 1968, Gordon Parks was the first African American to direct a Hollywood studio production, The Learning Tree. Speaking of Parks’ seminal achievement, historian John Edwin Mason said:

The Learning Tree’s significance has less to do with the story it tells than with the fact that it was the first Hollywood studio production to be directed by an African American. Parks wore many other hats in the making of his first feature film. He wrote the screenplay, adapting his 1963 semiautobiographical novel of the same name, served as his own cinematographer, and composed the score. The Learning Tree’s uneasy combination of sentimentality and sensationalism has not aged well. But because the film was a critical and box office success, it opened the doors of Hollywood to black filmmakers. Parks himself went on to direct several other films, including Shaft, a true box office blockbuster, and Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, the first film adaptation of Northup’s celebrated memoir, Twelve Years a Slave.  Parks’ legacy has lived on in the work of subsequent generations of black directors, including Spike Lee and Ava DuVernay.

Through a multitude of perspectives over an eighty year period of filmmaking, the period dramas listed here focus on the struggle for civil rights and racial equality, discrimination, prejudice, intolerance, stereotypes and racism, as well as the larger non “struggle-narrative” African American experience. Discussing one of the films listed below, Rosenstone looks at the visual metaphor used in final scene of Glory, and its commentary on both the Civil War and race relations in America:

“It is this discourse which helps us to distinguish ‘historical’ from a ‘costume drama’. It is this discourse which allows us to judge the usefulness of the inventions in a film. The costume drama (Gone with the Wind might be a good parallel in this regard) ignores the discourse and uses the exotic locale of the past as no more than a setting for romance and adventure. A history film, by contrast, engages that discourse by posing and attempting to answer the kinds of questions that for a long time have surrounded a given topic…Any answer must include notions of the embodied, visceral experience of the historical world which a viewing of Glory produces in the spectator.”

By Rosenstone’s terminology, below is a list of both historical and costume dramas. I hope these films will provide you with questions about race relations in America, and how the black experience has been portrayed over time in the period drama.

Consider this a cinematic teaching resource for all levels, including school-aged children: a significant number of the movies are rated either G, PG or PG-13 and may be suitable for use in elementary, middle, high school and homeschooling curriculums. 

Please remember that only period films are included in this list. There are many other important films which look at race relations in America which are set in the same era in which they were made, like The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)Putney Swope (1969), The Defiant Ones (1958),  Purlie Victorious / Gone Are the Days! (1963), Lilies of the Field (1963), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967), tick…tick…tick… (1970), Intruder in the Dust (1949), and Pinky (1949).

*There are actually over 100 period dramas listed here, but I stopped counting!



 

Black History Month: 100 Period Dramas



12 Years A Slave (2013): In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. The autobiography of Solomon Northup, serves as the basis for this historical drama. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup, and Brad Pitt plays an abolitionist. Set beginning in 1841.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


42 (2013): This biopic tells the story of Jackie Robinson from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1945 to his historic 1947 rookie season when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

“42 focuses more on the racial struggles faced by the player, while also illustrating how he was both passionate and headstrong enough to know that the rest of the world was socially a bit behind in accepting progress in both the sport and in life.” – IndieWire

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


10,000 Black Men Named George (2002): Union activist Asa Philip Randolph’s efforts to organize the black porters of the Pullman Rail Company in 1920s America at a time when the rights of American workers to join a labor union was still considered an open question, and African-Americans were routinely denied their civil and economic rights.

During the Depression, gainful employment is practically nonexistent for African-Americans. The only available jobs are as porters for the Pullman Rail Company (which pays blacks one-third of what white employees make). Journalist Philip Randolph (Andre Braugher) makes it his mission to help these forgotten workers — called “George,” after company founder George Pullman — and helps form the first black union in America. Robert Townsend directs.

Rated R

Available on DVD. 


A Bronx Tale (1993): In Robert De Niro’s stunning directorial debut, a devoted father battles a local crime boss for the life of his son. Growing up on the racially-divided mean streets of 1960s New York, 11-year-old Italian-American Calogero, known as “C,” idolizes sophisticated local mob boss Sonny (Chazz Palminteri), despite stern warnings from his working-class father.

Rated R

Watch it now.


A House Divided (2000): This historical drama, based on a true story, is set in Georgia in the mid-1800s. Amanda America Dixon is the daughter of a Southern plantation owner, but she is ignorant of her mixed racial heritage. In the days following the Civil War, her father, David Dixon, raped a teenage slave, impregnating her and leading to Amanda’s birth. Years later, upon David’s death, Amanda is to inherit his estate.

Rated R

Available on DVD. 


A Raisin in the Sun (1961): Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee shine in this film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play about an inner-city black family. The Younger family, frustrated with living in their crowded Chicago apartment, sees the arrival of a $10,000 insurance check as the answer to their prayers. Matriarch Lena Younger promptly puts a down payment on a house in an all-white suburban neighborhood. But the family is divided when Lena entrusts the balance of the money to her mercurial son Walter Lee, against the wishes of her daughter and daughter-in-law. It takes the strength and integrity of this African-American family to battle against generations of prejudice to try to achieve their piece of the American Dream. The exact year is never specified, but the play on which it is based takes place in the 1950s.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


A Raisin in the Sun (2008): Based on the play that inspired a generation, A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of a family living and struggling on Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s. In a crumbling Chicago tenement, a strong-willed widow and her grown children struggle to scratch out a living — until a $10,000 life insurance check arrives. Before long, all the family members begin making their own plans for the money. A fiercely moving portrait of people whose hopes and dreams are constantly deferred, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The classic, still-relevant story now will be showcased in this totally new television movie adaptation.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


A Woman Called Moses (1978): A mini-series about escaped slave Harriet Tubman as she leads an underground railroad taking others north to freedom. Orson Welles narrates this adaptation of Marcy Heidish’s novel.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939): Huckleberry Finn (Mickey Rooney) is a boy tired of society’s rules. To avoid his abusive father, Huck escapes with Jim (Rex Ingram), a slave running away to avoid being sold down the river. The two unlikely friends raft the Mississippi River, dodging the authorities and meeting many wild characters along the way, including two con men (Walter Connolly, William Frawley). Throughout their adventures, Huck learns that friendship is the most important virtue of all.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960): Huckleberry Finn, a rambuctious boy adventurer chafing under the bonds of civilization, escapes his humdrum world and his selfish, father by sailing a raft down the Mississippi River.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) was the first color version, and… MGM lavished great care and money on it, bringing on board noted director Michael Curtiz and a cast of many of Hollywood’s best character actors and supporting players, including Tony Randall, Neville Brand, Andy Devine, Judy Canova, Josephine Hutchinson, John Carradine, and light-heavyweight world boxing champion Archie Moore as Jim.”  – TCM

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993): In Missouri, during the 1840s, young Huck Finn fearful of his drunkard father and yearning for adventure, leaves his foster family and joins with runaway slave Jim in a voyage down the Mississippi River toward slavery free states.

From Walt Disney Pictures, this is the unforgettable saga of a mischievous youngster and a runaway slave on a wild expedition to freedom. As the pair take the ride of their lives down the treacherous Mississippi River, they run into an entertaining assortment of offbeat characters and face one challenging adventure after another! You won’t want to miss this sensational telling of Twain’s classic tale — an action-packed mix of thrills and excitement! When the Mark Twain book on which the movie is based was first released in 1885, it was banned within a month. One public library excluded the book because it was “rough, coarse and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.”This is the seventh on-screen telling of the Mark Twain tale.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


The Adventures of Huck Finn (2012): Based on the classic book by Mark Twain, comes the story of the renowned young rascal: Huckleberry Finn. When Huck sets out on an adventure down the Mississippi River, he comes across a runaway slave named Jim. Inviting him along on his journey, Huck and his new friend encounter an array of trouble when they are detoured by the King and Duke. As the unlikely duo attempt to escape their dwindling fate, Huck must defend Jim’s honor and turn away from the life he once knew.

A family-friendly version from Germany, with English subtitles.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Alex Haley’s Queen (1993): A plantation owner’s son falls in love with a slave named Easter and together they have a Mixed race daughter named Queen. As Queen grows up, she faces the struggle of trying to fit into the troubled world around her. She tries passing for white, but it leads to sorrow in post-Civil War America. Everywhere she goes, she faces obstacles and hardships while searching for happiness and a place to belong.

Oscar winner Halle Berry stars as the title character in this miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s epic novel, which chronicles the life of his paternal grandmother, the illegitimate child of a slave woman and a plantation owner. Amid the backdrop of post-Civil War America, Queen battles the prejudices of whites and blacks while struggling to forge her own identity. Danny Glover and Tim Daly also star in this sweeping historical drama.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Ali (2001): From his epic victories to his anti-war stance, Muhammad Ali stirred controversy during the decades in which he ruled the ring. This biopic centers on the boxing legend’s personal and professional life, framed by the social climate of his heyday.

Will Smith puts on the gloves and steps between the ropes as “Ali,” arguably the most facinating personality in sports history in this biopic from Academy Award nominated director Michael Mann. Set between 1964 to 1974, the film depicts the social and political upheaval in the United States that followed the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Like Ali himself, Mann’s film floats like a butterfly, but in lieu of a sting, it levitates, presenting, through the prism of Ali’s life, a moment when America was forced to question their allies and heroes, and face the truths about an increasingly racially diversified world. ” – IndieWire

Rated R

Watch it now. 


All the Way (2016): Lyndon B. Johnson becomes the President of the United States in the chaotic aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and spends his first year in office fighting to pass the Civil Rights Act. The HBO biographical TV drama film is adapted by Robert Schenkkan from his play with the same title.

Rated TV-14

Watch it now. 


Almos’ a Man (1976): Although Dave (LeVar Burton) and his family are poor sharecroppers in the Deep South in the 1930’s, this 15 year-olds problem is shared by teenagers today: he stands with one foot in adulthood and the other in childhood. “Almos’ A Man”, yet still treated like a child, he struggles for an identity. There’s one thing, one symbol of manhood, Dave thinks, that could guarantee him instant respect: a gun. Dave’s mother (Madge Sinclair) expresses her disapproval, but her words fall on deaf ears. Short film.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Amistad (1997): In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.  In an eloquent courtroom speech, ex-president John Quincy Adams argues for the Africans’ freedom.

“Unfortunately, the structure of Spielberg’s film manages to maintain the second-citizen status of blacks within the trial, compounded by a number of European actors playing American figures (including two presidents played by Brits) to suggest what historical pictures have always illustrated as a representation hierarchy: if you were to judge by films, you’d assume all of human history originated from the United Kingdom. Oscar bait though it may have been (the film received three Academy Award nominations) it still represents a significant story wherein the architects of our nation were forced to question their prejudices.” – IndieWire

Rated R

Watch it now. 


An America Girl Story: Melody 1963 (2016): Set in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement. Love Has to Win examines the joyful life and troubled times of an irrepressible 10-year-old African-American girl whose vivid imagination and creativity reinforce her optimism. When shocking national events threaten her sense of security, Melody must find inner strength to restore her hope for a better world.

Rated TV-Y

Watch it now. 


And the Children Shall Lead (1985): It is 1964, in the segregated town of Catesville, Mississippi, and Rachel who is black and Jenny who is white are best friends, caught up in the firestorm surrounding black voter registration. The adults, both black and white, afraid of the inevitable changes that are surely coming, hang onto the old ways of dealing with their differences. This drama which takes place during the height of the civil rights movement, looks at the effects of political change on children – who can often prove wiser than their elders.

Rated PG

Available on DVD. 


Assault at West Point: The Court-Martial of Johnson Whittaker (1994): Two lawyers must fight to establish the innocence of a black cadet court-martialed in 1880s. One of the most momentous trials in American history, this riveting story focuses on Whittaker, a former slave who became the third black to enter West Point. Based on John F. Marszalek true-life account of the controversial court case.

Rated PG-13

Available on VHS. 


The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974): A story about the American experience told by a former Louisiana slave, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman spans over 100 years of southern history. From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, this fictional narrative provides a moving and impactful look at the struggle African Americans faced in the midst of a divided nation. Based on the novel by Ernest J. Gaines.

Rated TV-PG

Watch it now. 


Band of Angels (1957): Echoes of “Gone With The Wind” are heard in this lavish all-star production, particularly in the performance of Clark Gable and the lush melodies of Max Steiner (who wrote the score for GWTW).

Academy Award winners Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier star with Yvonne DeCarlo in this story of an aristocratic young woman who falls from the heights of Southern society to the absolute bottom – and of the forbidden love that redeems her. Set in New Orleans in the 1860s.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Beloved (1998): Oprah Winfrey stars as a former slave who suffers mightily to protect her family in this adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery’s lasting effects on a black family in 1873 Ohio.

On a difficult journey to find freedom, Sethe is confronted by the secrets that have haunted her for years. Then, an old friend from out of her past unexpectedly reenters her life. With his help, Sethe may finally be able to rediscover who she is.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Beulah Land (1980): This drama chronicles the crumbling of the Old South via a patrician Georgia clan’s purview from 1827 through the turbulent Reconstruction period. Lesley Ann Warren stars as iron-willed Sarah Kendrick — mistress of the Beulah Land plantation. Throughout the sweeping television series, Sarah Kendrick strives to endure family duplicity, severe economic adversity and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s Yankee troops. The southern belle loves a Yankee and must manage her plantation and find a new way to relate to a former slave who demands his freedom, all during a time of social and political upheaval.

“Beulah Land face(d) a hostile reception from many black factions because of its harsh depiction of slaves and its miscegenation subplot. It did, however, win an Emmy Award nomination for costume design.” – TCM

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars And Motor Kings (1976): In the world of 1930s Negro League baseball, a spirited team of renegade players travels around the Midwest looking for that one big score. Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones star as three barnstorming ballplayers who take on prejudice and their own League’s unfair rules while stealing cars, food and home base – anything to prove that they’re the best team around. It’s a showdown of brains over booby traps and sportsmanship over racial segregation as Bingo Long’s All-Stars swing their way to a winning season.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars And Motor Kings opts not to focus on the racial strife and ugliness that led to the compartmentalization of black athletes, but the financial discrepancies, taking a look at an equal pay situation through the prism of a crowd-pleasing comedy where dangerous racist elements keep surfacing, taking a lighthearted view at a very basic problem regarding segregation that forced some to think creatively.” – IndieWire

Rated PG

Watch it now


The Birth of a Nation (1915): Adapted from the “lurid, negro-phobic play The Clansman.” Two families, abolitionist Northerners the Stonemans and Southern landowners the Camerons, intertwine in director D.W. Griffith’s controversial Civil War epic. When Confederate colonel Ben Cameron is captured in battle, nurse Elsie Stoneman petitions for his pardon. In Reconstruction-era South Carolina, Cameron founds the Ku Klux Klan, battling Elsie’s congressman father and his African-American protégé, Silas Lynch.

Not rated.

Note: Willow and Thatch is making this hate-filled 3 hour long silent film available because the cinematic landmark is an important part of understanding the portrayal of race-relations in America in the period drama. In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. If you choose to watch it, please also view Birth of a Movement from PBS Independent Lens. Birth of a Movement is the story of William Monroe Trotter, the nearly forgotten editor of a Boston black newspaper who helped launch a nationwide movement in 1915 to ban Hollywood’s first blockbuster movie, the later controversial The Birth of a Nation. PBS has made full episodes of Birth of a Movement available to stream online for free until 03/09/17.


The Birth of a Nation (2016): Nat Turner is an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation owned by Samuel Turner. With rumors of insurrection in the air, a cleric convinces Samuel that Nate should sermonize to other slaves, thereby quelling any notions of an uprising. As Nate witnesses the horrific treatment of his fellow man, he realizes that he can no longer just stand by and preach. On Aug. 21, 1831, Turner’s quest for justice and freedom leads to a violent and historic rebellion in Southampton County.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Black Like Me (1964): This fact-based film chronicles the journey of a white reporter, John Finley Horton (James Whitmore), who attempts to live as a black man in the American South in 1959. After undergoing treatments to darken his skin, Horton ventures from town to town, experiencing hostile racism from whites whom he doesn’t provoke in any way. He also interacts with blacks and finds that they simply want justice, though some are pessimistic that change will ever come peacefully.

Not rated.

Watch it now.

Also see the 1960s set Watermelon Man (1970) which was inspired by Black Like Me: A bigoted white insurance agent, married with two children, wakes up to find that he is now a blackman! His doctor suggests he might be more comfortable with a black doctor, his neighbors want him to move so their property values won’t drop, his wife takes the children and leaves and his boss’ desires to capitalize on him as the man to tap the black insurance market.


Blazing Saddles (1974): Politically incorrect and relentlessly funny, Mel Brooks’s take on Hollywood Westerns follows the tortured trail of freed slave Bart, who’s elected sheriff of the racist town of Rock Ridge. He must foil a land-grabbing governor (Brooks) with help from a washed-up, pot-smoking gunslinger (Gene Wilder).

Vulgar, crude, and occasionally scandalous in its racial humor, this hilarious bad-taste spoof of Westerns, co-written by Richard Pryor, features Cleavon Little as the first black sheriff of a stunned town scheduled for demolition by an encroaching railroad. Little and co-star Gene Wilder have great chemistry, and the delightful supporting cast includes Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, and Madeline Kahn as a chanteuse modelled on Marlene Dietrich. 

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Blood Done Sign My Name (2010): When a black Vietnam War vet is murdered by whites in small-town North Carolina, it sparks a firestorm of violent protest. Amid the rising chaos, a local teacher (Parker) and newly arrived preacher (Schroder) will risk everything to see justice done and change the brutal legacy of the past.

From director Jeb Stuart comes this earnest drama based on the real-life 1970 murder of black Vietnam veteran Henry Marrow by virulent racists subsequently acquitted by an all-white North Carolina jury despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt. As local white minister Vernon Tyson (Rick Schroder) tries to integrate his congregation in the midst of the trial, African-American schoolteacher Ben Chavis (Nate Parker) begins a crusade of his own.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Boycott (2001): One woman refuses to give up her seat in a “whites only” section of a public bus. The bus stops. The city stops. The world stops. December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama. A time when resentment gives birth to rebellion; when a gesture has the power to bring about change. This single act by Rosa Parks inspires an uprising that will make history, and make a leader of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boycott is the explosive telling of this story.

Interweaving vintage newsreels, stock footage and home movies with scenes depicting events surrounding the birth of the civil rights movement, this made-for-cable drama recounts the story behind the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955. Iris Little-Thomas plays Rosa Parks, the black seamstress whose refusal to sit at the back a bus kindles the flames of protest, and Jeffrey Wright delivers an inspired performance as the young Martin Luther King.

Rated PG

Available on DVD. 


Brother Future (1991): T.J. is a streetwise teenager who thinks only of himself. He puts little value in education and often skips out on his high school classes. While running from the police, he’s hit by a car and wakes as a slave on an 1820’s plantation. He quickly learns the value of education and the freedom he once took for granted. Only by learning to put others’ needs before his own can he get back home. Set in South Carolina in 1822 and the present day.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Buck and the Preacher (1972): Action-packed Western about a scout (Sidney Poitier) and a con man (Harry Belafonte) who team up to protect the Exodusters: ex-slaves who traveled across the West after the Civil War. Music by jazz great Benny Carter. Sidney Poitier made his directorial debut with this 1972 action-comedy.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Buffalo Soldiers (1997): Based on actual events, the African-American soldiers of the 10th Cavalry, are assigned to stop Apache raids in New Mexico – the Buffalo Soldiers must endure discrimination from whites while performing their duties.

Rated TV-14

Watch it now.


The Butler (2013): Forest Whitaker leads an all-star cast as a White House butler Cecil Gaines, who served as the White House butler under eight presidents. His three decades of service unfold against a backdrop of unparalleled change in American history, including the civil rights movement and other major events that affect his life, family, and society. Set beginning in 1957.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.


Captive Heart: The James Mink Story (1996): A well-to-do interracial couple (Louis Gossett Jr., Kate Nelligan) in 1850s Canada head to the States to rescue their daughter (Rachael Crawford), sold into slavery by her new husband.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Carter’s Army / Black Brigade (1970): A racist officer is put in charge of a squad of black troops charged with taking an important bridge from the Germans in this WWII era drama.

In this made-for-TV movie penned by Aaron Spelling, sparks fly when a racist white officer (Stephen Boyd) is ordered to lead an inexperienced all-African-American unit on an undercover mission behind enemy lines during World War II. Tasked with blowing up a dam, the troops will have to overcome roiling racial tension if they hope to get the job done. Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams and Rosey Grier star as members of the can-do Company B.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Chasing Secrets / The Secret Path (1999): A black couple (Della Reese, Ossie Davis) provide sanctuary for an abused white girl in the pre-civil rights South. Based on Rose Mary Evans’ novel Childhood’s Thief.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


The Color Purple (1985): Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple spans the years 1909 to 1949, relating the life of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), a Southern black woman virtually sold into a life of servitude to her brutal husband, sharecropper Albert (Danny Glover). A major box-office hit, The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Oscars.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Cooley High (1975): Cooley High takes a nostalgic, poignant and hilariously funny look at black teen life in 1960’s Chicago. It’s 1964. JFK has just been assassinated. Martha & The Vandellas, Little Stevie Wonder and The Four Tops rule the airwaves. And two high school students discover themselves and the taste of freedom for the first time. Preach, a serious-minded writer, and his best friend Cochise, a basketball hero headed for college, are best friends at Cooley High. Together they cut classes to go to the zoo, crash parties, put the hustle on some hustlers and dream about getting out of their impoverished, rough neighborhood. But when an innocent joy ride makes them the targets of two vengeful hoods, their already uncertain futures seem even further out of reach.

Rated PG

Available on DVD. 


Corinna, Corinna (1994): A heartwarming story about a family devastated by grief and the woman who helps heal the loss. When Manny Singer’s wife dies, his young daughter Molly becomes mute and withdrawn. To help cope with looking after Molly, he hires sassy housekeeper Corrina Washington, who coaxes Molly out of her shell and shows father and daughter a whole new way of life. Manny and Corrina’s friendship delights Molly and enrages the other townspeople. Set in 1959.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


The Courage to Love (2000): Inspired by a true story, The Courage to Love tells the story of a black woman who is part of a mixed-race affluent society in pre-civil war New Orleans.

Rated PG-13

Watch it for free.


Crazy in Alabama (1999): Antonio Banderas’ directorial debut weaves together the stories of a boy coming of age in racially charged 1960’s Alabama at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and his eccentric aunt (Melanie Griffith) on the run to Hollywood where she hopes to fulfill her dreams of TV stardom.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


The Cotton Club (1984): Set in 1928 New York, this is a genuine vision of the golden age of jazz you won’t soon forget! Spirits are high and sultry jazz lively dancing and ruthless gangsters rule supreme. In the center of it all is Harlem’s Cotton Club. Playing on stage is cornet player Dixie Dwyer who dreams of the big time but he’s too mixed up with the club’s owner – and his sexy moll – to get anywhere fast. Add the frustration of tap sensation Sandman Williams who can’t touch his girl the lovely lounge singer Lea Rose Oliver and you’ve got a short fuse ready to go. Tensions and tempers rise and the legendary nightclub becomes a pressure cooker of jilted loves and mob jobs that blows the lid off one of the most shocking showdowns ever staged.

Rated R

Available on DVD.


Daughters of the Dust (1991): At the dawn of the 20th century, a multi-generational family in the Gullah community on the Sea Islands off of South Carolina – former West African slaves who adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions – struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while contemplating a migration to the mainland, even further from their roots.

Daughters of the Dust, Courtesy of Cohen Film Collection

In 1991, Julie Dash became the first African-American female director to achieve nationwide theatrical distribution of her film, Daughters of the Dust. She discusses its re-release 25 years later. Read more on NPR.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Django Unchained (2012): Set in the 1850s in Texas and Mississippi. With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner. Winner of 2 Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay.

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, DJANGO UNCHAINED stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with a German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christolph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles – dead or alive.

Success leads Schultz to free Django, though the two men choose not to go their separate ways. Instead, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago.

Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz rouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organization closes in on them. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival…

Rated R

Watch it now.


Down in the Delta (1998): Sinclair family matriarch Rosa Lynn raises enough money to help her two grandchildren and drug-addicted adult daughter, Loretta, move to a small Mississippi town in order to escape the dangers of inner-city Chicago. There, Loretta and her kids are taken in by her gruff uncle, Earl, who attempts to instill a work ethic and sense of history in his niece. With the help of his tough love, Loretta does her best to put her past demons behind her. An uplifting story of family, community and friendship.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.


Dreamgirls (2006): A trio of black female soul singers cross over to the pop charts in the early 1960s in Detroit, facing their own personal struggles along the way.

Singers Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), and Deena (Beyoncé Knowles) are about to find out just what it’s like to have their wildest dreams come true. Discovered at a local talent show by ambitious manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), the trio known as “the Dreamettes” is soon offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of opening for popular singer James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy).

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.


Driving Miss Daisy (1989): Over 25 years, as the American South changes profoundly, the friendship between a highly independent, eccentric Jewish matron and the stalwart and very patient black widower. Set beginning in 1948 in Georgia.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry, Driving Miss Daisy affectionately covers the 25-year relationship between a wealthy, strong-willed Southern matron (Jessica Tandy) and her equally indomitable Black chauffeur, Hoke (Morgan Freeman). Both employer and employee are outsiders, Hoke because of the color of his skin, Miss Daisy because she is Jewish in a WASP-dominated society. At the same time, Hoke cannot fathom Miss Daisy’s cloistered inability to grasp the social changes that are sweeping the South in the 1960s. Nor can Miss Daisy understand why Hoke’s “people” are so indignant. It is only when Hoke is retired and Miss Daisy is confined to a home for the elderly that the two fully realize that they’ve been friends and kindred spirits all along. Driving Miss Daisy won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Tandy), Best Screenplay (Uhry), and Best Makeup (Manlio Rochetti). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Driving Miss Daisy makes the simple point that combating racism can sometimes mean confronting a part of ourselves that we’d rather pretend does not exist. For Miss Daisy, it’s as simple as admitting that Hoke is not just her driver, but her best friend.” – Philadelphia Daily News

Rated PG

Watch it now.


Far From Heaven (2002): It is the fall of 1957. The Whitakers, the very picture of a suburban family, make their home in Hartford, Connecticut. Their daily existences are characterized by carefully observed family etiquette, social events, and an overall desire to keep up with the Joneses. Cathy Whitaker is the homemaker, wife and mother. Frank Whitaker is the breadwinner, husband and father. Together they have the perfect ’50s life: healthy kids and social prominence. Then one night, Cathy discovers her husband’s secret life and her tidy, insular world starts spinning out of control. Fearing the consequences of revealing her pain and confusion to anyone in her own social circle, she finds unexpected comfort and friendship with her African-American gardener, Raymond Deagan. Cathy’s interactions with Raymond; her best friend Eleanor Fine; and her maid, Sybil, reflects the upheaval in her life. Cathy is faced with choices that spur gossip within the community, and change several lives forever.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


The Feast of All Saints (2001): A biracial man is caught between white privilege and black oppression in 19th-century New Orleans. Based on a story by Anne Rice, this miniseries explores the little-known phenomenon of the “Gens de Couleur Libres,” or “Free People of Color,” who lived in Louisiana at a time when slavery still held a stranglehold on much of the South. Set in 1822, when it was not at all uncommon for attractive women of color to be retained as a “placage,” a sort of “kept woman” who served the wishes of wealthy landowners.

Rated R

Note: This is quite the melodramatic series, with some moments of graphic violence (including a sexual incident). The series often felt like a soap opera but had many redeeming qualities, including a little-known storyline, some big name actors, and beautiful costumes and sets.

Available on DVD.


Fences (2016): Denzel Washington directed and stars in this adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which centers on a black garbage collector named Troy Maxson in 1950s Pittsburgh. Bitter that baseball’s color barrier was only broken after his own heyday in the Negro Leagues, Maxson is prone to taking out his frustrations on his loved ones.

Fences, Courtesy of P

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Freedom Song (2000): A compelling microcosm of the Civil Rights Movement, a stirring chronicle of unsung small-town citizens who risked their lives to bring change at the grassroots level. Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) co-scripts and directs this powerful tale set in fictional Quinlan and based on first-hand accounts of veteran activists who stood on the frontlines of history and responded with passion and commitment to the challenge of “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Not rated.

Watch it now.


Free State of Jones (2016): A defiant Mississippi farmer, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), leads an extraordinary rebellion with farmers and slaves to secede from the Confederacy during the Civil War, establishing a mixed-race free state in the heart of the South.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Gangs of New York (2002): As waves of immigrants swell the population of New York, lawlessness and corruption thrive in lower Manhattan’s Five Points section. After years of incarceration, young Irish immigrant Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) returns seeking revenge against the rival gang leader (Day-Lewis) who killed his father. But Amsterdam’s personal vendetta becomes part of the gang warfare that erupts as he and his fellow Irishmen fight to carve a place for themselves in their newly adopted homeland.

“Scorsese is willing to show discrimination and horrific violence against New York’s African American population. However, he subtly distances Irish immigrants from roles of perpetrators in these conflicts and places blame for this violence at the feet of Protestant nativists, bigoted individuals and a militaristic American state. Scorsese highlights experiences shared by poor black and Irish New Yorkers, and not conflict between these groups. This is a problem.” – Black and Irish Conflicts in Gangs of New York

Rated R

Watch it now.


Ghosts of Mississippi (1996): Set in America in 1989 and in 1963. For three decades Myrlie Evers waited and worked for the conviction of the white supremacist who murdered her husband, civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Yet after two hung juries justice had not come. This film follows the final trial, carefully recreating the details of a relentless quest for justice.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Glory (1989): Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington star in this inspiring story of the first Black regiment to fight for the North in the Civil War. One of the finest films ever made about the American Civil War, Glory also has the honor of being the first major Hollywood film to acknowledge the vital contribution of African American soldiers to the country’s historic struggle. Based on the books Lay This Laurel, by Lincoln Kirstein, and One Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard, and the wartime letters of Robert Gould Shaw, the film tells the story of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-black unit comprising Northern freemen and escaped slaves.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Gone with the Wind (1939): Set in Georgia, beginning in 1861. On the eve of the American Civil War, rich, beautiful and self-centered Scarlett O’Hara has everything she could want – except Ashley Wilkes. But as the war devastates the South, Scarlett discovers the strength within herself to protect her family and rebuild her life. Through everything, she longs for Ashley, seemingly unaware that she is already married to the man she really loves — and who truly loves her –until she finally drives him away. Only then does Scarlett realize what she has lost… and decide to win him back. Gone with the Wind has been criticized as historical revisionism glorifying slavery, but nevertheless, it has been credited for triggering changes to the way African-Americans are depicted cinematically.

Rated G

Watch it now. 


Go Tell It on the Mountain (1984): This film adaptation of James Baldwin’s celebrated novel tells the journey of a family from the rural South to “big city” Harlem seeking both salvation and understanding, and of a young boy struggling to earn the approval of a self-righteous and often unloving stepfather.

Not rated.

Watch it now.  


The Great Debaters (2007): The Great Debaters tells the true story of Wiley College, an Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas, and the story of its 1935 debate team. The film chronicles the journey of Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington), a brilliant but volatile debate team coach who uses the power of words to shape a group of underdog students from a small African American college in the deep south into a historically elite debate team.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


The Great White Hope (1970): Set between 1910 and 1915, the story follows Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones; patterned after real-life boxer Jack Johnson) going on a hot streak of victories in the boxing ring as he defeats every white boxer around. Soon the press and racists announce the search for a “great white hope”, a boxer who will defeat Jefferson for the heavyweight title. Meanwhile, Jefferson prepares for a few more matches, but he lets his guard down by courting the beautiful (and very white) Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander), and when everyone, including Jack’s black “wife”, discover this, the tensions grow to fever pitch. Jack’s close black friends become scared over his pushing the envelope of success and the white authorities conspire to frame him with unlawful sexual relations with Eleanor and thereby take away his title. It leads to jealousy, a run from the law, and finally, disaster.

Rated PG-13

Available on DVD. 


The Green Mile (1999): Set in the 1930’s, comes the story of a man who didn’t believe in miracles, and the man who changed his mind. Tom Hanks leads a dynamic cast in a tale about life, death and the wonders of the human spirit. Death row head guard Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) has walked many inmates down the stretch of green linoleum that leads toLouisiana’s electric chair. But never has he encountered anyone like John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a massive black man convicted of brutally killing two little white girls. The Green Mile is a challenging, sometimes hard to watch, story of faith, and healing.

Rated R

Watch it now.


The Hateful Eight (2015): The Hateful Eight is set 6 or 8 or 12 years after the Civil War in wintery Wyoming, and a blizzard is coming. Bounty Hunter John Ruth is trying to get his bounty, Ms. Daisy Domergue, to the town of Red Rock where she’s scheduled to be brought to justice. Along the way he and his wagon driver Olie pick up two strangers; another bounty hunter and former union soldier, Major Marquis Warren, and a former southern renegade who claims to be the new mayor of Red Rock, Chris Mannix. The impending storm has forced them to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie’s, they are not greeted by the proprietor but by four strangers. As the storm takes over the mountainside cabin our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all… Filled with race relation symbolism.

Rated R

Watch it now.


Heat Wave (1990): On August 11, 1965, a routine traffic stop on a hot summer night sparks years of pent-up frustration within Los Angeles’ African American community into a race riot that shocks the United States as it rages out of control for days. In this true story, when the all-white staff of main newspaper in the city, The Los Angeles Times, cannot get into work, a young, Black trainee Robert Richardson writes a series of Pulitzer prize-winning articles covering the riots. But as Richardson witnesses the excessive violence used by the police and national guard, he is torn between the impartiality required of a reporter and his need to rage against injustice.

Rated R

Available on DVD. 


The Help (2011): An inspirational, courageous and empowering story about very different, extraordinary women in the 1960s South who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project — one that breaks society’s rules and puts them all at risk. Filled with poignancy, humor and hope — and complete with compelling, never-before-seen bonus features — The Help is a timeless, universal and triumphant story about the ability to create change. Set in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Hidden Figures (2017): An incredible and inspiring untold true story about three brilliant African-American women at NASA who were instrumental in one of history’s greatest operations – the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Hidden Figures, Courtesy of Levantine Films

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Home of the Brave (1949): A psychiatrist treats an African-American soldier paralyzed from the hips down after a World War II mission. the film centers around issues of racism and tolerance.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Honeydripper (2008): Set around 1950. “John Sayles’ “Honeydripper” is set at the intersection of two movements that would change American life forever: civil rights, and rhythm & blues. They may have more to do with each other than you might think, although that isn’t his point. He’s more concerned with spinning a ground-level human comedy than searching for pie in the sky. His movie is rich with characters and flowing with music.” – Roger Ebert Rated

PG-13

Watch it for free. 


Huckleberry Finn (1974): Strong-willed and self-raised, Huck decides to flee his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, when his cruel absentee father tries to kidnap him. Accompanying him is the sharp-witted Jim, who fears he is about to be sold. As this unlikely pair journeys north to freedom, the two develop a bond of friendship and mutual respect that will help them brave a series of narrow escapes, thrilling adventures and characters so colorful only Mark Twain could pen them!

Rated G

Watch it now. 


Huckleberry Finn (1975): Always in a bind, Huckleberry Finn (Ron Howard) has learned to think on his feet. When his drunken father kidnaps him, Huck fakes his own death and escapes down the wild Mississippi. While on the run, Huck teams up with his old friend, Jim, a slave headed to free territory. Together they encounter every kind of adventure imaginable—from a hoax involving a pair of lying crooks, to hunters looking for the runaway Jim, and even a dangerous escapade with Huckleberry’s pal, Tom Sawyer.

Rated PG

Available on DVD. 


The Hurricane (1999): Denzel Washington plays Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a man who, in the prime of his boxing career, finds himself wrongfully convicted of murder. Sentenced to life in prison, Carter’s published memoir, The Sixteenth Round, inspired a teenager from Brooklyn and three Canadian activists who believed in the truth, to join forces with Carter to prove his innocence. Their extraordinary efforts ultimately secure his release, leaving “Hurricane” to sum up his 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit by simply stating, “Hate got me into this place, love got me out.”

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Hurry Sundown (1966): Two poor families block a Southern land developer’s post-World War II plan in this film about racial prejudice and emotional unrest in 1940s Georgia. In this melodrama, a heartless land baron makes ruthless attempts to get a hold of his cousin’s land. He also wants the land of his cousin’s neighbors, a struggling black family. When the family refuses to sell, the baron uses every dirty trick to get them thrown off their land. Based on a novel by K.B. Gilden.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Imitation of Life (1959): Living a lie is a poor substitute for living the truth – sometimes it takes the harsh realties of life to help us discover who we truly are. Lana Turner heads the outstanding cast with Juanita Moore in the second screen version of this emotionally-charged story about two widows and their troubled daughters. Lora’s search for success causes her to neglect her daughter, while Annie’s daughter rejects her culture by trying to pass for white. As the years pass, each of the four women realizes that she has been living out an emotionally fruitless existence. Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst. Set in 1947.

Not rated.

Watch it now.


Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999): Based on a true story, this film chronicles the life of Dorothy Dandridge, the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Dandridge (Halle Berry) begins her career working as a nightclub singer before eventually breaking into Hollywood, where she meets her steadfast manager (Brent Spiner) and struggles against racism. Her rise to stardom introduces her to Otto Preminger (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a film director with whom she develops a complicated relationship. Set in the 1950s. 

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, as the title suggests, will most likely be an education for many viewers. This film marks a big step in recognizing the contributions of Dandridge, a woman who made Hollywood accessible for other black actors, but as a biography, it only begins to explore the psyche of such a complex star.” – Variety

Rated R

Available on DVD. 


The Journey of August King (1995): August King is a young man whose life is changed forever when he risks everything to help a beautiful woman  (a runaway slave) on a courageous — and very dangerous — search for a new life. Desperate yet determined, the two set out on a harrowing journey towards freedom and find in each other the strength to overcome incredible odds.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.  


Kansas City (1996): A panoramic melodrama about politics, race, crime, and the movies, made in a “jazz” style that matches the film’s musical milieu. In 1934 in Kansas City during the Depression, a young man robs a gambler and is held hostage by a mysterious night club owner. In response the man’s wife kidnaps a socialite whom she tries to trade for her husband. Directed by Robert Altman.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


The Killing Floor (1984): A historical drama about the migration of African Americans from the sharecropper laborers of the south to the industrial labor factories of the north, and Labor History in Chicago.

During World War I, impoverished African-American father Frank Custer (Damien Leake) leaves his Southern family and heads to Chicago in search of work. After landing a job at one of the city’s many slaughterhouses, he gets caught up in the heated debate over organized labor. Before long he emerges as a hypnotic leader, urging his peers to join the union, a move that puts him at odds with his best friend, Thomas (Ernest Rayford), who starts to question Frank’s motivations for backing the union. Set between 1917-1919, it is the true story of Chicago’s meat-packing plants, the move to unionize, and the race riots of 1919.

Rated PG

Available on VHS. 


The Learning Tree (1969): As an African-American teen in small-town Kansas in the 1920s, Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson) largely shrugs off the racial prejudice of his time and place. His calm and self-controlled perspective is in direct opposition to that of his quick-tempered friend, Marcus Savage (Alex Clarke). But when Marcus’ father, Booker (Richard Ward), murders a man — and Newt witnesses the crime – Newt realizes that going to the police could jeopardize both his friendship and his life.

Remember that special growing-up year in your life? When you had your first real adventure, discovered love, faced an enemy, withstood the death of a loved one, stood up for a principle, backed a friend? Maybe, like Newt Winger’s growing-up year, it was all of them.

A personal triumph for director-producer-writer-composer Gordon Parks (adapting his novel), The Learning Tree traces one watershed year in the life of young Newt, in which he learns about love, fear, violent racial injustice and, during an emotional murder trial, his own capacity for honor. “Most important of all,” Parks said, “he learns that hating is a waste of valuable energy.” Poignant, passionate and powerful, The Learning Tree will make you smile, break your heart and heal your spirit.

Rated PG

Available on DVD. 


Light of Freedom (2013): It is the year 1861 and President Lincoln has called for 75,000 men to join the Union Army. As the Civil War begins, another battle has been raging for decades. It is the fight for freedom waged by the Underground Railroad.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Lincoln (2012): This inspiring and revealing historical drama focuses on the 16th President’s tumultuous final four months in office as this visionary leader pursues a course of action to end the Civil War, unite the country and abolish slavery.

As with the great John Ford (Young Mr. Lincoln) before him, it would be out of character for Steven Spielberg to construct a conventional, cradle-to-grave portrait of a historical figure. In drawing from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the director instead depicts a career-defining moment in the career of Abraham Lincoln (an uncharacteristically restrained Daniel Day-Lewis). With the Civil War raging, and the death toll rising, the president focuses his energies on passage of the 13th Amendment. Even those sympathetic to the cause question his timing, but Lincoln doesn’t see the two issues as separate, and the situation turns personal when his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), chooses to enlist rather than to study law. While still mourning the loss of one son, Mary (Sally Field) can’t bear to lose another. Playwright Tony Kushner, who adapted the screenplay, takes a page from the procedural handbook in tracing Lincoln’s steps to win over enough representatives to abolish slavery, while simultaneously bringing a larger-than-life leader down to a more manageable size. In his stooped-shoulder slouch and Columbo-like speech, Day-Lewis succeeds so admirably that the more outspoken characters, like congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and lobbyist W.N. Bilbo (James Spader), threaten to steal the spotlight whenever they enter the scene, but the levity of their performances provides respite from the complicated strategizing and carnage-strewn battlefields. If Lincoln doesn’t thrill like the Kushner-penned Munich, there’s never a dull moment–though it would take a second viewing to catch all the political nuances. –Kathleen C. Fennessy

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


The Long Walk Home (1990): Whoopi Goldberg is Odessa Carter, a quietly dignified woman, who works as a housekeeper for Miriam Thompson (Sissy Spacek). When Odessa honors the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott by walking an exhausting nine miles to and from work, Miriam offers her a ride. Defying both Miriam’s racist husband (Dwight Schultz) and the powerful White Citizen’s Council, Miriam and Odessa put their lives in danger for civil rights. Their shared experiences draw them closer as a deep respect and lasting friendship forms. Together, in a difficult world of black versus white, they manage to discover a common ground.

Rated PG

Watch it now.


Lost Boundaries (1949): A light-skinned black family passes for white in this powerful, fact-based tale. Lost Boundaries belongs to a forward-looking cluster of postwar films that declared war on society’s ills. Like Boomerang!, Pinky, Gentleman’s Agreement and others of the era, it resonates with conviction, proving great issues are the stuff of great filmmaking. Set beginning in the 1920s in America.

Not rated.

Available on DVD


Love Field (1992): Michelle Pfeiffer is superb in this ‘thoroughly captivating film about an interracial friendship set against the back drop of a nation both divided by prejudice and united by sorrow. Dallas housewife Lurene Hallett feels such a strong personal connection to her idol, Jackie Kennedy, that when JFK is assassinated, she defies her husband and takes an eastbound bus, determined to be there for Jackie at the funeral. On board she meets a mysterious black man traveling with a sad, silent little girl. Her well-intentioned meddling changes each of them forever.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Loving (2016): In 1958, in the state of Virginia, the idea of interracial marriage was not only considered to be immoral to many, it was also illegal. When Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) fall in love, they are aware of the eyes staring at them and the words said behind their backs. It is when they get married, however, that words and looks become actions, and the two are arrested. The couple decide to take their case all of the way to the Supreme Court in order to fight for their love in this passionate and gripping drama.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Malcolm X (1992): Writer-director Spike Lee’s epic portrayal of the life and times of the slain civil rights leader Malcolm X. Set in America in the 1940s – 1960s.

“The struggle to bring “Malcolm X” to the big screen was a worthy one, resulting in a vital, lively picture that demonstrates Malcolm X as a fiery, multi-dimensional personality, one who redefined what it was like to be black in America.” – IndieWire

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Manderlay (2005): A young girl traveling across 1930’s America with her father, discovers a plantation that doesn’t know that slavery has been abolished. Can this well-meaning girl and her lawyer father change the minds and hearts of the plantation owners?

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Men of Honor (2000): When the son of a Kentucky sharecropper joins the newly-integrated Navy, his tough-as-nails training officer wants no part of his ambitions. Set in the late 1940s and after.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Mercy Street (2016): This PBS period drama series follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposing sides of the Civil War – New England abolitionist Mary Phinney and Confederate supporter Emma Green. Based on real events, Mercy Street takes viewers beyond the battlefield and into the lives of a distinctive cast of characters — doctors, nurses, contraband laborers and Southern loyalists.

Watch it now. 


Miss Evers’ Boys (1997): Based on the shocking true story, Miss Evers’ Boys exposes a 40-year government backed medical research effort on humans which led to tragic consequences. It is 1932 when loyal, devoted Nurse Eunice Evers (Alfre Woodard) is invited to work with Dr. Brodus (Joe Morton) and Dr. Douglas (Craig Sheffer) on a federally funded program to treat syphilis patients in Alabama. Free treatment is offered to those who test positive for the disease included Caleb Humphries (Laurence Fishburne) and Willie Johnson (Obba Babatunde). But when the government withdraws its funding, money is offered for what will become known as “The Tuskegee Experiment”, a study of the effects of syphilis on patients who don’t receive treatment. Now the men must be led to believe they are being cared for, when in fact they are being denied the medicine that could cure them. Miss Evers is faced with a terrible dilemma-to abandon the experiment and tell her patients, or to remain silent and offer only comfort. IT is a life or death decision that will dictate the course of not only her life, but the lives of all of Miss Evers’ Boys.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Mississippi Burning (1988): Two FBI agents work to identify the murderers of three civil rights workers amidst the powder-keg racial tensions of 1964 Mississippi. Oscar-winner for Best Cinematography, with Frances McDormand.

As three civil rights activists drive down a desolate stretch of highway, headlights ominously draw near. Telling each other to stay calm, they have no way of knowing that in minutes they will disappear into the night and spark one of the most explosive murder investigations in history. Enter straight-laced Ward (Dafoe) and deceptively easy-going Anderson (Hackman). Can these two philosophically opposed FBI agents overcome their differences and uncover the chilling mystery of a small Ku Klux Klan-ridden community before an entire town is torn apart by racism?

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Night Catches Us (2010): Set in 70s Philadelphia. After years away, an ex-black panther returns to his old neighborhood only to find himself drawn right back into the rivalries and love affair he left behind. Music by the Roots.

“…when the local police think they can hit Marcus up for another favor, it creates a tension that results in him questioning his own identity and what constitutes social responsibility, both to the people around him and to the racial realities that still surround a black man in 1976.” – IndieWire

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Nightjohn (1996): Sarny (Allison Jones), a 12-year-old slave girl in the ante-bellum South, faces a relatively hopeless life. Then Nightjohn arrives. A former runaway slave who bears telltale scars on his back, he takes Sarny under his wing and, in exchange for a pinch of tobacco, secretly begins to teach her to read and write, a crime punishable by death. “Words,” he says, “are freedom.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


The North Star (2016): Evading brutal slave hunters and with only the light of the North Star as their guide, slaves Benjamin “Big Ben” Jones and Moses Hopkins make the grueling journey across hostile land to the free state of Pennsylvania in 1849. The men cross paths with historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Joshua and Jonathan Fell. Their freedom also allows them to experience heroism, romance and treachery.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Once Upon A Time… When We Were Colored (1995): Based on Clifton Taulbert’s real life and his nonfiction book of the same name. The film depicts the life of Taulbert from being a child targeted by the Ku Klux Klan at one point in his childhood to a young adult leaving his hometown for a better chance at living a better life that would not be achievable in the South. Set beginning in 1946, and spanning 16 years.

Rated PG

Available on DVD.


Places in the Heart (1984): The emotionally gripping story centers around widow Edna Spalding (Sally Field) and her struggle to save her farm during the Depression. But, as recalled from director-writer Robert Benton’s own childhood, it’s also a portrait of a time and a place and a people. It is the 1930s in Waxahachie, Texas. Against this Depression-torn background, unforgettable characters meet and collide. Like Mr. Will (John Malkovich), the blind boarder who sees all too clearly the bigotry of his time, Moze (Danny Glover), a black man who knows a lot, including his own place in a white Southern town, and Wayne (Ed Harris), Margaret (Lindsay Crouse) and Viola (Amy Madigan), decent people caught up in an adulterous triangle which threatens two marriages. Together they leave an indelible impression of faith, courage, love and, most of all, endurance.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Prince Among Slaves (2007): The film recounts the true story of an African Muslim prince who was captured in 1788 and sold into slavery in the American South. After 40 years of enslavement, he finally regained his freedom, became a national celebrity, and dined in the White House. This is an incredible story about an incredible man who endured the humiliation of slavery without ever losing his dignity or his hope for freedom.

Rated PG

Watch it now.  


Proud (2004): The true story of one of only two U.S. Navy ships that saw combat in World War II with African-American crews. Aware of their deadly mission, the sailors aboard the USS Mason engage in fierce combat and fight to defend their country, despite the overwhelming racism back home in America. But even without the support of their nation, the crew members dedicate themselves to completing their mission and returning home alive.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Race (2016): African American Jesse Owens’ quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.


Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad (1994): Four slaves escape from a North Carolina plantation in 1850 and flee to Canada as fugitives.

From one of the most troubled and dramatic periods in American history comes a story of courage and true love that transcends the ages. Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad is the story of heroic fugitives, bold conductors, and a candle in the window; the story of those who risked their lives by taking charge of their destiny, all for the chance to be free.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Radio (2003): The inspiring true story of the real life friendship between African American Robert “Radio” Kennedy and his white coach Harold Jones and the thirty-year legacy of victory they created. Set in 1968 in South Carolina.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Ragtime (1981): Based on the popular novel by E.L. Doctorow, RAGTIME tells the story of four New York families at the turn of the 20th century. Starving immigrant artist, Tateh sets off to make his fortune in Hollywood, but along the way encounters showgirl Evelyn Nesbit who is at the center of a murder investigation. Meanwhile, an upper-class family finds their seemingly perfect existence ruined when black pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. begins to romance a pregnant girl living in their home. Set in 1906.

Rated PG

“Mostly concerned with the story of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a black piano player who insists that justice be done after he is insulted by some yahoo volunteer firemen… “Ragtime” is a loving, beautifully mounted, graceful film that creates its characters with great clarity.” – Roger Ebert

Watch it now.


Ray (2004): Jamie Foxx stars as the one-of-a-kind innovator of soul, Ray Charles, who overcame impossible odds and humble beginnings to become an extraordinary music legend.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.


Red Tails (2011): The story of the Tuskegee airmen, the first African-American pilots to fly in a combat squadron during World War II.

“…these are clean-cut heroes, each with certain skeletons in their closet but all joining forces against a common enemy while coping with the ignorant racism from their white peers.” – IndieWire

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Remember the Titans (2000): A rousing celebration of how a town torn apart by resentment, friction, and mistrust comes together in triumphant harmony. The year is 1971. After leading his team to 15 winning seasons, football coach Bill Yoast is demoted and replaced by Herman Boone, tough, opinionated, and as different from the beloved Yoast as he could be. How these two men overcome their differences and turn a group of hostile young men into champions, plays out in a remarkable and triumphant story full of soul and spirit.

Rated PG.

Watch it now. 


The Retrieval (2013): In 1864, as war ravages the nation, on the outskirts of the Civil War, it is business as usual for slave-owners and traders. The Retrieval follows Will (Ashton Sanders), a fatherless thirteen-year-old boy who survives by working with a white bounty hunter gang. They send him to earn the trust of runaway slaves in order to lure them back to the south.

On a dangerous mission into the free north to find Nate (Tishuan Scott), a fugitive freedman, things go wrong and Will and Nate find themselves on the run. As the bond between them unexpectedly grows, Will becomes consumed by conflicting emotions as he faces a gut-wrenching final decision. Thrilling, but grounded in historical research, The Retrieval serves as an insight into the grey period between slavery and freedom and the horrific moral dilemma that comes with being forced to betray your fellow man.

Rated R.

Watch it now. 


Ride with the Devil (1999): A gripping drama about four people fighting for justice amidst the turmoil of the Civil War. Director Ang Lee takes us to a no man’s land on the Missouri/Kansas border where a staunch loyalist, an immigrant’s son, a freed slave (Jeffrey Wright) and a young widow form an unlikely friendship as they learn how to survive in an uncertain time, in a place without rules and redefine the meaning of bravery and honor.

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Roots (1977): A TV mini-series dramatization of author Alex Haley’s family line from ancestor Kunta Kinte’s enslavement to his descendants’ liberation. His name was Kunta Kinte. Kidnapped from Africa and enslaved in America, he refused to accept his slave name of Toby. Heirs kept his heroic defiance alive, whispering his name Kunta Kinte.

Rated TV-14

Watch it now.


Roots (2016): An eight-hour event series, “Roots” is a historical portrait of one family’s journey through American slavery and their will to survive and preserve their legacy in the face of unimaginable hardship. A remake of the period mini-series, from the HISTORY Channel.

Not rated.

Watch it now.


The Rosa Parks Story (2002): Many people believe Rosa Parks’ simple refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus was her contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, but this engrossing look at her life tells the whole story. At a young age, she refused to recognize her alleged inferiority to whites and became an activist working for the NAACP.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Rosewood (1997): In 1923, a prosperous black town in Florida was burned to the ground, its people hunted and murdered, all because a white woman falsely claimed that a black man sexually assaulted her.

“Rosewood is occasionally overwrought and came under fire for its deviations from historical fact, but more often than not it’s a riveting, beautifully told story that has enough visual dazzle and kinetic energy to keep even the most jaded viewer engaged.” – IndieWire

Rated R

Watch it now. 


Ruby Bridges (1998): The inspiring true story of one little girl who helped change history. Set in Louisiana in 1960 and based on the story of Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, an American activist known for being the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis.

Rated TV – PG

Watch it now. 


The Runaway (2000): A Hallmark  movie set in the post-war era. At the birth of two babies, one white and one black, a mysterious and powerful Conjure Woman prophesizes, “You’re going to make a difference and start the change.” And indeed, the do. Luke Winter and Joshua “Sonny” Monroe grow up as best friends in a rural Georgia town in the 1940’s. On one of their youthful adventures they uncover a human bone. Their discovery leads the town’s new sheriff, Frank Richards, to reopen an investigation of the unsolved murders of three black men. As he doggedly pursues the case, however, he learns that most of the townspeople would prefer the truth stay hidden. The Runaway is a stirring story of how friendship, determination, and conviction can generate racial change in one heart or an entire town.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Sally Hemings: An American Love Story (2000): The historical scandal between President Thomas Jefferson and the slave girl Sally, jumps onto the screen with a shocking presence. Jefferson, engaged in a 39-year affair with Ms. Hemings, allegedly fathered at least one, if not all six, of Sally’s children. This fictionalized made-for-TV movie packs a powerful punch about love that endured and triumphed in the face of horrific prejudice.

Not rated.

Available on DVD.


The Secret Life of Bees (2008): Set in 1964 in South Carolina in the midst of the civil rights movement, teenager Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) and her nanny, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) flee their hometown to escape their harsh upbringing and uncover the mysteries of Lily’s later mother.

“…heartwarming. I watched the movie, abandoned history and plausibility, and just plain fell for it. I have great affection for this film because it honors a novel that many people loved for good reasons. It isn’t superior, nor does it dumb it down. It sees what is good and honors it. The South was most likely not like this in 1964. That was the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, and a year before the Voting Rights Act became law. The Boatwright farm, as I said, is really a dream. But in those hard days, people needed dreams.” – Roger Ebert

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Selma (2014): SELMA is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.

“This is an emotional movie that aims to anger, sadden and inspire viewers, sometimes in the same scene. “Selma” takes no prisoners and, while it welcomes moviegoers of all hues, it has no intention of sugarcoating its horrors for politically correct comforting. This film—one of the year’s best—is an announcement of a major talent in Ms. DuVernay, but its core message will not be lost nor hidden by the accolades it receives. Through the noise, “Selma” speaks to us: From the top of the hill of progress, it is just as easy to slide down backwards as it is to move forward. Attention must be paid.” – Odie Henderson

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Selma, Lord, Selma (1999): In 1965, during the turbulent early days of the right-to-vote movement, a young Alabama school girl is inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to resist the degradation that her fellow African Americans are suffering. Along with a white seminary student from the north, and against the threat of racial violence, she promises to do what she can to help Dr. King’s efforts.

A riveting and sometimes heartbreaking drama based on real events concerning a dark segment of American history: segregation.  In 1965, Sheyann and Rachel, two African-American girls from Selma, Alabama, become active in the Civil Rights Movement after they witness a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. (Clifton Powell). Along with a white seminary student named Jonathan, the two young girls participate in the famous Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, and remain strong even in the face of racism and violence. From Disney.

Rated TV-PG

Available on DVD. 


Separate But Equal (1991): Based on the ground-breaking Brown vs. the Board of Education case in 1954, SEPARATE BUT EQUAL follows a young Thurgood Marshall (Sidney Poitier), the lawyer who argued the racially-charged lawsuit before the Supreme Court. When the black students of Clarendon County, South Carolina are denied their request for a single school bus, a bitter and courageous battle for justice and equality begins.

“Based on the ground-breaking Brown vs. the Board of Education case, the made-for-television Separate But Equal follows a young Thurgood Marshall (Sidney Poitier) as a lawyer who argues the racially-charged lawsuit before the Supreme Court. When the black students of Clarendon County, South Carolina are denied their request for a single schoolbus, a bitter and courages battle for justice and equality begins. The NAACP lawyer’s desparate fight for the civil rights that didn’t come with the outlaw of slavery nearly a century ago becomes an all-encompassing struggle both in his personal life as well as the courtroom. Marshall’s opponent is John W. Davis (Burt Lancaster) and the two argue passionately and eloquently before a Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren {($Richard Kiley)}. Separate But Equal is a moving and human dramatization of one of the most pivotal court cases in American history.” – Tracie Cooper, Rovi

Rated PG

Available on DVD. 


Sergeant Rutledge (1960): A proud cavalry soldier and former slave is accused of rape and murder but defended and during a court martial by his superior officer. Set in 1881.

“The first big budget Western to feature a black hero, this military courtroom drama from director John Ford starred his long-time stock player Woody Strode. When a cavalry commander and his daughter are discovered murdered, racism amidst the 9th Cavalry immediately leads to suspicions that Sergeant Braxton Rutledge (Strode), a black man, is responsible for the crime. Arrested by Lieutenant Tom Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter), Rutledge escapes from captivity during an Indian raid but voluntarily returns to warn his fellow cavalrymen that they are about to face an ambush by hostiles, saving the detachment from certain doom. At first among those who accept Rutledge’s probable guilt, Cantrell and his love interest Mary Beecher (Constance Towers) become two of the accused man’s scarce defenders as he is put on trial and faces testimony from prejudiced witnesses.” – Karl Williams, All Movie Guide

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Show Boat (1936): Based on Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway hit, this musical spans four decades in the lives of performers on a Mississippi river boat. Sheltered beauty Magnolia Hawks (Irene Dunne) takes over as the show’s leading lady when mulatto Julie (Helen Morgan) and her white husband are forced out of town by a narrow-minded sheriff. Charismatic opportunist Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones) wins Magnolia’s heart, but his gambling losses threaten to ruin their chances for a happy marriage. Set from the 1880s – 1920s.

1936 ‘Show Boat’: A Multiracial, Musical Melodrama. Read more on NPR.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Show Boat (1951): One of the greatest Broadway musicals comes to the screen in this tale of music, racial bigotry and enduring love as outsized as the American heartland set aboard a Mississippi River Show Boat. Magnolia Brown has grown up onboard a sailing theater, plying the river from town to town to entertain people, and she has always dreamed of a life on stage. When the star’s, Julie LaVerne part African American ancestry is revealed and she is forced to leave, Magnolia steps in to take Julie’s place on stage. Magnolia soon falls in love with her leading man, the handsome gambler and rogue, Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel–Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), and the two marry, have a daughter and live happily–for a while. But Ravenal’s gambling debts force Magnolia to find a job, and Julie LaVerne again leaves her starring role–this time voluntarily–to give Magnolia the break she needs, an opportunity that leads to stardom. Set from the 1880s – 1920s.

Not rated.

Watch it now.  


The Sky is Gray (1980): From Ernest J. Gaines, author of “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” comes a deceptively simple, yet emotionally complex tale of a young boy’s discovery of what it’s like to be black in Louisiana during the 1940s. When the boy and his mother make a journey to take him to the dentist, they are confronted with poverty and racial bigotry that they are unaccustomed to. Introduced by Henry Fonda, this is a well-made TV production.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


A Soldier’s Story (1984): Tensions flare in this gripping film about a murder on a black army base near the end of World War II. Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.), a proud black army attorney, is sent to Fort Neal, Louisiana, to investigate the ruthless shooting death of Sergeant Waters (Adolph Caesar). Through interviews with Sarge’s men, Davenport learns that he was a vicious man who served the white world and despised his own roots. Was the killer a bigoted white officer? Or could he have been a black soldier embittered by Waters’ constant race baiting? Directed by Norman Jewison from Charles Fuler’s Pulitzer Prize- winning play, A SOLDIER’S STORY is both a spellbinding mystery and a superb drama that transcends race.

Rated PG

Watch it now. 


Something the Lord Made (2004): Something The Lord Made tells the emotional true story of two men who defied the rules of their time to launch a medical revolution, set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South.

Working in 1940s Baltimore on an unprecedented technique for performing heart surgery on “blue babies,” Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and lab technician Vivien Thomas (Mos Def, The Italian Job) form an impressive team. But even as they race against time to save a dying baby, the two occupy very different places in society. Blalock is the wealthy white Head Of Surgery at John Hopkins Hospital; Thomas is black and poor, a skilled carpenter. As Blalock and Thomas invent a new field of medicine, saving thousands of lives in the process, social pressures threaten to undermine their collaboration and tear their friendship apart.

Rated TV-PG

Watch it now. 


Sounder (1972): Nathan Lee Morgan, an African-American sharecropper, steals food from his neighbor to feed his starving family and is arrested, leaving his wife and children to endure the hardships imposed on them by the economic depression and prejudice of the 1930’s South. Sounder is a powerful story of a boy, his dog and his family’s triumph over adversity. Set during the Great Depression, in Louisiana in 1933.

Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield both earned Academy Award nominations for their performances in director Martin Ritt’s poignant drama about the trials and tribulations of a family of black sharecroppers living in the deep South in the 1930s. Based on William H. Armstrong’s Newberry Award-winning novel, 1972’s Sounder also earned Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Rated G

Watch it now.

There is also a TV-PG Disney version of Sounder (2003): In this moving made-for-TV drama helmed by Kevin Hooks, a family of black sharecroppers in Depression-era Louisiana faces a crisis when the father (Carl Lumbly) is convicted of a petty crime and sent to a prison camp. His 11-year-old son (Daniel Lee Robertson III), looking to find his imprisoned father, meets failure and success along the way as he embarks on a coming-of-age odyssey. Paul Winfield plays a caring teacher in his final film role.


Sudie and Simpson (1990): Based on Sarah Flanigan Carter’s autobiographical novel about growing up in World War II-era Georgia, Sudie Harrington, a feisty 12-year-old white girl, befriends Simpson, a gentle black man. The two develop a friendship that stirs up racial tensions in their small, segregated town, even though it’s completely innocent.

Not rated.

Watch it now.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005): The story of a remarkable and resilient woman’s quest for love and fulfillment based on the best-selling book by Zora Neale Hurston. Halle Berry stars as the beautiful Janie Crawford, who embarks on an emotional and dramatic journey of self-discovery. Refusing to compromise in spite of society’s expectations, Janie endures two stifling marriages until finally finding love in a passionate romance with a much younger man. In one of the greatest, most lyrical love stories ever written, Janie experiences all that life has to offer, from unbelievable triumph to unspeakable heartbreak. Be inspired again and again by this timeless story of passion, romance, and the spirit of true love.

Produced by Oprah Winfrey, this lush, yet earthy telefilm was adapted from the 1937 novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Set in rural Florida, the story begins several years after emancipation. Janie is a dreamy-eyed teenager, who never knew her parents. She was raised by the bitter Nanny, an ex-slave, who marries her off to an older man the minute she gets the chance. Mr. Killicks works Janie like a dog, but leaves her alone otherwise (he’s abusive in the book). Then Janie meets the courtly Joe, who whisks her away from the muck to the black township of Eatonville. The two proceed to transform the town from a patch of dirt into a real community. Much like the other literary adaptations with which she’s been associated (The Color Purple, Beloved, etc.), this Oprah production boasts an impressive line-up of African-American talent, including Terrence Howard (Crash) as the covetous Amos. A mostly successful mix between suds and substance, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which premiered on ABC, was directed by Darnell Martin, co-written by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan Lori-Parks, and graced with a classy score by frequent Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard. –Kathleen C. Fennessy

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Thurgood (2011): Based on the one-man play and told in the first person by Laurence Fishburne, this film brings to life turning points in the life and career of civil rights pioneer Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Thurgood was filmed in front of a live audience at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in Washington, D.C. during Black History Month, and aired exclusively on HBO. Thurgood was written by Academy Award and Emmy Award winner George Stevens, Jr., directed by Emmy Award winner Michael Stevens, and executive produced by Bill Haber.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Told through the eyes of Scout, a feisty six-year-old tomboy, To Kill A Mockingbird carries us on an odyssey through the fires of prejudice and injustice in 1932 Alabama. Gregory Peck stars as courageous Southern lawyer Atticus Finch who defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice.

The Academy Award winning performance was hailed by the American Film Institute as the Greatest Movie Hero of All Time. Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about innocence, strength and conviction and nominated for 8 Academy Awards.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


The Trip to Bountiful (2014): Carrie Watts (Cicely Tyson) begrudgingly lives with her busy, overprotective son (Blair Underwood), Ludie, and pretentious daughter-in-law (Vanessa Williams), Jessie Mae. No longer able to drive and forbidden to travel alone, she wishes for freedom from the confines of the house and begs her son to take her on a visit to her hometown of Bountiful. When he refuses, Mrs. Watts is undeterred and makes an escape to the local bus station, where she befriends Thelma, a young woman traveling home. When Ludie and Jessie Mae discover she is gone, they call in law enforcement to help, but Mrs. Watts is one step ahead of them and convinces the local sheriff to help her on her journey home to Bountiful. Set in the 1950s and adapted from Horton Foote’s Tony-nominated play.

“Lifetime has had a number of attempts at heartwarming movies in the last few months, but none of them have been so authentic as The Trip to Bountiful, which hits all the right sweet and nostalgic notes without becoming saccharine or overdone.”  – Hollywood Reporter

Rated TV-PG

Watch it now. 


The Tuskegee Airmen (1995): The story of the ‘fighting 99th’–the first squadron of African American U.S. Army Air Corps fighter pilots in WWII. It is 1943 and the Germans are winning the Second World War as the U.S. suffers huge losses on the ground and in the air. Four newly recruited pilots are united by a desire to serve their country, at a time when black flyers are not welcomed in the Air Force. Now, through the brutal demands of their training, to the perils of flying over nations at war, the men they call “The Tuskegee Airmen” must undertake the riskiest mission of their lives- to prove to America that courage knows no color. Their success could earn them respect, save lives, and help win a terrible war. Their failure could destroy more hopes and dreams than their own. Set during pilot training in Alabama, and in North Africa and Europe.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now. 


Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northup’s Odyssey (1981): Based on the autobiography “Twelve Years a Slave,” this gripping drama tells the true story of Solomon Northup (Avery Brooks), a black man living in Washington, D.C., in the mid-19th century. Northup, born a free man, works as a carpenter and musician. But one day in 1841, he’s kidnapped by a Louisiana slave owner and forced into slavery. Northup spends a dozen years enduring harrowing hardships, while his family desperately searches for him.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927): Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927): An earnest attempt to depict the harsh realities of slavery while lamenting the passage of the idealized South, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an extravagant historical drama and, at a cost of $1.8 million, was one of the most expensive films of the silent era. Since its publication in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel had found enormous success (reportedly second in sales only to the Bible). Margarita Fisher stars as Eliza, a fair-skinned servant who fled from the security of a Kentucky plantation when her young son and her dignified protector, Uncle Tom (James Lowe), are sold to a rival landowner. In the course of her Dickensian struggles, she experiences a side of indentured servitude beyond her worst fears, culminating in her arrival at the swampy lair of the murderous Simon Legree (George Siegmann). Although some of the film’s characterizations may appear derogatory to modern audiences, the film was considered groundbreaking for its sympathetic treatment of African-Americans caught in the turbulent nightmare of slavery. Director Harry Pollard emphasizes the horror of slavery with scenes of heart-wrenching drama and brutal violence — as Eliza hysterically chases the wagon which carries away her child, as Uncle Tom boldly defies the lashes of his tormentor (hardly the weak-willed persona his name has since come to connote).

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 


Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1987): The life of an aging black slave, Tom, and the people he interacts with. An adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel, and the first to adhere to Stowe’s clear abolitionist vision — showing the anguish, strength, and pride of Tom. The story follows the lives of two slaves, Eliza and Tom, after they have been sold to pay off a plantation owner’s debt. While Eliza runs away with her young son, Tom does not and is subsequently sold to two very different masters, the first a benevolent individual, and the second a cruel owner who tries to break Tom’s spirit. TV movie.

Not rated.

Available on VHS. 


Underground (2016): The epic escape story of the Underground Railroad is told through the point of view of a group of Georgia plantation slaves who band together for the fight of their lives. With the country on the brink of Civil War, the struggle for freedom is more dangerous than ever. As they make the 600-mile trek to what they hope will be a better life, they’re aided by the Underground Railroad. Season 2 Underground tells the story of American heroes and their harrowing journey to freedom, with legendary Harriet Tubman blazing the trail. TV mini-series.

Rated TV-MA

Watch it now. 


Verona (2016): A young woman in antebellum Georgia is, at birth, made a slave by her own father, yet is forbidden to love anyone, slave or free.

Not rated.

Watch it now. 


The Watsons Go to Birmingham (2013): Based on the 1995 Newbery Honor-winning novel, this film tells the story of an African-American family who travel from Michigan to Alabama in the summer of 1963. The entire family is moved by the racially charged violence that they witness on their journey. The film features performances from David Alan Grier and Wood Harris.

Rated TV-PG

Watch it now.


The Women of Brewster Place (1988): A group of strong-willed women live in the same rundown housing project and struggle against racism, poverty and troublesome men through three decades. Based on the novel by Gloria Naylor. Set beginning in the 1960s.

This Emmy nominated powerful mini-series celebrates the human spirit’s indomitable will to survive. Booted out of her parents’ house after refusing to identify her unborn baby’s father, Mattie Michael moves to a run-down housing project on Brewster Place, where she joins a group of strong-minded women battling poverty, bigotry and other woes.

Not rated.

Watch it now.


Words by Heart (1985): The only black family living in a small midwestern town at the turn of the century confront prejudice, as seen through the eyes of the young daughter. TV movie.

Not rated.

Available on DVD. 



Some period films that deal with race relations, set outside of America:

Amazing Grace (2006): Set spans the years from 1787 to 1807 in England and based on the life of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce. Romola Garai plays Barbara Spooner, a beautiful and headstrong young woman who shares Wilberforce’s passion for reform, and who becomes his wife after a whirlwind courtship.

Rated PG.

Watch it now.


A United Kingdom (2016): Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana causes an international stir when he marries a white woman from London in the late 1940s.

Rated PG-13

In theaters now.


Belle (2013): Set in 18th century England. Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw star in this poignant drama inspired by a true story about a mixed-race woman who seeks love and justice amidst racism.

Rated PG.

Watch it now.


Black Venus (2010): Paris, 1817, within the Académie Royale de Médecine. “I’ve never seen a human head that so closely resembles a monkey’s.” Anatomist Georges Cuvier is categorical when looking at the cast made of Saartjie Baartman’s body. A panel of distinguished colleagues applauds the demonstration. Seven years earlier, Saartjie left South Africa with her master Caezar and was exhibited to the London public in carnival freakshows. A free and fettered woman, she was the icon of the lower depths, the “Hottentot Venus” promised the mirage of a glittering rise in the world…

Not rated.

Watch the trailer.


Cry, the Beloved Country (1995): In a land torn by hatred and injustice, James Earl Jone and Richard Harris are two fathers — one a man of peace, the other a man of power and privelege — whose lives seem destined for a violent collision. But instead, in the wake of a tragic killing, these extraordinary men form an unlikely union… and together find the kind of understanding that could heal a nation. Based on the acclaimed novel. Set in South Africa.

Rated PG-13.

Watch it now.


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013): The  moving biography of Nelson Mandela, the jailed activist who became President of South Africa and helped rebuild the once-segregated society.

Rated PG-13

Watch it now.


Monsieur Chocolat (2016): Set in the late 1800s in France. From the circus to the music hall, from anonymity to glory, this is the incredible story of Monsieur Chocolat, the first black artist of the French stage. The duo he formed with Footit met with huge and popular success in Belle Epoque Paris, before fame, easy money, gambling, and discrimination wore out their friendship and Monsieur Chocolat’s career. The film retraces the story of this remarkable artist.

Not rated.

Watch the trailer.


Skin (2008): A dark-skinned girl born to white South African parents attempts to explore her identity in the era of apartheid. Set in 1965.

Rated PG-13.

Watch it now. 



Short descriptions of the films are either the official synopses, and/or are from Amazon or IMDB.



Relevant links in learning and teaching about race relations in the US, prejudice, tolerance:

10 Must Watch Black History Documentaries: From PBS, a list of powerful documentaries exploring Black history and culture in America.

The Department of Afro-American Research, Arts, and Culture (DAARAC): A research and preservation based organization that focuses on the historical and present aestheticism of Black Cinema. We look to enlighten those in search for information as it pertains to the cultural aspects of Black Cinema around the world. Our website covers the Race Film Era (Black independent films of the 1920s to mid 1950s), Civil Rights Era, Blaxploitation Era, New Jack/Hip-Hop Era, and Modern Black Cinema. 

Facing History and Ourselves: Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.

In Black America: Produced at KUT, In Black America is a long-running, nationally syndicated program dedicated to all facets of the African American experience. John Hanson profiles a diverse selection of current and historically significant figures whose stories help illuminate life in Black America. Guests include civil rights leaders, educators, artists, athletes and writers describing their experiences, achievements and work in chronicling and advancing the quality of African American life.

Jim Crow Museum: Our mission is to promote racial tolerance by helping people understand the historical and contemporary expressions of intolerance.

NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: Our mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.

National Civil Rights Museum: The National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums and historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee; its exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present.

PBS Black Culture Connection: Your resource and guide to films, stories and voices across public television centered around Black history & culture.

Pioneers of African American Cinema, TCM: Movies form groundbreaking work of African-American cinema artists in the early part of the 20th Century. from Two Knights of Vaudeville (1915)/Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled (1918), a pair of short silent comedies from a collection produced by the Ebony Motion Picture Company of Chicago; to Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946), an unauthorized adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Rain directed by Spencer Williams and starring “race film” favorite Francine Everett as the Sadie Thompson character, here called Gertie La Rue. Silents also include Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920), Richard E. Norman’s Regeneration (1923) and Frank Peregini’s Scar of Shame (1927). From the sound era come Micheaux’s Birthright (1939), an adaptation of Thomas Edmund Stribling’s novel in which Carman Newsome plays a black student who graduates from Harvard only to face the racism of the time; and The Blood of Jesus (1941), with Spencer Williams directing and also starring as a man who finds religion after his wife’s mystical experiences.

Race with History: We are people from many different walks of life who share a wish to explore our roots and discover how a deeper knowledge of past events can help us overcome historic antagonisms, heal historic wounds and create a more open and honest world.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture: A museum located in Washington, DC that seeks to understand American history through the lens of the African American experience.

Teaching Tolerance: A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools.

Understanding Prejudice: A website for students, teachers, and others interested in the causes and consequences of prejudice.

Be sure to wander over to the Best Period Films List for more suggestions of what costume and historical dramas to watch.

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