This list aims to highlight the tremendous range and diversity of black filmmaking talent in front of and behind the camera. It also looks to celebrate black culture more generally and draw attention to its rich, and often painful history. Film is a hugely powerful medium to elicit empathy and understanding, but also to provoke debate. Many of the films here are unashamedly contentious and provocative, designed to stir a reaction from its audience and shake up an industry that is all too often bogged down in complacency. Lots of history is covered here, including slavery and the American Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, and contemporary issues around law enforcement that are unfortunately a fixture on our news screens. But many of the films also celebrate the vibrancy and style of much black music and culture, demonstrating tremendously exciting work from younger artists. In film, as in any medium, representation is crucial, both in terms of people believing they can have a voice in the industry themselves and help bring about change, but also allowing for more general audiences to see people like them on the big screen, and celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of many of its heroes.
The Princess and the Frog(2009)
Tiana is a feisty young woman with big dreams in Disney's New Orleans-set re-telling of the classic fairy tale.
This charming Disney fairy tale marked the first time that the animation powerhouse had placed a princess of colour at the centre of one of their stories. As well as being culturally significant, the film is also a delightful, enchanting and magical tale that marked the start of a creative renaissance at the house of mouse.
Stunning animation about a young Sudanese boy’s escape from slave traders and his incredible and perilous journey to Paris with an orphaned giraffe.
This beautiful animated adventure tells the story of Maki, a Sudanese boy who escapes from slave traders to become the protector of Zarafa, an orphaned giraffe who in turn becomes his best friend. Taking up with a band of explorers, pirates, and merchants, young Maki and Zarafa go on an incredible voyage by sea and air.
T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda to inherit the throne but soon finds himself having to defend it from a soldier with a mysterious past.
The first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast, this instalment of the MCU became a phenomenon on its release. Featuring a cast of some of Hollywood’s most established actors and visuals that celebrate black beauty, art and technology, this was an important moment in both black representation and the superhero film genre.
A short British film exploring race relations in post-riots Notting Hill in the 1960s through the friendship of a little girl and boy.
This short black and white film from 1966 is set in a London still feeling the effects of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots. The film depicts the way an innocent friendship between Jonny, a white boy born to a white supremacist family, and Jemima, a black girl, daughter to Caribbean immigrants, affects the people around them.
Widely considered to have kick-started black British cinema, this 1970s film focuses on a black school leaver well-qualified but unable to find a job.
Pressure is widely acknowledged to have kick-started black British cinema. The story of Tony, a young black school leaver who, despite having good academic qualifications, finds it all but impossible to find a job, remains as powerful and stirring as it was in 1976. It also echoes contemporary issues, such as ‘stop and search’.
Costume drama about the illegitimate Black mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral in the 18th Century, blending period romance and politics.
Directed by Amma Asante, one of the most exciting British directors working today, this absorbing costume drama is the true story of the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a British admiral, who played an important role in the campaign to abolish slavery in England. The film combines historical drama with cinematic romance to winning effect.
Adaptation of Alice Walker's novel about the turbulent life of Celie, a black woman growing up in the American Deep South of the 1900s.
Based on another seminal piece of literature, Steven Spielberg may have been an unlikely choice to adapt the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but the marriage proved a happy one. Featuring star making performances from Oprah Winfrey and Whoppi Goldberg, the film is passionate, dignified and humane, but does not shy away from the horrendous injustices inflicted on the women.
In the US south in the 60s, just after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, a black police officer is arrested for a prominent white citizen's murder.
No topic of Black History in cinema would be complete without at least one film starring the legendary Sidney Poitier. More than a just a movie star, Poitier is also a diplomat and cultural icon. His most famous role is arguably that of police detective Virgil Tibbs brought in to help solve a crime in a racist town in the American South.
Bold and brash, frenzied yet graceful biopic of Muhammad Ali.
It takes something special for a film to accurately capture the stature of a figure as immense as Ali. Will Smith gives a hugely committed, eerily accurate, covering The Champ’s life between 1964 and 1974, taking in all of the triumphs, as well as the controversies and contradictions and capturing his charisma. A compelling film about a crucial period in Civil Rights.
Racial tensions run high in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year.
Spike Lee is without question one of the most significant chroniclers of Black History in cinema history. Discussed as one of the films of all time, this sizzling story set on the hottest day in a Brooklyn neighbourhood explores race relations in America and the rippling effects of police brutality.
A young British-born black woman begins to question her attitude to love, life and desire for middle-class respectability.
Considered one of the first British films to have a Black-British woman in the lead role, and directed by renowned British director Menelik Shabazz, this refreshing drama set in London sees a young woman finding her own autonomy while capturing the racial diversity of the city, as well as the difficulties faced by young black people.
Powerful drama focusing on Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure voting rights for Black Americans.
Another icon whose charisma is difficult to recreate is Martin Luther King. The first film to directly explore the life of King, this film focusses on the campaign to secure equal voting rights via a seminal march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. With a remarkable central performance from David Oyelowo at its heart, the film documents a pivotal moment in history.
A realistic film depicting urban African-American life in '70s LA, about a husband who has to work very long hours at a slaughterhouse.
Bearing witness to the difficulties of providing for a family and keeping out of trouble, this film, set in Watts, the same poverty-stricken suburb of LA as Boyz N The Hood is an important social document as well as a beautiful and moving piece of filmmaking.
The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was abducted from New York and sold into slavery in 1841.
Drawing upon Solomon Northup’s harrowing memoir, British filmmaker Steve McQueen presents a disturbing portrayal of the brutality and injustice of the slave trade in this powerful, shocking landmark drama. Angry and polemical, the film also made an international star of Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Seminal piece of Black Cinema about three generations of women living on the Sea Islands, off the coast of South Carolina in the early 20th Century.
Set in 1902 and on location off the Georgia coast, this beautiful film stands as an important cinematic achievement not only for it being the first feature film directed by an African-American woman, but also for its depiction of the Gullah language and culture.
A chronicle of Nelson Mandela's life, from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as president of South Africa.
Like Selma, the makers of this film turned to a British actor to fill the shoes of a legend. Idris Elba captures all of the magnetism, grace, defiance and eloquence of Nelson Mandela in this stirring biopic adapted from the great man’s own memoir, taking in his 27 years of incarceration and remarkable election as president.
A treasure trove of interviews and footage from the late 1960s and early 1970s provides a fascinating snapshot of the US Civil Rights struggle.
Filmed by Swedish journalists during the Civil Rights movement, this documentary balances contemporary cultural commentary with stirring footage of the rise of the Black Power Movement in America, taking in black style and music, as well as more incendiary topics.
Colourful romantic drama about the blossoming romance between two young women in a conservative Kenyan community.
The first Kenyan film to play at Cannes Film Festival, this visually stunning and heartfelt story received acclaimed for it’s gentle yet powerful depiction of two young girls falling in love in Nairobi, where homosexuality is prohibited.
A landmark US indie film set in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, focusing on one man's attempt to encourage solidarity amongst his peers.
This landmark American indie, with a fabulous Motown soundtrack, was Malcolm X’s favourite film and remains one of the most significant films about African American life ever made. This gripping drama shows the devastating effects of discrimination, and illustrates why radical action was required to change people's attitudes and achieve real equality.
The story of three friends growing up in South Central LA surrounded by the social problems of poverty; crime, violence, drugs and alcohol.
Made at the height of the Los Angeles riots by a 23 year-old director, this teen hood drama remains searing, powerful and angry, with a compelling social conscience. Both a brilliantly observed coming-of-age story and a clear-eyed portrait of a community, this is a classic of American cinema.
Based on real events, this film charts a day in the life of a Black man named Oscar Grant on NYE 2008 and how he was unlawfully killed by the police.
The often strained relationship between young black men and police officers remains something that is all too topical in modern society. This powerful drama, based on a true story, offers a passionate entry point into discussion of complex issues, invoking strong emotions in all who see it and a desire for something constructive to be done.
Documentary in which the late writer James Baldwin looks back at his experiences through American history, most notably the Civil Rights movement.
This documentary essay provides a thorough analysis of the civil rights era through James Baldwin’s pivotal writing. Archive films, media footage and key moments in American history, including the rise of leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, give a powerful account of the times.
A young Black man fears for his life upon meeting his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family for the first time.
Both critically acclaimed and controversial, this modern horror film dissects the nuances of race in romantic and familial relationships with sharp, dark humour and a startling narrative that caused much-needed discussions across cinema audiences.
Coming-of-age drama focusing on a young black man growing up in a poverty-stricken Miami neighbourhood where he struggles to fit in.
A cinematic milestone, this beautifully poetic and moving tale of a young boy’s coming-of-age in a troubling Miami neighbourhood became the first film with an all-black cast and first LGBTQ+ related film to win an Academy award for best Picture.