Engaging with Black History Month

25 Sep 2020

6 mins
Black History Month 2020
Black History Month 2020

Black History Month this October has never been more significant for pupils as they witness an awakening to and rejection of racial injustice on a global level. There is still so much to be done though, which is why the use of film in the classroom can be vital in exploring the many facets and nuances of Black history.

We will be addressing the subject in a variety of ways throughout the month and to kick off, we've put together a curated collection of important theme pages, resources, films and a preview of the 2020 BFI London Film Festival to get you and your students prepared for what should be a fascinating and insightful period.

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You can also explore our Black Lives Matter hub, a recent collaboration with TES, which brings together the many resources, guides and articles that Into Film have written around key aspects of the Black experience on film over the years.


For a more specific starting point, our Black Star resources - produced to support the BFI's 2016 season of the same name - celebrate a range of Black-British film talent and looks to inspire the future of the film industry. The 'Diversity on Film' assembly is comprised of Into Film interviews with ethnically diverse actors and behind the scenes talent, featuring a range of discussion and practical activities for tutor time or the classroom that are perfect for introducing Black History Month. 'Identity' focuses on cultural and personal identity, 'Persuasive Speech' is based on famous historical speeches as portrayed on screen and 'Diversity and Equality' centres on two archive films - one fiction and one home movie archive - exploring what we can learn about the communities featured in them.

Films and Film Lists

Film is such an effective avenue for broaching Black history with young people because it creates a genuine sense of connection and empathy, so picking the right stories to embark on that journey is key. Our 'Black History Month' film list presents 24 films across all age ranges with the aim of exploring Black culture, history and filmmaking talent, both behind and in front of the camera. Our 'Black British Film' list on the other hand casts your eye to either films made by Black-British filmmakers or stories with a focus on the experience of Black-British people, with the broader aim of providing insight into UK history at large. It features many criminally under seen but significant titles, so is well worth prioritising in your club or classroom.

A particularly useful type of film during this month is the biopic, as it allows young people to delve into famous and lesser-known trailblazers throughout history, whilst gaining a real sense of the period that they lived. This was clearly understood by the late and great actor Chadwick Boseman who starred in three wildly different biopics of Black icons; Jackie Robinson, James Brown and US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In Chadwick's own words, "a lot of our stories haven't been told. Seeing the response not just to this movie (42) but other movies that have been made about historical figures, there is a thirst for that and it needs to be done more."

Check out two of his brilliant roles in 42 and Get on Up as well as a few of our favourite biopics below, and here's hoping that we start to see more mainstream biopics of Black-British figures in the future! Just a few years ago, the British Blacklist had some great suggestions for UK biographies that deserve an on-screen makeover.

BFI London Festival 2020

Due to COVID-19, the BFI London Festival (7-18 October) is trying a new format this year and it will be the first ever edition to be widely accessible wherever you are in the UK, with over 50 virtual premieres, free online events and cinema screenings across the land. Within the programme are some great highlights for primary and secondary students as well as some potentially fascinating feature and short films that highlight Black filmmaking talent and experiences from across the globe. Delve into our picks below and look out for a more general piece on our most anticipated films at the festival.

Feature films

Mangrove - The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill doubled as a community centre for Black Londoners to exchange ideas and to commune. As police brutality and harassment intensified, the Mangrove also became a site of resistance leading to the wrongful arrest for incitement to riot of nine local activists including Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) and Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby). Oscar-winner Steve McQueen's depiction of the infamous 55-day trial is a moving instalment from his Small Axe anthology series, a collection of films that evoke memories, political events and a critical perspective on life for London's West Indian community between the 1960s and 1980s.

One Night in Miami... - Based on Kemp Powers' award-winning stage play, One Night in Miami… is the imagined story of what followed 22-year-old Muhammad Ali's (Eli Goree) 1964 victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Sat ringside are Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). The film explores the personal and political conflicts faced by the men  balancing their public image in a world where the pinnacle of success for a Black person was to be a sportsperson or entertainer, alongside their drive to fight for Black liberation.

African Apocalypse - When British-Nigerian poet and activist Femi Nylander discovered Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the novel that Barack Obama claims helped him understand why ‘white people are afraid', he was immediately drawn to understanding this distorted vision of Africa. Embarking on a spiritual journey to Niger, Femi uncovers the violent legacy of the real-life counterpart to Conrad's novel, French Captain Paul Voulet, whose genocidal mission in 1898 can still be felt today, through subsequent generations of his victims.

Time - Fox Richardson has spent over 20 years campaigning for the release of her husband, who was sentenced to life without parole for a botched armed robbery. At the same time, she single-handedly raised six sensitive and bright sons. Garrett Bradley's (America) feature showcases her tremendous talent and ambition, deftly combining home video archive and contemporary footage of Fox and her sons, presenting a remarkably resilient woman who transformed from being collateral damage of the US penal system into an inspirational campaigner. 

Soul - Jamie Foxx is Joe Gardner, a music teacher who lives for his art. Just as his professional career is about to take off, a fateful mishap finds him embarking on an unexpected journey of self-discovery to The Great Before, an incredible place where new souls are born. 

One Man and His Shoes - Yemi Bamiro follows his impressive short works with a debut feature documentary of scale examining the cultural and commercial phenomena of Michael Jordan against the increasing commodification of Black culture and a lack of corporate accountability. A sportsman with once-in-a-generation talent, Jordan was held up as a symbol of Black progress; he had his own phenomenally successful trainer brand that made Nike one of the most profitable companies in the world. Bamiro deftly charts the rise of Jordan against 80's and 90's pop culture milestones: hip hop, Spike Lee, the emergence of the mega-watt and mega-rich sports personalities.

Ultraviolence - Since 1969, there have been over 2000 deaths in police custody in the UK. It is a frightening statistic that Ken Fero approaches with seasoned conviction. Ultraviolence employs unflinching archival footage to document the tragic and undignified deaths that took place between 1995 and 2005. Victims include Fero's classmate Brian Douglas and Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot and killed whilst travelling on the London underground. 

Shorts Programme

All films from the shorts programme will be free to access for the duration of the festival exclusively on BFI Player.

Gramercy - Shaq returns to his hometown for the first time in six months with a lot of baggage. This beautiful and dreamlike exploration of young Black manhood explores loss and depression, brotherly love and pure joy

Salsa - In a Buenos Aires' hairdressing salon clients, dancers and reggaeton singers find their community. This subtle documentary says a lot, with very little, about the inclusive nature of music

Dolapo is Fine - This rewarding and thoughtful depiction of an ever-relevant issue finds a young Black girl about to leave boarding school and encouraged to conform to white beauty standards for a job in the City.

Two Single Beds - Two London comedians find sanctuary in each other after a show in Doncaster. Is 170 miles as far from reality as they're willing to let themselves go?

Lizard - Juwon, an 8-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a Mega Church in Lagos.

Watch this space for much more material throughout October around Black history and in the meantime, we would love to hear from you through one of our social channels on your plans for a topic that has never felt more timely. You can also head to the Black History Month website for more information on getting involved.

A note to all educators - Into Film have made the decision to capitalise the B when making any reference to Black people and groups, as will be done with other ethnic group categorisations. This important mark of acknowledgment and respect has been embraced by several high-profile sites and style guides over the last few years.

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