20 Black Films to Watch – Celebrating BHM | Iowa City Cedar Rapids Moms

There are so many great films that showcase black history, not only dramas, but also documentaries and comedy movies. Let’s honor black actors, directors, and all black professionals of the film industry by watching their movies. Here is a list of suggestions for you to start with.


  1. A Raisin in the Sun (1961) – It’s focused on a Black family in Chicago navigating how to manage their sudden influx of insurance money alongside their conflicting ideas of progress. Starring Sidney PoitierRuby DeeClaudia McNeilDiana SandsRoy Glenn, and Louis Gossett Jr.

2. To Sir, With Love (1967)– British drama film that deals with social and racial issues in an inner city school. Starring Sidney Poitier.

3. Coming to America (1988) – A story originally created by Eddie Murphy, who also starred in the lead role, about the crown prince of the fictional African nation of Zamunda, who travels to the United States in the hopes of finding a woman he can marry. The film also co-stars Arsenio HallJames Earl JonesShari Headley, and John Amos.

4. Polly (1989) –  Musical film adapted from the book Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter featuring an all African-American cast (with the exception of Celeste Holm). It was directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen, starring Keshia Knight PulliamPhylicia Rashad and also featured the final performance of actress Butterfly McQueen. Set in Alabama during the 1950s, Polly Whittier, an orphan who is sent to live with her aunt Polly Harrington, who is a descendant of the founding family of a small Southern town (also called Harrington) during the segregation era.

5. Daughters of The Dust (1991) – Independent film written, directed and produced by Julie Dash and is the first feature film directed by an African-American woman distributed theatrically in the United States. Set in 1902, it tells the story of three generations of Gullah (also known as Geechee) women in the Peazant family on Saint Helena Island as they prepare to migrate off the island, out of the Southern United States, and into the North.

6. Boyz N The Hood (1991) – Written and directed by John Singleton, about neighborhood’s booming gang culture. It stars Ice CubeCuba Gooding Jr.Morris ChestnutLaurence FishburneNia LongRegina King, and Angela Bassett.

7. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)– American musical comedy film loosely based on the life of Crenshaw High School choir instructor Iris Stevenson and starring Whoopi Goldberg, Lauryn Hill, Ryan Toby, and Tanya Blount.

8. Crooklyn (1994) – American semi-autobiographical film co-written, produced, and directed by Spike Lee. The film takes place in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 1973. Its primary focus is a young girl, Troy (played by Zelda Harris), and her family. Throughout the film, Troy learns life lessons through her four rowdy brothers, her loving but strict mother (Alfre Woodard), and her naive, struggling father (Delroy Lindo).

9. Set It Off (1996) – It follows four close friends in Los Angeles, California, who decide to plan and execute a bank robbery. They decide to do so for different reasons, although all four want better for themselves and their families. The film stars Jada Pinkett SmithQueen LatifahVivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise (in her film debut).

10. Eve’s Bayou (1997) – Written and directed by Kasi LemmonsSamuel L. Jackson served as a producer, and starred in the film with Lisa Nicole CarsonJurnee SmollettLynn WhitfieldDebbi MorganMeagan Good and Diahann Carroll.

11. Beloved (1998) – The plot centers on a former slave after the American Civil War, her haunting by a poltergeist, and the visitation of her reincarnated daughter. Starring Oprah WinfreyDanny Glover, Kimberly Elise, and Thandie Newton.

12. Dreamgirls (2006) – A work of fiction taking strong inspiration from the history of the Motown record label and one of its acts, The Supremes. The story follows the history and evolution of American R&B music during the 1960s and 1970s through the eyes of a Detroit, Michigan girl group known as the Dreams and their manipulative record executive. The film adaptation of Dreamgirls stars Jennifer HudsonBeyoncéJamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy, and also features Danny GloverAnika Noni Rose and Keith Robinson.

13. Selma (2014) – It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches initiated and directed by James Bevel and led by Martin Luther King Jr.Hosea Williams, and John Lewis. The film stars actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. JohnsonTim Roth as George WallaceCarmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and Common as Bevel.

14. Dope (2015) – Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa and produced by Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi. It’s about life in “The Bottoms,” a high-crime neighborhood in Inglewood, California. It stars Shameik MooreTony RevoloriKiersey ClemonsKimberly EliseChanel ImanLakeith StanfieldBlake AndersonZoë Kravitz, and ASAP Rocky. The film was also executive produced by Pharrell Williams and co-executive produced by Sean Combs.

15. Moonlight (2016) – Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. It stars Trevante RhodesAndré HollandJanelle MonáeAshton SandersJharrel JeromeNaomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali. The film presents three stages in the life of the main character: his childhood, adolescence, and early adult life. It explores the difficulties he faces with his sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he endures growing up.

16. Hidden Figures (2016) – It is loosely based on the 2016 non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as NASA supervisor and mathematician Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as NASA engineer Mary Jackson.

17. I Am Not a Wicth (2017) – A serious little girl shows up in a village and is quickly accused of being a witch. Writer-director Rungano Nyoni was inspired by actual stories of witchcraft accusations in Zambia. In her research for the film, she traveled to Ghana and spent time in a real witch camp, observing their daily life and rituals. 

18. Black Panther (2018) –  Superhero film directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, and it stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa / Black Panther alongside Michael B. JordanLupita Nyong’oDanai GuriraMartin FreemanDaniel KaluuyaLetitia WrightWinston DukeAngela BassettForest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. In Black Panther, T’Challa is crowned king of Wakanda following his father’s death, but he is challenged by Killmonger who plans to abandon the country’s isolationist policies and begin a global revolution.

19. Sorry to Bother You (2018) –  Dark comedy film written and directed by Boots Riley, in his directorial debut. It stars Lakeith StanfieldTessa ThompsonJermaine FowlerOmari HardwickTerry CrewsPatton OswaltDavid CrossDanny GloverSteven Yeun, and Armie Hammer. The film follows a young black telemarketer who adopts a white accent to succeed at his job. Swept into a corporate conspiracy, he must choose between profit and joining his activist friends to organize labor.

20. Hair Love (2019) –  Animated short film written and directed by Matthew A. Cherry and co-produced with Karen Rupert Toliver. It follows the story of a man who must do his daughter’s hair for the first time, and it features Issa Rae as a voice of the mother. It was also released as a children’s book in May 2019 with illustrations by Vashti HarrisonHair Love won Best Animated Short Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.

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