Films to Watch During Black History Month

Louise Beavers (left) plays a maid whose daughter (Fredi Washington) passes for White in “Imitation of Life." (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Louise Beavers (left) plays a maid whose daughter (Fredi Washington) passes for White in “Imitation of Life." (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Chief film critics have chosen several vital movies from the 20th century that convey an illustrious history of Black Americans in cinema.

Recent films such as Moonlight” which last year won the Oscar for “Best Picture,” and this year’s Oscar-nominated “Get Out” and “Mudbound” are good indications that Black filmmakers are receiving more opportunities in the movie industry, evidenced by such upcoming works as Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” and Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” — the first movie with a $100 million budget directed by a Black woman.

Here’s a list of notable movies by Black filmmakers, starring Black actors:

“Within Our Gates,” written and directed by Oscar Micheaux (1920)

“Their Eyes Were Watching God,” directed by Darnell Martin (2005)

The film, adapted from Zora Neale Hurston’s novel of the same name as well as Hurston’s “Commandment Keeper Church” footage, was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2005.

“Black and Tan” and “St. Louis Blues,” directed by Dudley Murphy (1929)

Fredi Washington (center) and Duke Ellington, (right) star in Dudley Murphy's 1929 short "Black and Tan." (Courtesy of RCA)
Fredi Washington (center) and Duke Ellington, (right) star in Dudley Murphy’s 1929 short “Black and Tan.” (Courtesy of RCA)

“Imitation of Life,” directed by John M. Stahl (1934)

Claudette Colbert portrays a single mother who becomes an entrepreneur through the pancake recipe and beatifically smiling face of her maid (Louise Beavers), whose daughter passes for White.

“Stormy Weather,” directed by Andrew L. Stone (1943)

Bill Robinson aka Bojangles and Lena Horne play lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, as do Fats Waller, the Nicholas Brothers and other celebrated dancers, comedians and musicians.

“Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.,” directed by Spencer Williams (1946)

The all-black drama stars Francine Everett as Gertie La Rue, who arrives on a Caribbean island to sing, dance, flirt and give life to the stereotypical role of the dangerously free woman.

“Intruder in the Dust,” directed by Clarence Brown (1949)

Adapted from William Faulkner’s novel and shot mostly in Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, Miss., the film showcases a Black farmer falsely accused of murder — and in danger of being lynched — as his ordeal becomes a test for the consciences of the town’s decent White people.

“The Jackie Robinson Story,” directed by Alfred E. Green (1950)

Jackie Robinson became the first Black American in 1947 to play modern Major League baseball (for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The Learning Tree,” directed by Gordon Parks (1969)

This delicate memory film marked the first time an African-American director helmed a major studio production.

“Cotton Comes to Harlem,” directed by Ossie Davis (1970)

Filmed on the streets of Harlem, the movie combines glimpses of daily life with elements of high satire and outright surrealism, all of it swirled into a detective story involving jaded cops, small-time crooks and wildly dishonest community leaders.

“Stir Crazy,” directed by Sidney Poitier (1980)

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were an unparalleled interracial buddy act. The pair leave New York for sunnier climates and wind up incarcerated for a bank robbery they are far too sweet and inept to have committed.

“She’s Gotta Have It,” directed by Spike Lee (1986)

Lee’s debut feature, shot with a shoestring budget, helped ignite both the indie boom and the African-American new wave of the late ’80s and early ’90s and remains a loving portrait of black bohemia.

“House Party,” directed by Reginald Hudlin (1990)

The careers of Reginald and Warrington Hudlin took off with this exuberant coming-of-age comedy, starring rap duo Kid ‘n Play (Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin).

“Malcolm X,” directed by Spike Lee (1992)

Denzel Washington brings bone-deep feeling and enormous charisma to the story of the title character’s transformation from street hustler to civil rights icon.

“Devil in a Blue Dress,” directed by Carl Franklin (1995)

Based on the Walter Mosley novel of the same name, Denzel Washington again commands the screen, this time as Easy Rawlins, a man laid off from his machinist job in 1940s Los Angeles who agrees to help search for a missing White woman in the city’s jazz circuit.

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