UCR Scholar Lists Essential Films to Watch for Black History Month

Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies, shares his list of must-watch movies in honor of February being Black History Month

A scene from the film, “Selma” (2014), one of Professor Burrill’s movie recommendations for Black History Month

In honor of February being Black History Month, Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies, shares his cinematic expertise by recommending movies that truly highlight African-American culture, history, hardships and triumphs. His list celebrates the accomplishments of black actors and directors, and includes films that capture iconic moments in history such as the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March.

Here they are listed in chronological order:

1. “Foxy Brown” (1974)

This movie centers around Foxy Brown, a voluptuous black woman, who takes a job as a high-class prostitute all in order to get revenge on her boyfriend’s murderers. “The blacksploitation films of the 1970’s are important social and historical artifacts, and ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘Shaft’ are two of the best,” said Burrill.

"Foxy Brown" Movie Poster

“Foxy Brown” Movie Poster

2. “Do the Right Thing” (1989)

An American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee, “Do the Right Thing,” takes place at a Brooklyn neighborhood on the hottest day of the year, where racial tensions are simmering and everyone’s hate and bigotry builds up until it eventually explodes into violence.

3. “Glory” (1989)

Burrill describes the movie as “a story about the first military unit of the Union Army in the Civil War that solely comprised of African American men (except for the officers).” He adds, “Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Oscar for his passionate performance.”

4. “Boyz n the Hood” (1991)

Directed by John Singleton, this film follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles as they explore questions about race, relationships and violence

5. “Daughters of the Dust” (1992)

The creation of this movie was historical in itself. “This was the first full-length film by an African-American woman with general theatrical release in the United States. A haunting and beautifully shot film,” said Burrill.


6. “Malcolm X” (1992)

Burrill believes that this movie might just be “Denzel Washington’s finest performance.”

7. “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

The winner of three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay) in 2013, this film follows Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery.

8. “Selma” (2014)

This American historical drama film journeys with Martin Luther King Jr. and his campaign to secure equal voting rights. This movie allows the viewers to re-live the iconic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

9.”Chi-raq” (2015)

“Spike Lee’s newest joint, based on the Ancient Greek play, Lysistrata, in which the women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting in the war!”

"Chi-Raq" Movie Poster

“Chi-Raq” Movie Poster

10. “Straight Outta Compton” (2015)

Titled after their debut studio album, “Straight Outta Compton” chronicles the story of American hip-hop group N.W.A. Viewers follow N.W.A., learning how they emerged from the mean streets of Compton as well as all of their victories and struggles along the way.

11. “Race” (2016)

“This is the first feature film about American athlete Jesse Owens.”

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