The 40 best Black movies to stream on Netflix right now

Cinema offers us a chance to expand our perspectives in many ways. Especially when it comes to understanding the Black experience. With your Netflix subscription, you have access to myriad great movies about the Black experience for a crash course in cultural assimilation and understanding. To give you a push in the right direction, we’ve pulled together the best Black movies on Netflix that you can stream right now.

Looking for more films and shows that illustrate the Black experience? Check out our roundups of the best Black shows and movies to stream across all platforms.

Recently added to Netflix

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) new

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
97%
87 %
7.0/10
r 94m
Genre Drama, Music
Stars Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman
Directed by George C. Wolfe
Adapted from August Wilson’s classic Century Cycle play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place in a 1920s Chicago recording session. As musicians await the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), tempers begin to flare when Ma finally arrives. Ma enters into a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music while cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) stokes the fires and prods his fellow musicians into stories and truths that will change their lives.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019) new

Dolemite Is My Name
97%
76 %
7.3/10
r 118m
Genre Drama, Comedy, History
Stars Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps
Directed by Craig Brewer
Eddie Murphy returned from a lengthy acting hiatus to star as Rudy Ray Moore in this Oscar-nominated biopic of the comedian who created the character Dolemite. Dolemite is a pimp, comedian, and nightclub owner who became an iconic character in blaxploitation films. In Dolemite Is My Name, Moore grapples with the character and the success that comes with being an underground sensation.

Passing (2021)

Passing
88%
84 %
7.1/10
pg-13 98m
Genre Drama
Stars Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland
Directed by Rebecca Hall
Based on the 1929 novel of the same name, Passing stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare. Old friends that reconnect after a chance meeting at a hotel, Irene is Black and is married to a Black physician. Clare, also Black, is able to “pass” as white because of her lighter skin color. As the two women grow closer, their personal lives, insecurities, and secrets start unraveling and weaving together. The directorial debut of actress Rebecca Hall, Passing is an emotionally close-knit chamber drama with mesmerizing and intricately-layered performances from both Thompson and Negga.

High Flying Bird (2019)

High Flying Bird
91%
78 %
6.2/10
90m
Genre Drama
Stars André Holland, Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
In the wake of an NBA lockout, sports agent Ray Burke (Andrè Holland) is at risk of losing his entire career. Hoping to turn things around, the agent has less than 72 hours to pitch a controversial business plan to one of his rookie players, a business venture that will have major ripple effects across the entire NBA hierarchy of power. From director Steven Soderbergh, High Flying Bird combines the ingenuity of richly scripted sports dramas like Moneyball and infuses the narrative with energies that only a Soderbergh film can deliver. This is also Soderbergh’s second film to be entirely shot on an iPhone (Unsane being the first).

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train (2017)

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
92%
65 %
6.1/10
92m
Genre Drama, Comedy, Crime
Stars Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Tim Blake Nelson
Directed by Sydney Freeland
When their mother gets thrown in jail, teen sisters Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and Leina (Rachel Crow) are at risk of being thrown into foster care. To avoid such a fate, Deidra hatches a plan to begin robbing trains to build up enough of a nest egg to bail their mother out of jail, while providing enough funds for the siblings to survive. A lively blend of comedy and drama, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train finds its heart and soul in the upbeat performances of both Murray and Crow — a dazzling dynamic that propels this social hybrid out of the run-of-the-mill Netflix dramedy vault.

Giving Voice (2020)

Giving Voice
100%
6.8/10
pg-13 90m
Genre Documentary
Stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson
Directed by Fernando Villena, James D. Stern
The August Wilson Monologue Competition is an annual theater competition and much-lauded opportunity for aspiring high school artisans. With thousands of submissions every year, the crowned winner will be able to perform on Broadway. James D. Stern and Fernando Villena’s amazing documentary follows six students on their journey through the audition process, culminating in an edge-of-your-seat final round between the youths. Featuring appearances from Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and other noteworthy talking heads, Giving Voice is an inspiring showcase of up-and-coming talents and a reminder that the arts are always here for us to lean on.

Middle of Nowhere (2012)

Middle of Nowhere
88%
75 %
6.4/10
r 101m
Genre Drama
Stars David Oyelowo, Maya Gilbert, Sharon Lawrence
Directed by Ava DuVernay
In writer-director Ava DuVarney’s Middle of Nowhere, Emayatzy Corinealdi stars as Ruby, a med student on course to become a doctor. In between practicing and her studies, she spends time visiting her imprisoned husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick). Hoping to get him paroled early, Ruby’s family and friends fight against Ruby’s convictions at every turn. When she meets a friendly bus driver (David Oyelowo), her life takes a new turn as the two begin dating. A sharply acted drama, Middle of Nowhere tells a story of personal empowerment and how one can find hope in the most unlikely of places.

Sleight (2016)

Sleight
78%
62 %
5.9/10
r 89m
Genre Drama, Thriller, Action, Science Fiction
Stars Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Storm Reid
Directed by J.D. Dillard
A street magician named Bo (Jacob Latimore) is the sole source of income for him and his kid sister, Tina (Storm Reid). By day, he performs magic tricks for spectacle and a dollar here or there from passersby. By night, Bo takes to the streets to sell drugs. What seems to be working quickly falls apart when a rival drug kingpin infringes on Bo’s dealer’s turf, sparking a war that Bo finds himself at the center of. Combining elements of serious drama with bits of magic realism and coming-of-age notes, Sleight brings its story home in more ways than one.

Get on Up (2014)

Get on Up
80%
71 %
6.9/10
pg-13 139m
Genre Drama, Music
Stars Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd
Directed by Tate Taylor
Get on Up is a mesmerizing biopic about the rise and musical domination of James Brown, played with ultimate conviction by the late Chadwick Boseman. Charting Brown’s career from his early days in gospel singing to his transformation through jazz and blues, the film explores the numerous personal hardships that the prolific musician would overcome on his journey of stardom. Rich with heart, soul, and showmanship, director Tate Taylor’s Get on Up is a winning mixture of energies with an electrifying Boseman at its core.

The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

The Forty-Year-Old Version
98%
80 %
7.2/10
r 123m
Genre Comedy, Drama
Stars Radha Blank, Peter Y. Kim, Oswin Benjamin
Directed by Radha Blank
In writer-director Radha Blank’s feature film debut, the auteur plays a version of herself. A down-on-her-luck New York playwright who can’t gain enough traction because her most recent play doesn’t emphasize “Black suffering” enough, Radha unearths a new artistic path after hearing rap music outside her apartment walls. Putting her playwright aspirations on the backburner, albeit only for the time being, Radha teams with a music producer and DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin) to record her first series of rap songs — tunes with a metaphoric focus on Radha’s hardships as a Black artist. An authentic and moving portrayal of life as a starving artist, The Forty-Year-Old Version seems to allude to a forthcoming prolific career from its writer-director-actor. We can only wait and see what Radha’s filmic future may bring.

Two Distant Strangers (2021)

Two Distant Strangers
93%
6.9/10
r 32m
Genre Drama
Stars Joey Bada$$, Andrew Howard, Zaria Simone
Directed by Martin Desmond Roe, Travon Free
Carter James (Joey Bada$$) is a New York cartoonist who needs to get home to his hungry dog after a date night out. On his return home, the artist is confronted by a police officer named Merk (Andrew Howard). Upon questioning Carter, the altercation between cop and cartoonist quickly escalates to Carter being shot dead, only to reawaken in his date’s bed. Stuck in a time loop, Carter must relive his tragic end again and again. An Oscar-winning short film, Two Distant Strangers shares a narrative time-loop structure with many other films but builds upon the formula with a meaningful message about systemic racism.

Whose Streets? (2017)

Whose Streets?
98%
79 %
5.5/10
r 90m
Genre Documentary
Stars Brittany Ferrell, Bassem Masri, Tef Poe
Directed by Sabaah Folayan
Filmed during the real-time unfolding of the 2014 Ferguson riots in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, Whose Streets? is raw documentary filmmaking at its finest. Intending to capture the events through print media, director Sabaah Folayan quickly changed her medium to filmmaking to provide a more in-depth and totally uncensored lens for viewing the national crisis. With a focus on Ferguson’s predominately Black residents, their livelihoods, and their reactions to the horrific act that shook the nation, Whose Streets? offers an unfiltered observation of a pivotal moment in Black history the world over.

Atlantics (2019)

Atlantics
95%
85 %
6.7/10
pg-13 106m
Genre Drama, Romance, Fantasy, Mystery
Stars Mame Bineta Sane, Ibrahima Traore, Amadou Mbow
Directed by Mati Diop
Ada (Mama Sane) awaits the date of her arranged marriage to Omar (Babacar Sylla), but her heart truly lies with Souleiman (Traore), a Senegal refugee in search of a better life for him and his lover. When the bodies of Souleiman’s companions wash up on the shore, Ada assumes her soul mate has perished — but through nothing short of a miracle, the lovers are reunited in the most unexpected of ways. The feature debut of writer-director Mati Diop, Atlantics has the profound designation of being the first film to play the Cannes Film Festival that was directed by a Black woman.

Monster (2018)

Monster
68%
5.5/10
r 98m
Genre Crime, Drama
Stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson
Directed by Anthony Mandler
Based on the Walter Dean Mayers novel of the same name, Monster stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Steve Harmon, a 17-year-old charged with murder. Shining a light on the teen’s journey from a bright and promising future through a bevy of legal proceedings and the possibility of jail time, the Harlem youth must rise against the odds to clear his name. With a commanding lead performance from indie stalwart Harrison, Jr., Monster follows a traditional dramatic formula, delivering rich results.

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts of No Nation
92%
79 %
7.7/10
137m
Genre Drama, War
Stars Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Adapted from the 2005 novel of the same name, Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as Commandment, a towering West African guerilla warfare leader. As civil war breaks out, a young boy named Agu is recruited by Commandment to join his battalion after attacks on the boy’s settlement are initiated by rebel forces. Leaving his family behind, Agu begins an immense coming-of-age journey through his militaristic training. Securing several awards and nominations when first released, Beasts of No Nation is a tremendous piece of cinema with bold visuals, deep performances, and an impressive narrative.

Uncorked (2020)

Uncorked
91%
62 %
6.3/10
r 104m
Genre Drama, Comedy
Stars Mamoudou Athie, Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash
Directed by Prentice Penny
In writer-director Prentice Penny’s Uncorked, Mamoudou Athie stars as Elijah, an aspiring sommelier with dreams of leaving the family barbecue business behind in pursuit of his wine connoisseur dreams. When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself, the young man must choose between a life of tradition and family ties or a new world filled with major personal opportunities. An energetic Black comedy-drama with familiar but elevated family undertones, Uncorked looks and feels like a number of other films in the “stay-or-go” subgenre, but its performances and relatable narrative push it above the rest of its counterparts.

Beats (2019)

Beats
89%
6.4/10
r 109m
Genre Drama, Music
Stars Anthony Anderson, Khalil Everage, Uzo Aduba
Directed by Christian Robinson
Eighteen months after a devastating tragedy, Chicago youth August (Khalil Everage), afflicted by PTSD, struggles to find a meaningful life outside of his bedroom. When school principal Vanessa runs up against personnel cuts if her school’s attendance doesn’t improve, she hires her soon-to-be-ex, Romelo (Anthony Anderson), as a security guard. Tasked with encouraging August to return to school, Romelo discovers that the teenager is a talented musician. As a friendship begins forming between the two, Romelo and August discover that their fraternal bond is the meaningful relationship that both men have been searching for their entire lives. With a fairly by-the-book narrative, Beats truly shines through the onscreen chemistry between Anthony Anderson and Khalil Everage.

The Black Godfather (2019)

The Black Godfather
100%
69 %
7.4/10
r 118m
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Clarence Avant, Quincy Jones, Barack Obama
Directed by Reginald Hudlin
The Black Godfather is a riveting documentary about Black music legend Clarence Avant. A record label founder, concert curator, political activist, and a cherished mentor to several other executives that were inspired by his quiet but esteemed reign over the arts, Clarence truly did it all. Buckle up for this profanity-laced tell-all: It’s a raw and honest portrait of an essential entertainment figurehead. Don’t let the F-bomb drops deter you though — this is a top-notch documentary with an ensemble of noteworthy talking heads and a mighty arcing narrative to seal the deal.

Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story
6.8/10
109m
Genre Documentary
Stars Willy T. Ribbs, Geraldine Ribbs, Phillip Ribbs
Directed by Adam Carolla, Nate Adams
Director Adam Carolla’s Uppity is an exciting and inspiring documentary about Willy T. Ribbs, the first Black race car driver to compete in the Indy 500. The film explores the many boundaries that Willy, an outspoken sportsman and defiant driver, would overcome as part of a lifelong effort for success and perseverance. Featuring weigh-ins from racing pros, drivers, and other Ribbs familiars, Carolla’s documentary paints an all-encompassing portrait of Willy’s legacy.

Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (2017)

Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992
100%
92 %
7.8/10
r 144m
Genre Documentary, History
Stars Jung Hui Lee, Rodney King, Daryl Gates
Directed by John Ridley
Much-needed cinema for those looking to gain historical context about the Black experience in America, director John Ridley’s Let It Fall takes a magnifying glass to the racially charged streets of LA in the decade preceding the Rodney King beating and the consequential riots that brought an entire city to its knees. Through archival footage, exclusive interviews with law enforcement, eyewitnesses, victims, and perpetrators, Ridley weaves together an intricate and intense documentary experience that sheds a hard light on injustice while urging us to reconsider and reframe our own perceptions of the many catastrophic events the film touches on. Rich, deeply personal, and unabashed in its delivery, Let It Fall is quintessential documentary filmmaking at its finest.

Miss Virginia (2019)

Miss Virginia
50%
7.1/10
102m
Genre Drama
Stars Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Niles Fitch
Directed by R.J. Daniel Hanna
In Miss Virginia, Orange Is the New Black‘s Emmy-winning Uzo Aduba stars as the titular character. A working-class mother living in Washington, D.C., Virginia finds it difficult to make ends meet. Worse is that her 15-year-old son, James (Niles Fitch), is taking to a life on the streets. Unable to accept the status quo, Virginia makes it her mission to get James out of public school and into a worthy private institution. With a backbone of activism and an undying purpose, Virginia faces down hurdle after hurdle as her singular dream for her child becomes a bigger phenomenon for the Black community. Directed by R.J. Daniel Hana, from a script by Erin O’ Connor, Miss Virginia features a spellbinding performance from Uzo Aduba as tough-loving Virginia. It’s one you don’t want to miss.

Quincy (2018)

Quincy
82%
60 %
7.6/10
r 124m
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones, Tom Hanks
Directed by Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks
It’s hard to encapsulate the life of a legend, especially one as prolific and regarded as musician extraordinaire, Quincy Jones. But co-directors Rashida Jones (Quincy’s daughter) and Alan Hicks do a remarkable job of wrangling the life of the icon. Chronicling Quincy’s early life and eventual rise to stardom in both the professional film and music communities he would come to dominate, Quincy paints an immense portrait of the artist, activist, husband, and father, featuring interviews and recollections from those closest to him. An immersive and incredibly human film, Quincy went on to win a Grammy for Best Music Film at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
86%
68 %
7.6/10
pg 113m
Genre Drama, History, Family
Stars Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aïssa Maïga
Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor
William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) is a young boy with humongous dreams and an incredible knack for electrical engineering. When his parents can’t keep up with his school’s tuition, the wunderkind blackmails his science teacher into letting William continue his studies. As famine sets into his village, tearing families apart, William devises a genius plan to construct a windmill to power an electric water pump. The odds against him and lacking resources, William builds his machine without ever looking back. As director Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful feature debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a beautifully constructed film about the struggles of humanity and what we do to overcome hardship even under the most hopeless of conditions.

ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019)

ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke
100%
7.2/10
r 74m
Genre Documentary
Stars Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Quincy Jones
Directed by Kelly Duane de la Vega
Influential soul singer, entrepreneur, and activist Sam Cooke gave a lot to the world. In this emotionally-stirring Netflix doc, we revisit the legacy and impact of the artist by way of those he loved most and that loved him in return. Featuring a talking-head ensemble of family, friends, journalists, academics, and other cultural movers and shakers, director Kelly Duane’s provocative film shines new light on Sam’s murder by way of Bertha Franklin in 1964, exploring the crime from multiple vantages. A chronicling of a profound artist and the mark he left on Black culture, this is one you don’t want to miss.

See You Yesterday (2019)

See You Yesterday
93%
74 %
5.2/10
r 86m
Genre Science Fiction, Drama, Adventure, Crime, Action
Stars Eden Duncan-Smith, Dante Crichlow, Astro
Directed by Stefon Bristol
Based on writer-director Stefon Bristol’s 2017 short film of the same name, See You Yesterday stars Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow as CJ and Sebastian, two science nerds who spend their time inventing — specifically, time machine backpacks that will blast the youths across the space-time continuum. When a tragedy befalls CJ, she and Sebastian will do whatever it takes to turn back time to save someone they love (and have lost). Seamlessly blending science fiction and social drama, See You Yesterday is led by powerful and endearing performances from its leads while never straying from its racial undertones.

I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

I Am Not Your Negro
99%
95 %
7.9/10
r 93m
Genre Documentary
Stars Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr.
Directed by Raoul Peck
Director Raoul Peck’s invigorating documentary film is a chronicling of author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. A front-row seat to a history of American racial conflict, Peck (supported by a powerful voiceover from Samuel L. Jackson) seamlessly weaves a portrait of Baldwin’s interactions with such prominent Black leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. The beating heart of the picture is Baldwin’s call-to-arms prose, just as relevant and needed today as it was nearly 50 years ago. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.

Loving (2016)

Loving
88%
79 %
7/10
pg-13 123m
Genre Romance, Drama
Stars Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Based in part on the 2012 HBO documentary The Loving Story, writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take ShelterMud) goes for a more streamlined and air-brushed approach to the Richard and Mildred Loving civil rights debacle. Native Virginians, the interracial couple was arrested for trying to marry outside of their segregated state, sparking a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. What we get in Nichols’ vision of their hardship is a story about a family that just wants to be a family. Earnest performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga really sell the heartfelt script, making this an integral and emotional entry in our roundup.

Becoming (2020)

Becoming
93%
66 %
6.8/10
pg 89m
Genre Documentary
Stars Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Phoebe Robinson
Directed by Nadia Hallgren
If you find that you’re missing the grace, compassion, and normalcy of the Obama administration, Becoming is a refreshing watch. A companion to Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming sheds light on her journey to become America’s first African American First Lady. While it’s not quite as personal as some might like, Becoming is nonetheless an endearing, often provocative discussion of race, hope, and connecting with those of different backgrounds and beliefs. It’s a keen reminder that leaders can inspire by positive example.

13th (2016)

13th
97%
83 %
8.2/10
r 100m
Genre Documentary
Stars Jelani Cobb, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Directed by Ava DuVernay
“If you’re in the prison business, you don’t want reform. You may say you do. But you don’t.” Ava DuVernay’s eye-opening, at times harrowing, 13th is a pivotal documentary that explores the centuries-old criminalization of disenfranchised African American communities, but by way of tracing the steps of American racism to its very roots. Over the course of the film, DuVernay and many activists, lawmakers, and academics unfold decade after decade of politically motivated legislation, and the lobbyists often behind these laws, that have led not only to the privatization of the American prison system but also to the staggeringly disproportionate incarceration of millions of African American men and women. The film can be difficult to watch, but DuVernay’s grim realizations are made to be blatant. What is also apparent is that there is still hope for fundamental change, a message echoed by the film’s ensemble of progressively minded confiders, figures both left- and right-leaning.

All Day and a Night (2020)

All Day and a Night
54%
60 %
5.8/10
r 121m
Genre Drama
Stars Ashton Sanders, Jeffrey Wright, Isaiah John
Directed by Joe Robert Cole
In All Day and a Night, Ashton Sanders plays Jahkor Lincoln, a once-aspiring rapper serving a life sentence for murder. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of Lincoln’s troubled upbringing. An adolescence riddled with abuse and dire straits leads to petty crime, which evolves into something far more sinister when Lincoln begins offering his services to a gangster named Big Stunna. As present-day Jahkor looks back on his dark past from behind bars, an old accomplice is admitted to the same prison. This time around, though, the man is a foe, not a friend. Praised for its performances and meditative qualities, All Day and a Night is indeed a richly-textured drama. Ashton Sanders is particularly impressive as Jahkor.

American Son (2019)

American Son
46%
34 %
5.8/10
pg-13 90m
Genre Drama
Stars Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, Jeremy Jordan
Directed by Kenny Leon
Kerry Washington is electric in Kenny Leon’s racially charged drama about a mother, father, and the police officers that serve as the gatekeepers to their son’s safety (or lack thereof). The film is minimalist in terms of set pieces, but the true gravitas of this 90-minute, escalating panic is in the claustrophobia of the police station, a bunker clinging to its segregated past by way of demarcated water fountains and a quiet regional disparity covered with a law book and a grin. The true joy of the film is in watching Washington claw her way through the narrative, channeling a polarity of emotions that are all backed by the all-too-relatable fear of a mother worried because her child didn’t come home. Sparse editing and an emotional score are the backbones of these three acts, each of which plays out like a theater piece, sans intermission.

Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (2019)

Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé
98%
93 %
7.5/10
137m
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland
Directed by Beyoncé, Ed Burke
A concert film for a new generation, HOMECOMING won a Grammy for Best Musical Film. Beyoncé has become something of a musical film savant, with LemonadeBlack Is King, and HOMECOMING all earning rave reviews. It’s HOMECOMING, however, that stands uniquely as a concert film. The film takes an in-depth look at Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance, revealing the incredible creative depth and cultural significance of the show.

Imperial Dreams (2014)

Imperial Dreams
92%
67 %
6.7/10
r 87m
Genre Drama
Stars John Boyega, Glenn Plummer, De'Aundre Bonds
Directed by Malik Vitthal
In co-writer/director Malik Vitthal’s Imperial Dreams, John Boyega plays Bambi, a gangster looking to put his violent past behind him. But as Bambi makes steps to leave Imperial Courts, the projects rope him right back in, against his will. Vitthal actually shoots the film at the real Imperial Courts housing projects in Watts, Los Angeles, creating a true-to-life arena for all of the film’s powerhouse performers. Every role in the ensemble is richly lived in by the respective actor, creating an honest and nuanced depiction of everyday life in the community. Visually, cinematographer Monika Lenczewska’s camera keeps everything in widescreen, with a majority of our focus on Bambi as he hovers in and out of scenes. At its heart, Imperial Dreams is a film about the redemption of a man, a sprawling odyssey that keeps two feet in reality throughout the entire film. The film has plenty to say about disparity, and it says it all quite naturally. In Dreams, the story feels just as real as the projects it’s set and shot in.

She's Gotta Have It (1986)

She's Gotta Have It
91%
79 %
6.8/10
r 84m
Genre Comedy, Romance
Stars Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell
Directed by Spike Lee
Black-cinema savant and activist Spike Lee’s version of a rom-com is a whole lot more provocative than the standard Hollywood romantic drivel. Famously shot in 15 days on a budget of $175,000, She’s Gotta Have It became Lee’s coming out party, introducing him to the world as a fearless filmmaker with a unique voice and a profoundly different perspective. The film follows Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) on a familiar quest of trying to figure out what kind of man she wants to date. Indecisive, she decides to date three at once: Greer Childs, the rich, handsome narcissist; Jamie Overstreet, the stable, overprotective alpha male; and Mars Blackmon, the timid geek with a heart of gold. While she can’t make up her mind, it is very clear that Nola has gotta have it all.

Barry (2016)

Barry
80%
72 %
5.8/10
r 104m
Genre Drama
Stars Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ashley Judd
Directed by Vikram Gandhi
You might think Barack Obama is still too recently out of office to have his own biopic, but the circumstances surrounding the nation’s first Black president’s rise to power are worthy of this 2016 film. The story follows a young Barack Obama as he arrives in New York City in the fall of 1981 for his junior year at Columbia University. Echoing many of the themes expressed in his autobiography, Dreams of My Father, Obama struggles to stay connected to his mother and his estranged father and build new connections with his classmates. Simultaneously, he battles an identity crisis and becomes critical of the injustices he sees in his day-to-day life, ultimately motivating him toward a career in organizing and, eventually, politics.

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Da 5 Bloods
92%
82 %
6.5/10
r 156m
Genre War, Drama
Stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters
Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s first movie under his new Netflix deal is a modern masterpiece. Simultaneously about the stasis of the movement for Black justice and the enduring villainy of the Vietnam War, Da 5 Bloods bounces between eras to illuminate how little has changed in 40 years. The film follows four Black vets as they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and a buried treasure they vowed to one day return for. What they discover is their own “Heart of Darkness” as they battle the forces of man and nature, confronting the lasting legacy of the war and its impact on Vietnam and one another.

Mudbound (2017)

Mudbound
97%
85 %
7.4/10
r 135m
Genre Drama
Stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell
Directed by Dee Rees

The expertly lensed Mudbound — written and directed by Dee Rees and photographed by Rachel Morrison — explores the personal, economic, and racial tensions of two rural families living by way of the land in World War II-era Mississippi. A respective son from each family goes off to war. These are Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), two boys who leave a world of racism and other struggles behind. The battle ends. They return home, Jamie with newfound trauma, and Ronsel to a country that looks down at him for the color of his skin, regardless of his valor. What’s to truly savor in Rees’ masterful period drama is Morrison’s language of framing. Rees and Morrison were after a kind of camera work that reflected the feeling of the American Dream, and so we get beauty in shades. But under the flora is loud and vibrant cinematography that enhances our connection with both families, one white and one black. Mudbound is illuminating in more ways than one, an epic racial drama led by a master class of actors that all own their roles.

Strong Island (2017)

Strong Island
100%
86 %
6.4/10
r 107m
Genre Documentary
Stars Yance Ford, Harvey Walker, Kevin Myers
Directed by Yance Ford
Director Yance Ford’s investigation into the 1992 murder of her brother, 24-year-old William Ford Jr., is an examination of judicial prejudice like no other, and an incredible film experiment. Courageously, Ford toes the line between essay film, personal memoir, and true crime exposé, seamlessly blending each type of documentary form in an effort to best capture her 22-year story of pain and loss. Ford spends time with the friends, family, and willing judicial entities that were involved in her brother’s life and in the courtroom for his killer’s trial, 19-year-old Mark P. Reilly. These many emotional recollections weave a rich tapestry of William Ford Jr.’s life, ambitions, fears, and frustrations. Underneath the records, talking heads, and scrapbook photos is a story about a family that lost their son, and his little sister’s lifelong quest for familial and personal closure.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

What Happened, Miss Simone?
88%
75 %
7.6/10
101m
Genre Music, Documentary
Stars Nina Simone, Lisa Simone, Dick Gregory
Directed by Liz Garbus
What Happened, Miss Simone? explores the life of prolific singer-songwriter and pianist, Nina Simone, through recollections composed of archived interviews, photographs, commentaries, musical performances, and journal entries. Plagued by racism from an early age, Simone’s rise to stardom served as a platform for the activism that would define much of her career. Liz Garbus’ film is an introspective journey into the always-racing mind of an artistic genius, and a black woman who desperately wanted for black voices to be heard and understood the world over. Conversations with friends, family, and those that worked with Simone professionally round out the documentary, each contributor adding a new layer of Nina, a complicated but enduring individual with a calling that never ceased, and a talent like no other.

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