18 powerful films to add to your watch list this Black History Month

It is only with education, that we can amplify each other's voices in demanding change.

Michelle Obama embracing a young girl in her documentary, Becoming.
(Image credit: Netflix)

The names George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and most recently Chris Kaba have been chanted across the world in anti-racism protests over the past few years, calling for justice.

George, an unarmed black man, died whilst being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when police officer, Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Breonna, a black essential worker was killed in her home in Louiseville by plain-clothed police who broke in while she slept with a no knock search warrant as part of a drug raid. No drugs were found. And Chris, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot in South London by police in a car pursuit of which he was not a suspect.

These cases are shocking and they are symbolic of a bigger problem.

In America, a black person is three times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person according to the Mapping Police Violence research collaborative, with one in 1000 US black men expected to die at the hands of the police.

And while USA is the focal point, these brutal killings are symbolic of the deeply imbedded systemic racism felt all over the world.

Our global approach to race needs to be redressed immediately and we all have a part to play to ensure that George, Breonna, Chris and many more's fate will never repeat itself.

The theme of Black History Month this year is "action not words", with activists explaining that the key is education. It is only with education, that we can amplify each other's voices in demanding change.

Those of us born with white privilege need to understand what that means and not allow ourselves to stay silent about issues that make us feel uncomfortable. We cannot rely on other people to teach us about racial injustice. We need to take matters into our own hands and educate ourselves.

From books on racial discrimination to podcasts dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement, we will be recommending informative sources, but in terms of films and documentaries, look no further.

Here are 18 educational films and documentaries that focus on diversity, racism and black history...

When They See Us

When They See Us (2019) is a Netflix mini-series based on the Central Park Five - a true story that saw five teenage boys from Harlem falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park in 1989, and subsequently were sent to prison for the crime they did not commit.


Becoming (2020) is an intimate behind-the-scenes documentary following former First Lady Michelle Obama after the publication of her globally bestselling 2018 memoir, Becoming.

American Son

American Son (2019), directed by Kenny Leon and starring Kerry Washington is based on the Broadway play by Christopher Demos-Brown. It follows an estranged couple as they try to uncover the truth about their missing son, Jamal.

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) is set in early 1970s Harlem, following a devoted couple, Tish and Alonzo (Fonny), whose plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime that he did not commit.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is a 2017 documentary re-examining the controversial 1992 death of transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson's death was originally ruled as a suicide, but many believe she was actually murdered.


13th is a 2016 documentary on racial inequality in the United States by Ava DuVernay. Focusing on the nation's disproportionately filled prisons, it examines not only the history of race but also the criminal justice system.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

Self Made (2020), as its name suggests, follows the story of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America. Octavia Spencer stars as Madam C.J. Walker, the African American washerwoman who rose out of poverty to build her black hair care beauty empire.


Mudbound (2017) is set on a family farm in 1939 Mississippi and follows Laura McAllan (Carey Mulligan), raising her children on her husband’s farm during the war when two men arrive to work on the land. The film looks deeply into the ‘Jim Crow Laws’ and the racial segregation in the South.

Strong Island

Strong Island (2017) is an Oscar-nominated documentary that explores the 1992 murder of William Ford Jr., the brother of filmmaker, Yance Ford. Yance’s Netflix documentary looks at family and grief, but most notably focuses on racial injustice, as he explores America’s indifference to the killing of a black man.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station (2013) is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young black man who was killed in 2009 at Fruitvale Station by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle during an altercation. The film, starring Michael B. Jordan, reconstructs the final day of Oscar Grant’s life.

Get Out

The 2017 American thriller, Get Out, turns the subject of racism into a horror film, earning it an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Jordan Peele’s directional debut and Daniel Kayuuya’s breakthrough film follows Chris, a young African American man who is taken to meet the family of his white girlfriend for the weekend. The neighbourhood’s reception to Chris’ arrival however has terrifying results.

Dear White People

Dear White People (2017) is a Netflix TV drama based on the 2014 film of the same name. It follows a group of black college students navigating college at a predominantly white Ivy League institution, with each season focusing on modern race relations.

King in the Wilderness

King in the Wilderness (2018) is a documentary following the final 18 months of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, before his assassination. Using historic footage and home movie video clips, the documentary focuses on the pressure and anxiety put on the Civil Rights leader in the years preceding his death.


Selma (2014) is an iconic Ava DuVernay biographical drama starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper. The film follows the famous 1965 voting rights marches calling for the registration of black voters in the South.

Dark Girls

Dark Girls is a 2011 documentary by filmmakers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry, made up of raw and unfiltered interviews with black women in America. Its focus is ‘colourism’ and the deep-rooted bias against women with darker skin in the United States, as well as across the rest of the world.

The Color Purple

Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple is iconic, released in 1985 and starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. The film, based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same name, spans forty years following the life of Celie, a black Southern woman who overcomes abuse and traumatic hardships. There is a reason why it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (2013) follows Solomon Northup, a free African-American man in 1841 who is taken captive and sold into slavery. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, 12 Years a Slave was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, becoming the first film from a black director to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

Just Mercy

Just Mercy (2019) stars Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, following the true story of Walter McMillian, a black man who was wrongly convicted of the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl and sentenced to death in 1987, despite evidence proving his innocence. The drama follows his young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, fighting to overturn the unjust conviction.

If you have any recommendations to add to our list, please get in touch at @MarieClaireUK.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.