Seven of the best movies to watch online in honour of Black History Month

Revisit some of the best films by talented Black actors and directors that you can watch right now


CHI-RAQ is a Spike Lee joint about women going on a sex strike to stop gang wars in Chicago.  Updating Lysistrata, the ancient Greek play by Aristophanes, Lee’s outrageous, wholly original work opens with the devastating data on gun killings in Chicago. Between 2001 and 2014, there were more homicides in Chicago than Americans killed in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from 2003 to 2011. Lee then cuts to a hip-hop club where a performance by Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), leader of the Spartans gang, is disrupted by gunfire. The next day, when a nine-year-old girl (her mother is played by Jennifer Hudson) becomes the victim of an errant bullet from a vengeful Spartan, the women decide they’ve had enough. (See full Chi-Raq review). 

Available to watch: Amazon Prime

Selma

SELMA came at a time when racist killings have galvanized activism all over the U.S. But Selma would be a powerful film even without its current political resonance. It’s anchored by the superb performance of David Oyelowo, who makes believable iconic leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s faith, his passion – and his doubts. Screenwriter Paul Webb wisely adopts the strategy of the film Lincoln, focusing on a specific campaign within the civil rights movement and probing all its complicated machinations. (See full Selma review). 

Available to watch: Netflix

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STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON came 30 years after N.W.A. made gangsta rap a hip-hop staple, we finally get a biopic. The timing is right. Tragically, the black-denim-clad group’s incendiary anthem, Fuck The Police, and the LAPD behaviour that inspired it resonate today. Straight Outta Compton emphasizes that song’s anger and underlines its relevance, from Rodney King to Ferguson, with repeated scenes of police overstepping their boundaries. (See full Straight Outta Compton review). 

Available to watch: iTunes

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BLACK NATIVITY frequently tips its hat to Langston Hughes but doesn’t do his work any justice. The holiday musical inspired by the Harlem Renaissance poet’s gospel play never exhibits the sort of verbal wit or carefully composed anger that marked Hughes’s writing, except of course when it quotes him directly. A stiff Jacob Latimore plays Langston (yep, he’s named after the poet), a troublesome youg Baltimore native who’s shipped off by his penniless mother (Jennifer Hudson) to spend Christmas in Harlem with his estranged, well-to-do grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, veterans who make Latimore and Hudson look bad). (See full Black Nativity review). 

Available to watch: iTunes

Dear White People

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is a vital, immediate comedy about contemporary attitudes toward race, gender and sexuality, set at a fictional Ivy League school where racial tensions are creeping toward a flashpoint. Favouring Spike Lee’s School Daze over Do The Right Thing (which he quotes only in the service of a Tyler Perry joke), writer/director Simien builds a complex environment of clashing motivations and desires, each marked by sharp dialogue and believable conflicts. Everybody Hates Chris’s Tyler James Williams and Veronica Mars’s Tessa Thompson are particularly adept at investing Simien’s zingers with the exactly right amount of righteous condemnation, but the entire cast is game. See? Social awareness can be fun! 108 min. (See full Dear White People review). 

Available to watch: iTunes

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THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY is like the Christmas dinner that starts off with laughs and high spirits but keeps dragging along until you can’t hold down the eggnog. Taye Diggs reprises his role as Harper, the once bestselling author whose writer’s block leaves him the most cash-strapped among his former entourage, who’ve all come out on top of the world. Opportunity knocks when football star Lance (Morris Chestnut) invites the old gang over to his lavish estate, opening the door for Harper to weasel his way into penning a biography on his former best friend. (See full The Best Man Holiday review). 

Available to watch: iTunes

Queen of Katwe

Oscar (TM) winner Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga in Disney’s QUEEN OF KATWE, the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess. The powerful film, which also stars David Oyelowo and is directed by Mira Nair, will be released in U.S. theaters in September.

QUEEN OF KATWE is a brightly coloured and insistently upbeat true story that never stops reminding you how inspirational it is. This biopic of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga), who emerged from the slums of Kampala to compete in the 39th Chess Olympiad in Moscow in 2011, features solid performances by David Oyelowo as Phiona’s teacher and Lupita Nyong’o as her mother. The film has an excellent sense of place, immersing us in Phiona’s world and showing us exactly how hard she has to work to break out of it. (See full Queen Of Katwe review). 

Available to watch: iTunes

For more films featuring the talent of more people of colour see 7 films by people of colour to watch online right now. 

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