Black Cinema for Juneteenth (2024)

On this Juneteenth holiday, as we celebrate the end of slavery and the new opportunities that arose in America as a result of it. In celebration, I want to share some personal favorite Black Cinema films I've seen throughout the years. These are movies about the African American experience that I personally found moving, important, and inspiring. Not all of these are about slavery itself. Instead, I want to mostly recommend movies that celebrate black lives in all kinds of ways, and I hope you find time to seek out some of these wonderful movies.

I have noted where you can stream these films(when possible), and note that this is not a definitive list (in fact, we may just make this a yearly event where I give new recommendations every year).

Do the Right Thing
Director: Spike Lee

"Do the Right Thing" is director Spike Lee's call for peace and harmony. Set on the hottest day of the summer, the film follows a day in the life of a black community, as they struggle with money, relationships, and law enforcement that does more harm than good. The explosive ending was extremely controversial at the time, but it is a great visualization of how tensions flair when we don't learn to love one another. Years later, we are apparently, still trying to learn this lesson.

Streaming on: Fandango at Home, Apple Movies

The Hate U Give
Director: George Tilman Jr.

In light of renewed scrutiny of how law enforcement deals with minorities compared to white perpetrators, "The Hate U Give" follows a teenage girl whose world is shattered when her black friend is unjustly shot and killed by a police officer for combing his hair. Raw and unflinching without being too overdramatic, like "Do the Right Thing," this is a call for justice and understanding for human lives that are frequently treated as less than human.

Streaming on: Fandango at Home

Director: Ava DuVernay

Though an imperfect movie, Ava DuVernay's expose on how the 13th Amendment has resulted in an over-incarceration of black people is nonetheless a disturbing wake-up call that laws are potentially being used to create a new form of slavery. Though the situation may be too complicated for one movie, "13th" is a great starting point for a much larger conversation that needs to happen. 

Streaming on: Netflix

Director: Barry Jenkins

Although known more as a trivia question these days ("Which Movie Actually Won Best Picture when 'La La Land' Was Announced?") than an actual movie, the reality is that "Moonlight" won Best Picture for a very good reason: it is a riveting portrayal of a young, gay black kid growing up in a life that is not kind to him. From his mother having drug problems to the local kid's prejudice about his sexuality, "Moonlight" is an experience where audiences walk in the shoes of someone whose life is likely very different from their own, and gives us a new perspective as a result.

Streaming on: Max

Malcolm X
Director: Spike Lee

Another masterpiece from filmmaker Spike Lee, "Malcolm X" is an epic three-hour story of the famous Civil Rights activist Malcolm X, and follows him from when he was a kid, to his arrest, to his conversion to Islam that would inspire him to become the activist he would be known for. Epic in scope and not nearly as angry as you would think, the movie also features one of Denzel Washington's best career performances.

Streaming on: Paramount+, Tubi

The Color Purple
Director: Steven Spielberg

Despite being directed by Steven Spielberg (who is white and Jewish), "The Color Purple" is an excellent adaptation of the classic book by Alice Walker. The story of a young black woman who manages to survive an abusive and toxic family life, "The Color Purple" is a layered film about real people who are neither good nor evil, but simply human. Throw in some all-time best performances by Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Danny Glover, and this is one not to miss.

Streaming on: Tubi

Super Fly
Director: Gordon Parks Jr.

Releasing during the height of the Blacksploitation period, "Super Fly" stood out as an event for black audiences. For audiences to see an action movie where a black man fights back against a corrupt law organization and gets away with it, the movie was a landmark film showing that black men could be the heroes of their own stories (without having to result in their untimely deaths).

Streaming on: Fandango at Home

Hustle & Flow
Director: Craig Brewer

While it may shock some of you extremists out there, black people have dreams of getting out of their terrible lives and making something of themselves too. "Hustle & Flow" follows a pimp who discovers that he has a gift for making rap music, and decides to put everyone on the line to change careers and make a better life for himself and his...uh, you know. Also, get ready to have the Oscar-winning song "Hard Out Here for a Pimp" stuck in your head all week long.

Streaming on: Paramount+, Hulu

Akeelah and the Bee
Director: Doug Atchison

I don't want to give off the impression that all back cinema is hard-ache and troubles though. "Akeelah and the Bee" is one such film, in which a young African girl discovers that she has a talent for spelling words. With the help of her teachers who see greatness in her, she aims to enter the competitive Spelling Bee. A charming film that children of all ages will find something to enjoy!

Streaming on: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Roku Channel

Director: Martin Ritt

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1972, "Sounder" follows a poor family of sharecroppers who are struggling to survive during the depression. When the father is arrested after taking extreme measures to survive, the mother must find a way to help her family survive. Despite the G-rating, it shows a maturity that is often lacking in R-rated films.

Streaming on: Peacock, Amazon Prime, Tubi, Roku Channel

Queen of Katwe
Director: Mira Nair

"Queen of Katwe" may take place outside of the US, however this inspirational story from Disney is no less engaging. Taking place in Uganda, the story follows a girl from the slums who has a knack for playing chess on a professional level. Her teacher wants to grow that talent, but her mother has a hard time seeing how chess will help them with their future and is hesitant to let her pursue such a career when chores need to be done. A great movie for teenage girls and their mothers to enjoy together.

Streaming on: Disney+

The Story of a Three-Day Pass
Director: Melvin Van Peebles

Arguably the most overlooked film by Melvin Van Peebles, "The Story of a Three-Day Pass" follows a soldier who gets a three-day pass from the army in France, and discovers a life that is more friendly and desirable to him than the life he is fighting for at home. Throw in one of the most romantic relationships in a 60s movie, and this is the classic film that more people need to see.

Streaming on: Max

Hoop Dreams
Director: Steve James

It seems fitting to end this list with one of the greatest documentaries about the black experience in America. "Hoop Dreams" started out as a thirty-minute PBS special and instead turned into a three-hour journey, as documentary filmmakers spend five years following the lives of two inner-city black teens as they aim to achieve their dream of playing professional basketball for the NBA. The film shows how in many ways, the lives of inner-city black families are very similar to ourselves. It also highlights how, in some unfortunate ways, their dreams and lives are also very different. If you can only see one film on this list, make it "Hoop Dreams."

Streaming on: Paramount+, Max, The Criterion Channel, Crackle