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Entertainment

20 Must-See Netflix Movies, Series This Black History Month

February 08, 2021

These 20 titles provide a window into the African American experience.

 

African American stories are at their heart, American stories. This Black History Month, dive into real-life accounts of African American leaders, iconoclasts and mavens. In 2020, Netflix created a dedicated Black Lives Matter collection to celebrate these stories. Cox Contour customers can open Netflix by simply saying "Netflix" into their voice remote. 

 

From politics and social justice to sports and the arts, these documentaries, films and series showcase how Black history represents our collective history.

 

1. When They See Us

 

In 1989, the nation was shocked by the brutal attack of a jogger in Central Park in New York City. Citizens were terrified and many called for increased policing. When They See Us is a powerful retelling — by acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay — of the story of the five Black teens from Harlem who were falsely accused of the crime. The miniseries drew critical acclaim and actor Jharrel Jerome won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. The men who were falsely accused (known as 'The Central Park Five") have since become outspoken advocates for criminal justice reform.

 

2. The Black Godfather

 

When you need a hand in the music industry, there's only one man you call: "the Black Godfather." For years, Clarence Avant was a behind-the-scenes stalwart, helping broker deals and make careers in the music industry. The Black Godfather brings the fascinating rainmaker's life story to the masses, with cameos from famous friends like Sean "Diddy "Combs, Jamie Foxx, Bill Clinton and Quincy Jones.

 

3. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

 

You might not know the name Marsha P. Johnson — but you should. Johnson was a transgender activist who played roles in both the Stonewall Riots and the LGBT rights movement. In 1991, her body was found in the Hudson River. At the time, authorities labeled her death a suicide but friends suspected foul play. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores the case from the perspective of Victoria Cruz, an activist and friend of Johnson, and keeps the memory alive of a LGBT hero.

 

4. What Happened, Miss Simone?

 

Musician, civil rights activist, legend. The life of legendary singer Nina Simone is retold through never-before-heard recordings, rare archival footage as well as classic songs from the "High Priestess of Soul" in What Happened, Miss Simone

 

5. Quincy

 

Quincy Jones is the musical mind behind Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and "We Are the World" but to daughter, actress Rashida Jones, he's also her father. The intimate, Grammy Award-winning Quincy spotlights Jones' lengthy career and shows quieter, personal moments of the music icon through the lens of his daughter. 

 

6. 13th

 

Director Ava DuVernay takes on the topic of mass incarceration and the intersection of race and justice in the thought-provoking documentary 13thA crash course in U.S. history, the documentary explores voter suppression, Jim Crow laws, the prison industrial complex and other factors that have led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people in America. 

 

7. Strong Island

 

This critically-acclaimed documentary comes from Yance Ford as he investigates the 1992 murder of his brother. But Strong Island is also the larger story of a family through the arc of history, tragedy and hope for a better future. The film follows the Ford family — Barbara Dunmore, William Ford and their three children — and how they have been impacted by grief and injustices from the Jim Crow South to the New York City suburbs.

 

8. They've Gotta Have Us

 

In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite went viral on social media and opened up conversations on representation (and lack thereof) in Hollywood. They've Gotta Have Us delves into the history of Black cinema with renowned Black actors, directors and producers like Debbie Allen, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, John Singleton, Robert Townsend and John Boyega.

 

9. Crack

 

The '80s were known as the "Crack Era" in America. But how did this cheap, potent drug flood the inner cities and lead to a generation of decimation? Crack takes a bold view on the crack epidemic and offers theories on why it disproportionately affected the inner cities.

 

10. Self Made

 

It's trendy to want to be a "self made" entrepreneur nowadays, but Madame C.J. Walker built an empire to become a true self-made millionaire in the early 1900s. In Self MadeOctavia Spencer takes on the role of the African American beauty mogul who rose from poverty to become a cosmetics innovator — and the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World Records.
 

11. Uppity

 

History doesn't have to be from years ago. The documentary Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story profiles how the Ribbs broke racial barriers in auto racing by becoming the first Black man to race in the Indy 500 in 1991. 

 

12. Loving

 

There was a time when loving a person with different skin color was a crime in America. Based on a true story, the Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated Loving looks back at the relationship of Richard and Mildred Loving — and how the couple's 1958 union eventually led to the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage.

 

13. Hip-Hop Evolution

 

From a house party in the South Bronx in 1973 to pop culture domination, Hip-Hop Evolution shows how a humble genre birthed a global culture. The docu-series follows the chronological timeline of hip-hop and goes coast-to-coast to spotlight the biggest names — as well as unsung heroes — from Jay-Z and Queen Latifah to 2Pac and OutKast.

 


14. The Remix: Hip-Hop x Fashion

 

The story of how hip-hop>The Remix interviews visionaries like stylist Misa Hylton, DIY maven Dapper Dan and upstarts Kerby Jean-Raymond on how hip-hop changed the way we dress. 

 

15. The Last Dance

 

There are basketball players and then, there's Michael Jordan. With never-before-seen footage and intimate interviews, The Last Dance chronicles the rise of superstar Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls as they embarked on their unforgettable 1997-98 season. With commentary from Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and other key figures, it's a must-watch for hoops fans.

 

16. The Playbook

 

NBA superstar LeBron James steps off the court to bring us The PlaybookThe sports documentary covers coaches with championship résumés, shares their rules for success in sports and life and includes words of wisdom from African American notables like Doc Rivers (Philadelphia 76ers) and Dawn Staley (three-time Olympic gold medalist and Basketball Hall of Fame coach).

 

17. Time: The Kalief Browder Story

 

Kalief Browder was accused of stealing a backpack in 2010 in the Bronx, New York. He would spend the next three years at the notorious Rikers Island before the charges against him were finally dismissed. Time: The Kalief Browder Story follows Browder's arrest, his harrowing experience in solitary confinement and how his life ultimately ended in tragedy.

 

18. Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce

 

Homecoming offers a rare glimpse into the professional and personal life of iconic star Beyonce as she prepares for her acclaimed 2018 performance at Coachella. From creative concept to grueling rehearsals to challenges along the way, it's an entertaining documentary for #BeyHive fans and pop culture lovers alike.

 

19. Roxanne Roxanne

 

There would be no Nicki Minaj, Cardi B or Lil Kim without Roxanne Shante. In 1984, this spunky female rapper put women on the hip-hop' map with her iconic "Roxanne's Revenge." The so-called "diss track" got men — and hip-hop as a whole — to take notice: Women could rhyme. Roxanne Roxanne is a dramatization of the rapper's life story (co-produced by Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams).

 

20. Becoming

 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama invites us into her groundbreaking world in BecomingShe reflects on her life and legacy ("to figure out what just happened to me," as she says) as she promotes her best-selling memoir, "Becoming," on a 34-city tour. Lifting the veil, she discusses overcoming impostor syndrome, feelings of not belonging and even her reluctance to initially date Barack Obama.

 

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