The celebration of Black Americans and their historical achievements don’t have to be restricted to the month of February. The modes of celebrating Black impact in the U.S., whether it entails heading to museums or purchasing from Black-owned businesses, are plenty.
Still, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate and share the historical influences that Black people have had with the children in your life, staying at home and watching a movie can be a fun learning experience for everyone involved.
Take a look at a few movies to watch during Black history month, divided by age group.
Historically relevant movies for kids (ages 6+)
“Cinderella” (1997) — By the time Walt Disney Television had decided to produce a remake of Charles Perrault’s French fairy tale, Cinderella, works based on the story were boundless. The story of the ill-treated step-daughter turned princess has been rendered through ballets, operas, musicals, and animated movies — all with primarily white actors. Brandy’s casting made her the first Black actress to portray Cinderella on screen. The film’s color-blind casting boasts a lineup that included Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, and Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalbán sending a message to young viewers that the world has space for everyone.
“March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World” (2010) — Drawing from the pages of a children’s book written by Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, the movie recounts the day Christine King Farris heard the late reverend deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech.
“The Princess and the Frog” (2009) — This Disney movie is a modern twist on the classic tale of the Princess and the Frog. Tiana, a waitress who lives in New Orleans, wants to own her own restaurant but eventually turns into (you guessed it!) a frog — and chaos ensues. Tiana became Disney’s first animated Black princess, and her debut proved to be a big moment for both her viewers and Disney, which made a brief return to its traditional hand-drawn animation style for the project. Similar to the movies above, “The Princess and the Frog” is a great movie to watch to start conversations with younger children about the history of representation and inclusivity in media.
“Hair Love” (2019) — This Oscar-winning animated short film features a Black father who has to do his daughter’s hair for the first time — and, in essence, teaches the daughter to love her hair and herself. It’s narrated by Blue Ivy Carter (Beyoncé’s eldest daughter) and features Issa Rae as the voice of the mother.
Historically relevant movies for kids (ages 9+)
“The Watsons Go To Birmingham” (1963) — The Watsons, a Black family, decide to take a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama. In the era of the civil rights movement, the Watsons grow a sense of newfound courage and develop a more robust family bond while on their formative road trip.
“Garrett’s Gift” (2007) — Kids get a lesson in the inspiring story of Garrett Morgan, inventor of the three-position traffic signal. Queen Latifah narrates Morgan’s story in this short movie, the inventor, as a young boy uncertain of his path in life until he moves to a big city and realizes the value of inventing a traffic safety measure.
“Our Friend, Martin” (1999) — This animated educational film takes kids on a trip to the Civil Rights era via a modern-aged middle schooler named Miles Woodman. As Miles struggles to focus in school, he meets a museum curator who sends him back in time to the different stages of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.
“Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story” (2015) — Chris Rock narrates the story of real-life ballerina Janet Collins, a dancer who was tapped to dance for the prestigious Ballet Russes in the 1930s. Collins is credited with breaking the color line in the classical ballet arena.
“Remember the Titans” (2000) - Here’s another movie based on a true story starring Denzel Washington. In Alexandria, Va., high school football is a big deal in the community, beloved by all — but when the school board forces an all-Black and all-white school to integrate, their football teams face challenges.
“A Ballerina’s Tale” (2015) — Audiences can get a glimpse into the story of Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer at the New York American Ballet Theater. It documents her rise to stardom and examines the lack of representation in the world of ballet — and this documentary includes some stunning dance sequences too.
“Space Jam” (1996) — Two decades ago, pop culture centered on the axis of Michael Jordan’s NBA reign. Beyond being an exceptional athlete, Jordan’s athletic skills and business acumen contributed to the construction of a new image of what it meant to be Black in America. “Space Jam” doesn’t tackle the issues related to race that ravaged America during the '90s. Instead, it puts Jordan in a kid-friendly setting where the Looney Tunes exist and are in need of his skills to win a basketball match against a group of villainous aliens. Still, it’s a film to inspire conversations with children about the contributions Black people have made to our modern era across arenas.
Historically relevant movies for kids (ages 12+)
“To Sir, With Love” (1967) — Based on the autobiographical novel of the same, “To Sir, with Love” follows the story of a teacher forced to tackle the social, financial, and racial issues plaguing an inner city school in London. Beyond its themes, this classic film can encourage appreciation for the story of its leading actor and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Sidney Poitier, as well. For his activism and work in entertainment, Poitier painted a new, non-stereotypical image of what it meant to be a Black man.
“Crooklyn” (1994) — This semi-autobiographical movie directed by Spike Lee is set in a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where a 10-year-old girl is living with her family. The film industry has consistently come up short when it comes to depictions of Black girlhood. That, compounded with the cultural impact that Lee has had on cinema, makes this one another great conversation starter for kids.
“An American Girl Story: Melody 1963 — Love Has to Win” (2016) — Based on the line of famous dolls (whose original intention was to detail issues in American history), this story dives into the Civil Rights Movement. “An American Girl Story: Melody 1963” introduces young viewers to Melody Ellison, a Black girl faced with racism and discrimination in her community and school. Children will get insight into what older generations experienced at their age.
“42” (2013) — This biopic tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first Black MLB player in history. Jackie is played by the late Chadwick Boseman, well-known for his role in "Black Panther."
“Hidden Figures” (2016) — This movie based on a true story features Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe and highlights the vital role that three Black female mathematicians played serving NASA during the Space Race.
“The Wiz” (1978) — This reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was a box office failure. Still, in the decades since its release musical (which boasts an impressive lineup of Black icons, the likes of Diana Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, and Michael Jackson) has attained classic cult status. With its incredible cast of long-acclaimed singers and 1978 setting, a time when jazz, R&B music, and graffiti art loomed large, the film is a timestamp of the impact Black culture had on that era.