It's impossible to try to pack Black History Month into 28 (or 29 when it's a leap year) days to celebrate critical Black figures, moments that pushed the movement forward, and causes that support and amplify Black voices. However, February is the perfect time to not only reference historical notables within the Black community but to honor the different ways in which Blackness is experienced and celebrated onscreen.
Long before any other streaming service, Netflix has been the mainstream leader in showcasing Black films and television shows. So, we've rounded up some titles that explore the Black experience, shed light on familiar (or what should be familiar) names, and dive into significant moments throughout history. Here are some incredible shows, movies, and documentaries to watch on Netflix during Black History Month.
It's Michelle Obama. Enough said, right? But no, really, the beloved former First Lady tells the story of how she grew up, her relationship with a popular young fellow named Barack, and a reluctant life in politics. Becoming is a documentary that was filmed while Michelle was on her 2019 book tour for her memoir of the same name.
As one of the most influential African American voices in modern history, Michelle has been able to use her platform to accomplish a lot since being the first Black First Lady. In the film, she uses her own story to inspire the younger generation. "If we can open up a little bit more to each other and share our stories, that’s what breaks down barriers,” she says.
'Black Panther' (2018)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe rolls out some of the biggest box-office hits year after year, but it bought viewers to the theaters in historic numbers when Black Panther made its debut. This revolutionary movie starring the late Chadwick Boseman not only features Black superheroes but also celebrates the culture across the diaspora in ways that have hardly ever been seen on the silver screen. Plus, it's the first superhero film to be nominated for a Best Picture of the Year Academy Award!
In the groundbreaking Oscar-nominated 2016 documentary 13th, filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores "the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States." The film, titled after the 13th amendment of the Constitution, which forever abolished slavery as an institution, follows the history of race relations in America, from Jim Crow to the Black Lives Matter movement.
'Dear White People' (2017-2021)
The Netflix original series Dear White People is based on a film of the same name. It focuses on escalating racial tensions through the lens of several Black college students at a fictional Ivy League university. The comedy series touches on issues such as police brutality, sexual politics, and microaggressions. Even though the series had its fair share of haters, it still remains one of the most highly rated shows on Netflix.
With huge names like the late actor Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford, 42 tells the story of the talented Jackie Robinson, who became the first Black man to play professional baseball in the MLB. The biopic gives audiences an insight into the history of racial segregation in the world of sports and how the Brooklyn Dodger faced open racism from all sides — the public, the press, and other players — but let his undeniable talent silence all his critics.
'I Am Not Your Negro' (2016)
One of the most important writers in American history is James Baldwin, author of Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, and If Beale Street Could Talk. In the 1980s, Baldwin was working on a memoir that detailed his personal recollections of the lives and deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Though the manuscript for Remember This House was never finished before Baldwin's death, director Raoul Peck used it as the basis for his 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro. The film brings Baldwin's manuscript to life through a compilation narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
The biographical romance Loving is a great choice for anyone looking for a Black History Month-Valentine's Day crossover. It's based on the interracial relationship between Richard and Mildred Loving, who were sentenced to a year in prison for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which criminalized the marriage of a white person to anyone considered "colored."
In 1964, Loving v. Virginia became a landmark civil rights decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court overturned the Racial Integrity Act and prohibited race-based restrictions on marriage across the county. The movie follows the couple's journey from the Virginia countryside all the way to the Supreme Court in defense of their love.
'LA 92' (2017)
Made 25 years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the Emmy-winning documentary LA 92 looks at the events surrounding the six-day uprising that occurred after a jury acquitted four police offers involved in the beating of Rodney King. Viewers will be transported back in time to the turbulent period through stunning and rarely seen archival footage.
'Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker' (2020)
Self Made, starring Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, and Blair Underwood, is a Netflix limited series based on entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker, who rose from poverty to build a beauty empire and become the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S. She used her position to advocate for racial justice and help other Black women achieve financial independence. Self Made is as much a testament to Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit as it is a love letter to Black women and the way they've revolutionized and challenged the beauty industry for centuries.
'The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson' (2017)
Since Black History Month is all about telling the stories of the marginalized and underrepresented, we'd be remiss not to include a documentary that shines a light on the life of someone integral to the Black LGBTQ community. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson takes audiences through the legacy and suspicious death of trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front. Marsha was a powerful advocate for gay rights and a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising, two movements that have often been whitewashed throughout history.
'Whose Streets?' (2017)
Whose Streets? explores a monumental period in modern Black history ignited by the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The documentary is told by the activists who turned their grief into resistance during the Ferguson unrest, propelling the Black Lives Matter movement and a whole new generation of leaders to the forefront.