Culture Pick: The Culture Desk’s Black History Month movie and TV picks

McKenzie Knight, Contributing Writer

February ushers in Black History Month, a period in which citizens of the United Kingdom, United States and Canada nationally celebrate Black history. Per the occasion, here’s a selection of movies that continue the celebrations and highlight Black accomplishments and history. 


Let it Shine (2012) 

“Let it Shine” was Disney Channel’s first Black-led original movie when it came out in 2012. It stars Tyler James Williams known for “Everybody Hates Chris” and more recently “Abbott ElementaryTrevor Jackson and Coco Jones. It follows Williams’ character, Cyrus, a teenager growing up the son of a pastor at the local church. His father does not accept his desire to make music that is not religiously affiliated, but Cyrus gets a job as a bus boy at a dance club at night.  

His father is not his only problem, though. Cyrus applies for an opportunity to display his musical talents, but a miscommunication leads people to believe the talent is his best friend Kris, played by Jackson. Throughout the film, Cyrus battles his perception of himself and how others see him. This Disney Channel Original is a fantastic choice if you are looking for a heartwarming story of family, identity and just how powerful music can be.  


black-ish (2014-2022) 

If you’re more of a television fan, “black-ish” is an excellent choice. It highlights the Johnson family, a group of nine who live in an affluent neighborhood in California. The show is written by Kenya Barris, who continuously emphasizes the difficulties of modern Black culture while also using lessons from the past to show the current influence of these problems. “black-ish” is a feel-good show; the Johnson family may not be to everyone’s taste, but know that the short, 20-minute episodes make for an easy binge.  

ABC made two spinoffs of this show as well: “grown-ish”, which follows Zoey Johnson, the eldest daughter, to college; and “mixed-ish,” a prequel that details the early childhood of Rainbow Johnson, the mother played by Tracee Ellis Ross, and her experiences growing up biracial.  


BlacKkKlansman (2018) 

“BlacKkKlansman,” directed by Spike Lee, is a heavy film that has been found controversial upon its release due to its sensitive subject matter. However, it is a relevant and historical movie that does not shy away from the taboo. “BlacKkKlansman” fully embraces the treatment of minority groups during the civil rights movement and the prime period in which the Ku Klux Klan was active in the United States. It is based on a true story of a Black cop who worked with an undercover white officer to infiltrate the KKK.  

“BlacKkKlansman” is billed as a comedic thriller, which is accurate, but the humor is often used to deal with sensitive concepts. There is a well-executed balance of both realism and comedy within this film, and John David Washington and Adam Driver’s acting chops allow them to navigate expertly through all scenes in “BlacKkKlansman.” 


Fences (2016) 

Based off the August Wilson play by the same title, “Fences” chronicles a Black family in the 1950s and ’60s who are finding their way in the world and learning to not fall back on what they know to be true. It begins by characterizing Troy, the father figure, played by Denzel Washington, as a controlling man who is focused on achieving what he wants, even at the expense of his loved ones.  

Starring Viola Davis, who won an Academy Award for her performance, as Troy’s wife, “Fences” is a period piece that has fierce acting and a complicated combination of characters that play off each other’s emotions in many ways. Throughout the movie, Troy works to build a fence that is supposed to keep all those he loves in and safe from harm. In the end, the thing that ends up destroying the family is himself. 


Get Out (2017) 

“Get Out” is director Jordan Peele’s debut film, earning him the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The movie has masterful cinematography and an all-star cast, including Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams. As with all of Peele’s movies, “Get Out” is a psychological thriller that leaves viewers questioning its scenes for days after viewing. The film plays with the contrast between the unexpected and the expected.  

Chris Washington, the main character played by Kaluuya, is visiting his white girlfriend’s family in upstate New York, where he notices odd things occurring when he meets other Black people who work in the house. As the film progresses, Chris tries to figure out what is causing these strange occurrences; however, he soon learns that instead of getting to the bottom of the mystery, he should instead be getting out.  


The Wiz (1978) 

“The Wiz” is often hailed as one of the most successful, Black-led films in history. It is an adaptation of the original “Wizard of Oz” story that focuses on celebrating Black excellence in obscure and creatively written ways. The soundtrack is phenomenal, but that is to be expected when you have Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Nipsey Russell as leading characters. Often, remakes are seen as unnecessary or unable to live up to the source material, but “The Wiz” challenges that idea and capitalizes on the talent it hosts.  


Black Panther (2018) & Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) 

A list of media celebrating Black History Month would be remiss without the inclusion of the newest “Black Panther” addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both the first and second “Black Panther” movies revolutionized the MCU, bringing about the first Black-led superhero while also celebrating traditional African cultures within the film.   

As with most movies in the MCU, to understand every reference in the movie, you would have to see a few of its predecessors. However, “Black Panther” can easily stand on its own as one of the best franchise film sets to come out of the MCU. The Black Panther was played by Chadwick Boseman, who died in August of 2020. His legacy will live on forever through these films and the impact on the Black community he left behind.   

The first film follows Boseman’s character, King T’Challa, the ruler of Wakanda, and his struggle with exposing his country to the world. He is dealing with external entities trying to force their way in and with dissent within Wakanda from those unhappy with his claim to the throne. As Black Panther, he must step up and show his people that strength is not just in the power we hold but also how it is in the words and the actions we yield.   

The sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” has already racked up dozens of award nominations and wins and takes place in a world where T’Challa has passed and how his people and family deal with the tragedy. They fight with a neighboring nation that has the potential to wipe the Wakandans out if they do not unify and learn to yield their collective strengths.  


Honorable Mentions: 

A Soldier’s Story (1984), The Color Purple (1985), Boyz n the Hood (1991), Everybody Hates Chris (2005-2009), Hidden Figures (2016)