For over 40 years, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month (also known as African American History Month). The event grew from “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford first officially decreed Black History Month a national observance, saying “we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Today, organizations and institutions across the country devote this month to celebrating black history. This year, the American Black Film Festival Honors, an annual awards season gala celebrating black culture by recognizing individuals who have made distinguished contributions to American entertainment through their work as well as those who champion diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, will also cap off the month in Beverly Hills on February 23rd.
From a groundbreaking comedy show with a cast comprised entirely of black women to the Oscar-winning story of a young, black, gay man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami, these are our picks that highlight just a few of the accomplishments and stories of black Americans in the entertainment industry.
1. Moonlight: Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight, 2017 Oscar winner for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay, chronicles the childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood of a young, black, gay man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
Learn more about Moonlight
2. A Black Lady Sketch Show: A Black Lady Sketch Show, a half-hour comedy narrative series executive produced and written by Robin Thede, features narrative sketches performed by a core cast of black women, including Thede, as well as celebrity guests.
Thede’s groundbreaking late-night comedy show made history as the first sketch series cast comprised entirely of black women; it boasted the first all-black women writers room, and every episode was directed by a black woman.
Learn more about A Black Lady Sketch Show
3. Queen & Slim: Two unlikely fugitives, Queen, a criminal defense lawyer, and Slim, a retail employee, discover themselves and each other in the most dire and desperate of circumstances and forge a deep and powerful love that reveals their shared humanity and shapes the rest of their lives in a narrative that two-time Grammy® winner Producer Melina Matsoukas called a “beautiful, modern black love story.”
The film, written by Emmy® winner Lena Waithe from a story by Waithe and James Frey, stars Academy Award® nominee Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Academy Award® nominee Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, and Indya Moore.
Learn more about Queen and Slim
4. Sorry to Bother You: Sundance favorite Sorry to Bother You, the directorial debut from rapper Boots Riley, stars Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, and Armie Hammer, in a wildly original commentary on race, labor, and American capitalism, where one man’s discovery of the key to professional success propels him into a strange and macabre universe.
Alissa Wilkinson of Vox.com called the film “a live-wire comedy with a social conscience,” and noted “the movie’s genius lies not so much in how it reflects reality but in how it interprets it.” Riley received the Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award for the movie, which Variety’s Peter Debruge described as “a highly confrontational satire that dares to question the system” and “deliriously creative and ambitious to a fault.”
5. Fruitvale Station: Ryan Coogler’s feature directorial debut, Fruitvale Station, is based on the true story of events leading to the death of 22 year old Oscar Grant III, a young man who was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in the early hours of January 1, 2009 at the Fruitvale district station in Oakland, CA.
The incident, captured on video by onlookers, incited protest, unrest and arguments similar to those that would swirl around the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida a few years later. The deaths of these and other African-American young men touch some of the rawest nerves and raise thorny issues of law and order, violence and race.
Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer all star in this impactful and emotional Sundance, Gotham Award, PGA Award, and Spirit Award-winning drama.
Learn more about Fruitvale Station
6. Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story: Like Oscar Grant III’s death, the death of Trayvon Martin incited unrest as his death similarly raised issues of law and order, violence, and racism. Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story shares Trayvon’s story in an in-depth look at the origin and aftermath of the 2012 shooting and subsequent trial of George Zimmerman, which revealed a deeply fractured and divided country.
Learn more about Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story
7. Precious: Directed by Lee Daniels, Oscar-winning Precious follows the story of Claireece Jones - who goes by her middle name Precious - an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child and hoping that her life can head in a new direction as she is invited to enroll in an alternative school in Harlem circa 1987.
Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, and Paula Patton all star in the drama that Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called an “an emotional powerhouse, a triumph of bruising humor and bracing hope that deserves its place among the year's best films.”
Learn more about Precious