The museumand Culture Calendar

31 of the best Black Culture films to celebrate Black History Month 2020 

To celebrate Black History Month 2020, we’ve curated reviews of must-see films with the help of our supporters and some very well known names featuring, exploring and celebrating Black Culture on the big screen.

Guaranteed to inspire, uplift and stir your emotions, some films will make you laugh, others will make you cry, but all will help you see things in a different way, learn things you never knew and embrace messages more relevant than ever in today’s world.

Discover new stories and rewatch old favourites throughout the month and let us know what you think of our selection.

We’ll be adding a film a day on here and on our socials so check back to see the list unfold throughout the month, plus, share your thoughts at hello@museumand.org


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – 1979

Nominated by:
Catherine Ross, Museum Director  

Plot 

Based on writer Maya Angelou’s childhood, this story is about a young girl in the South who is sent to live with her grandmother after her parents’ divorce.

In Their Own Words  

“Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is one of the most banned books in America. It’s been challenged for being ‘anti-white’ and encouraging homosexuality, as well as for it’s hard-hitting depiction of sexual violence. It’s overcome many of the attempts to remove it from school reading lists with Angelou herself saying: “I’m always sorry that people ban my books. Many times I’ve been called the most banned. And many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences. I feel sorry for the young person who never gets to read.” 


Selma – 2015

Nominated by:
Dr Sheine Peart, Lecturer & Terry Burgin, Garden Enthusiast 

Plot 

Follow Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s journey as he campaigns to secure equal voting rights for black people via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama 1965. The film was directed by Ava DuVernay, written by Paul Webb and stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo and Oprah Winfrey. 

In Their Own Words  

Find out more about Selma in this fascinating interview with director Ava DuVernay.

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Yardie – 2018

Nominated by:
Chris McCrae, Creative Design Director

Plot 

Based on the book by Jamaican-born writer Victor Headley this film was directed by Idris Elba. Set in ’70s Kingston and ’80s Hackney, Yardie centres on the life of a young Jamaican man named D who witnessed the murder of his older brother when he was a child. This has stayed with him and he has tried to turn his life to more positive things but someone from his past who wants retribution wants to put an end to that. 

In Their Own Words  

Some serious moral dilemmas presented in this film!

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Hellzapoppin’ – 1941

Nominated by:
Pen Mendonca, Graphic Facilitator

Plot 

Hellzapoppin’ the film is an adaptation of a hilarious musical revue. It doesn’t have a real plot but the action takes place on a country estate where a musical show is being made, and it seems anything goes. There is some romantic interest linked to mistaken identity and some bizarre scenes where people go to hell in limousines! The film is packed with funny gags, zany moments and some great Lindy Hop scenes.

In Their Own Words  

“I would like to suggest an absolutely magnificent scene from the rather unremarkable 1941 film Hellzapoppin’, where Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers dance troupe perform Franky Manning’s mind blowing choreography, along with music from Slim and Slam. Lindy Hop came out of the Black communities in Harlem, New York, during the late 1920s, it is based on jazz, tap, breakaway and Charleston. This scene was designed to be completely irrelevant to the rest of the film so that it could be easily removed for racist audiences in the American South. To this day that scene remains the only part of Hellzapoppin’ that anyone gives a damn about.” 

Thoughts from Museumand

Slim and Slam were a musical partnership of the late 1930s and early 1940s, featuring Bulee ‘Slim’ Galliard and Leon Elliott ‘Slam’ Stewart. Slim Galliard had a very high IQ and was a bomber pilot during World War 2 in the Pacific. He could play the piano standing up or with his back to the keyboard! Slam Stewart played the double bass using the bow and at the same time, sang or hummed a note just above the note he was playing to create a unique sound. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were a professional performing group of exceptional swing dancers – first organised in the late 1920s in the Savoy Ballroom by Herbert ‘Whitey’ White. The group changed over the years and was known by different names including Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs and the Harlem Congeroo Dancers, before disbanding during the Second World War. 

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Boyz n the Hood – 1991

Nominated by:
Dawn Butler, MP & Gernaine Thomas, Undergraduate 

Plot 

Written and directed by John Singleton and starring Cuba Gooding Jr, Laurence Fishbourne and Hudhail Al-Amir, this classic film follows the lives of three young men living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles to explore issues around race, relationships, violence and future prospects.

In Their Own Words 

Dawn Butler 

“Boyz n the Hood made me say wow because it broke down the extent of how the designing of environments, towns etc can be destructive.” 

Gernaine Thomas 

“A moving tale about what life was like for black communities at a time when American gang and youth culture was at its height. Growing up in the 90s, I often heard stories about gang culture and my grandparents fearing that it would spread over here; which, to a sad degree it has.” 

Thoughts from Museumand

Boyz n the Hood is a film about possibilities and potential in a community facing many issues – learning and growing together. The film shares some powerful messages around families, friendship, love and identity. Even when life is tough you can take control of your destiny. 

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The Letter Reader – 2019

Nominated by:
Dr Patricia Noxolo, Lecturer

Plot 

A young boy from Johannesburg arrives in KwaZulu-Natal and begins to read letters for villages – then falls in love with one of the recipients. Find out more about the making of the film in this article from Screen Africa

In Their Own Words 

“I’ve seen a lot of films about black culture! I found this one short and sweet.”


Get on the Bus – 1996

Nominated by:
Conrad Richardson, Social Worker

Plot 

Directed by Spike Lee, Get on the Bus tells the story of 18 African American men who board a bus in South Central Los Angeles, bound for the Million Man March in Washington DC arranged by Louis Farrakhan. Though representing a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, these men gradually form a strong fraternal bond over the course of the long cross-country journey. Along the way, they discuss issues surrounding the march, manhood, religion, politics, and race; with events making them more aware of the issues, rifts and wounds that need to be healed.  

In Their Own Words 

“Get on the Bus is one of my favourite films. The purpose behind the march in real life came at a time when there was a rise in Afrocentric and Black consciousness amongst the Black community in the UK, whilst there was also the rise in post code conflict and subsequent drug problems in Nottingham (and the rest of the inner cities in the UK). 

Interestingly the film did not show the march taking place, but instead it showed a group of men expressing their thoughts and views in relation to the march and their experience as Black males living with racism and oppression. Very apt in terms of today’s climate, when despite our differences as Black people, coming together and being united is our strength and the only way forward.”

Thoughts from Museumand

It’s a sad state of affairs when the subject and message of a film you watched a decade ago is still relevant and…Life generally goes in circles but when oh when are black people going to be able to get justice and allowed to breathe!

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Boomerang – 1992

Nominated by:
Tajean Hutton, Kick It Out Grassroots Manager

Plot 

A successful executive and womaniser finds his lifestyle choices have turned back on him when his new female boss turns out to be an even bigger player than he is. 

In Their Own Words 

“The film I’d like to highlight is Boomerang – starring Eddie Murphy and Hallie Berry. Although a known rom-com in category, it was one of the first films I watched which showcased black males and females in influential positions in the corporate world, from head of marketing, to CEO, to the face of a brand etc. From a young age I was fascinated to see black individuals dominate the world of business throughout the entire film.” 

Thoughts from Museumand

Sometimes there are lines in a film that have you chuckling for months after. This, is one. It’s great when the tables are turned. This was the situation in this film and it was worth seeing women getting their own back. A laugh a minute!!

Yvonne: You wanna come over for a cup of coffee?
Marcus: Not even if Jesus was pouring it.

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Cabin in the Sky – 1943

Nominated by:
Dirg Aaab-Richards, Poet

Plot 

Cabin in the Sky is a 1943 American fantasy musical film based on the 1940 Broadway musical of the same name. A compulsive gambler promises his wife he will change, but before he does, he gets killed. He is offered a chance by angelic powers to redeem himself, but he must do so in six months or he will be sent to hell. The often-comedic film also features events that side-track from his promise to change his ways. He does turn his life around, but not in the way, or for the reasons expected. 

In Their Own Words 

“One of my favourite films is “Cabin in the Sky” (made for under a million dollars in 1943, by Vincente Minelli – Liza’s dad!). I found it very strange that there were virtually no white people in the film. I watched it alone as a young child and it made a great impression on me. I now acknowledge it as a bit of a scary guilt trip for a young child and recall the ‘angels’ as black men in white suites and a lot of other hocum! Lovely singing from Ethel Waters and Lena Horne. There was a lot of drama, dancing and the threat of hell and damnation within the story. It remains an enjoyable film for me as an adult – although I haven’t seen it very recently.”

Thoughts from Museumand

This film may cause a 21st century viewer to cringe at some of the characters playing their part in stereotypical ways, but it’s certainly one that should help us to straighten up with pride. This was an all-black cast with some of the established actors and musicians of that time in it. It’s a heart-warmer, a moral tale and a delight to see a black life featured that truly reflects the black experience. 

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Hidden Figures – 2017

Nominated by:
Dr Sheine Peart, Lecturer

Plot 

Three female African-American mathematicians play a pivotal role in astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit. Meanwhile, they also have to deal with racial and gender discrimination at work.

In Their Own Words 

“Although Selma and Glory were also up there, the reason I chose Hidden Figures is because it shows Black women as they truly are – intelligent, strong and resourceful, with the wisdom to acknowledge the world as it is, and the guile and resilience to work with and around oppressive and punishing systems, never yielding to small minded bitterness. Kathryn Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson make advanced mathematics look like child’s play as they work relentlessly and selflessly to make the space programme a reality.  They are truly giants as they maintain their humanity in a toxic, racist environment and act as beacons for us all.  They were an inspiration to women of colour then as they are now and while the film takes some dramatic liberties, it puts this golden trio exactly where they belong, on centre stage.” 

Thoughts from Museumand

Hidden Figures introduces people to the ever-present struggle faced by black women, despite them having resilience and intelligence. It’s a reminder that the achievements and contributions of black people to society often get overlooked, or hidden from the public gaze, and that our contributions have been in non-stereotypical roles, some at the very highest level. Many black people were amazed when the movie appeared, a common comment, “I never knew this”, and there was some anger too; “Why were we never told”! What we hope more women and black people will take away from the movie is that if they could then, we can now.  If they can survive, and achieve in that difficult part of history, then there’s no stopping us in the 21st century.

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Babylon – 1980

Nominated by:
Vanceroy McCall    

Plot 

The story of Blue, a young man of Jamaican descent living in Brixton in 1980, as he hangs out with his friends, fronts a dub sound system, loses his job, struggles with family problems and has his friendships tested by racism.

In Their Own Words 

“Love this film, it takes me back. It deals with reggae sound system culture in London. It reminds me of my youth. What we went through, police brutality towards black youths in the ’80’s. Fighting with groups of white guys, well, them wanting to beat us up and challenge us, just because we were black. The racial divide of London in the 80s, the lack of jobs. Thatcher’s England. The struggle was and is real. The soundtrack is legendary. This stuff really happened. I lived it.”

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Love Jones – 1997

Nominated by:
Devon Daley, Radio Broadcaster   

Plot 

Love Jones is an American romantic drama film written and directed by Theodore Witcher, in his feature film debut. Starring Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy, and Lisa Nicole Carson, Love Jones tells the story of Darius Lovehall, a young black poet in Chicago, who starts dating photographer Nina Mosley. The course of true love never did run smooth…

In Their Own Words 

“Love Jones is a DVD I prize highly. It incorporates sights for the soul, sounds with soul and is about the love between loyal souls. I run a film club in celebration of black culture at Derby Quad. The ‘Feel Good Film Club’ has shown about 75 titles over the last 10 years!”

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Mahogany – 1975

Nominated by:
Joanna McCrae, Regional Recruitment Director  

Plot 

Tracy, an aspiring designer from the slums of Chicago puts herself through fashion school in the hopes of becoming one of the world’s top designers. Her ambition leads her to Rome spurring a choice between the man she loves or her newfound success.

Thoughts from Museumand

Wikipedia describes Mahogany as a 1975 American romantic drama film, directed by Berry Gordy and produced by Motown Productions. The Motown founder Gordy took over the film direction after British filmmaker Tony Richardson was dismissed from the film. Mahogany stars Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers, a struggling fashion design student who rises to become a popular fashion designer in Rome. Fresh from the success of Lady Sings the Blues, this film served as Ross’ follow-up feature film. It was released on October 8, 1975.

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I Passed for White – 1960

Nominated by:
Margaret Hazel   

Plot 

A young mixed race girl tries to get employment in the State where she lives. Unable to get work she moves to another American State. There she meets and marries a white American but she doesn’t tell him or his family and friends that she’s mixed race. She doesn’t feel she needs to, she loves him, he loves her, and she can “pass for white”. However, it was while giving birth her secret unravels and the marriage is jeopardised.

Thoughts from Museumand

This is a sad film. It’s one that will anger a lot of Black people as a girl of mixed heritage denies her racial origin and spends years hiding it from her husband, his family and their friends. The angst and the deception, the collusion with others to keep a secret, surely serves as a lesson on how not live your life. Would what she endured and experienced amount to living, or just surviving? Could it be deemed a form of imprisonment mentally and physically because you had to live a restrained and constrained life? Black History Month is a time when people turn to others within their culture, or holders of the knowledge of their culture, for answers and direction. An important one is what Black people fervently believe – family will always be there and who you really are you can’t deny. Don’t try!


12 Years a Slave – 2013

Nominated by:
Terry Burgin, Garden Enthusiast  

Plot 

Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty personified by a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

Thoughts from Museumand

Steve McQueen, the film’s director, said that he’d been planning to make a film about a freeman sold into slavery, when his wife discovered Solomon Northup’s real-life memoir, comparing it to The Diaries of Anne Frank.

McQueen also saw the film as going beyond race and slavery. “This film for me is about love, a discussion about human dignity…it’s a fight for soul, it’s a war for his spirit. It’s a very silent war, but a war none the less.” 

12 Years a Slave received nine Academy Award nominations and won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o. The Best Picture win made McQueen the first black British producer to ever receive the award and the first black British director of a Best Picture winner. 

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Malcolm X – 1992

Nominated by:
Dawn Butler MP  

Plot 

The film is a biographical epic of Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, who while he is prison for small time crimes having been a pusher, a hustler and a thief, discovers the Nation of Islam writings of Elijah Muhammad and eventually converts to Islam. The film tells how he becomes an influential Black Nationalist leader and a fiery advocate for black unity and militancy.

In Their Own Words 

“There were three films that made me go wow when I was younger. Boyz n the Hood made me say wow because it broke down the extent of how the designing of environments, towns etc can be destructive. Malcolm X – I made a promise never to relax my hair again after watching that film. One Love – I was told by the cinema that this film wouldn’t sell tickets, I sold out the largest cinema room they had and could have sold more tickets. A beautiful film. But my overall film has to be Black Panther, especially with the sad passing of Chadwick Boseman. Black Panther shows the importance of black self-organisation.” 

Thoughts from Museumand

The message of some films are life-changing, with some actions being taken immediately by the viewer to make the change, and others taking a little longer, as reflection and soul-searching has to take place first. Going to see a film therefore, may not just be a leisure activity, it may be a life-changing moment. Malcolm X is the kind of film that definitely fires up emotions.

His sayings pull listeners up sharp, sayings like: “Governments have to stop doing what is politically expedient and do what is right.” And, “The country has enough legislation, what it needs is more education if race relations are to improve.”

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets quoted these words from Malcolm X on his Instagram on 2 September 2020: “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” 

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To Sir With Love – 1967

Nominated by:
Margaret Hazel – Retired NHS Midwife 

Plot 

Sentimental and heart-warming. A Black engineer takes a temporary job as a teacher in an East End School. The unruly and disruptive children are defiant but he perseveres and eventually wins them round with his unusual classroom and teaching methods. They eventually learn the lessons he wants them to – self-respect, and they help him to decide whether his calling is as an engineer or teacher.

In Their Own Words 

“The film, To Sir, with Love, starring the legendary Sidney Poitier, is based on a book about the life of the author, E.R. Braithwaite, who went to teach in the notoriously rough East End of London after World War II. The issues Braithwaite had to deal with in settling into life in the UK will be familiar to many of the Windrush arrivals in the UK right up until the 1970s. Unfortunately, Windrush descendants had their share of similar experiences. The moral of the story and of many Black people’s experiences is perseverance pays, resilience gets results and people can eventually be won round.”

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Basquiat – 1996

Nominated by:
Chris McCrae – Creative Design Director 

Plot 

The brief life of Jean Michel Basquiat, a world renowned New York street artist struggling with fame, drugs and his identity.

In Their Own Words 

“The meteoric rise of Basquiat, a creative genius from his humble beginnings, shows the importance of having a mentor but how the loss of such a critical person in one’s life can leave you bereft to where self-harm seems the only course. A biographical drama with a warning therefore.”

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Museumand black history month

Do The Right Thing – 1989

Nominated by:
David Lammy – MP
Rob Berkeley – BlackOut UK 

Plot 

On the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn the temperature of the hate and bigotry in the area was only slightly higher. A simple question is perceived as a complaint, and leads to an explosion of violence, the result of the frustration of black people that had been simmering under the surface and the racial contempt of other groups in the community. The film ends with two powerful quotations, the first, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who argues that violence is never justified under any circumstances. The second, from Malcolm X, for whom violence is not violence, but “intelligence” when it is used in self-defence.

In Their Own Words 

David Lammy MP

“Spike Lee wrote that script in ’88. He was talking about gentrification, about global warming, and about racial discrimination. 25 years later, Eric Garner would suffer the same fate as Radio Raheem – being choked to death by the NYPD. Spike does not only have a frightening ability to predict our future; the politicising impact that Do the Right Thing had on so many us shows that he has the power to change it too.”

Rob Berkeley, BlackOut UK Co-Director

“Spike Lee’s day-in-the-life of a Brooklyn neighbourhood as simmering racial tensions boil over. A story told by Lee at the height of his cinematic powers. It was a film that particularly suited 15 year old me, in the midst of my political awakening, fed on a diet of MTV and consuming most of my media from the States. (British television commissioners at the time conspired to ignore our existence, making content about, rather than for us. The film feels free from compromise. Opening with Rosie Perez’s fierce, boxing-gloved, running man, to the urgent, relentless, hip-hop beat of Public Enemy’s iconoclastic theme tune, ‘Fight The Power’, via a series of stylised vignettes from the block’s multi ethnic residents – touching, funny, poignant, and finally angry. Spike Lee’s stellar ensemble cast gear microaggressions into aggression, and anger into violence. Tellingly, while Black audiences loved it, the Academy ignored it. Watching it again this summer on lockdown, after the police murder of George Floyd, it now seems a film that could have been released this year rather than thirty years ago.”

Thoughts from Museumand

Do The Right Thing is a well-made and beautifully photographed film but it’s controversial and hard-hitting. It’s definitely not sentimental and you won’t find any liberal platitudes in it.  The subject of the film is the state of race relations in America and it presents an urban community where there are middle class values and street values and you get caught up in them. The content and the portrayals will inspire a lot of conversation, so be prepared!

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Museumand black history month

The Harder They Come – 1972

Nominated by:
Neil Kenlock – Photographer
Dirg Aaab-Richards – Community Activist

Plot

A country boy goes to town to make it big as a Reggae singer but finds that his record producers are corrupt and have links with drug pushers. He doesn’t get success as a Reggae singer and finds that life is harder than he thought so he resorts to dealing in drugs. He kills a policeman and becomes a fugitive, and one of Jamaica’s Most Wanted, but a hero to the community.  The title song of the film’s soundtrack had this thought-provoking line, “I’d rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave.” 

In Their Own Words

“Another film I recall ‘with a story’ to tell.

When “The Harder They Come” starring Jimmy Cliff, opened in London in 1975, the whole family went to see the film at an early screening in Peckham (pre-Peckham MultiPlex).

I was paying for the family to see the film as a treat from my Christmas /Birthday money. (We didn’t get ‘pocket money’!)

I recognise that the film was adult and ‘not suitable for children’; knowing full well that my little sister was a couple of years too young. I said to her please wear your highest heels. It might make a difference.

So we went to the counter to buy tickets and my dad was ahead and asked for the tickets…”and one child”, he said.

It was touch and go but the ticket man took a look at my baby sister and said: “Oh she is very tall but you will have to pay for her as an adult”.

Phew! We all got in… including my elevated baby sister.

Jimmy Cliff was our babysitter that night.

I recall one romantic portion of the film which was, let’s say ‘PG certified’, and I felt obliged to put my hand over my sister’s eyes. She must have been 12 years old. Fifty years later we still laugh about the incident…the night we went to see ‘Jimmy Cliff’ in a movie about Jamaica, having migrated to London only some six years earlier – it was a real treat. The storyline was cops and robbers and strayed a bit too far from the genteel, straight and narrow apple-pie-lifestyle, we enjoyed.”

Thoughts from Museumand

Forbidden fruit is generally sweet. Better than expected and sometimes when you’ve sneaked into a cinema to see a film when you’re not old enough and get away with it and the film meets expectation, it’s certainly a cause for ecstatic celebration and a story you can dine out on for all time.  Have you ever had such an experience?

This Reggae film is now regarded as a classic, presenting as it does Jamaican style, Jamaican issues and of course Jamaican music. Making its appearance in 1972 it was the first film made in Jamaica by Jamaicans.  Its amazing success and almost cult status may have been as a result of the new emerging music genre, Reggae.  The film features Jimmy Cliff in the lead role and three songs on the soundtrack – “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, “Many Rivers to Cross” and “The Harder They Come” – are still regarded as ones that sum up the age and Jamaica. It was feared that because of the film’s Jamaican genesis, and not having access to the usual channels for marketing, it could have slipped into oblivion. Did the music make the film?

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