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Confession: I have stacks of books in my house that I have yet to even crack open. While I absolutely love history–emphasis on Black history–and learning, I have a short attention span and limited time when it comes to reading. I mostly get my frills and fill from documentaries. As Black History Months draws to a close, I want to share four documentaries that you should watch.
“Masterclass: Black History, Black Freedom, and Black Love”
A new Masterclass brings you three dynamic seasons of, as the title says, Black history, Black freedom and Black love. With lessons from world renowned scholars and activists like Jelani Cobb, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, John McWhorter and Dr. Cornel West, you legit feel like you’re in your first day of school and ready to soak up all of their knowledge.
While it does a deep dive into the history of African people before and after the creation of the United States, I highlighted this series because it touches on subjects that I haven’t heard discussed in other works. Linguist John McWhorter breaks down the evolution and uniqueness of Black English along with historical advocacy efforts to have it officially recognized as a language.
One of my favorite people in the world and liberator goals, Auntie Angela Davis, challenges us to consider the humanity in enslavement. Meaning, the way slavery has been depicted restricts our ability to imagine our ancestors having familial love and creating joy and beauty, despite their horrendous circumstances.
Nikole Hannah-Jones enlightens us on how the systems created during enslavement single-handedly shaped America’s capitalism. She also discusses the conception and criticism of the 1619 Project. It led to a backlash of anti-Black history–better known as the fight against critical race theory.
“Between The World and Me”
You should recognize this title from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel, Between The World and Me. In his book, Coates delivers a beautifully written narrative from a father to his son. He recounts his experiences of being a Black man trying to raise a Black boy.
Between the World and Me cinematizes excerpts from the book that are narrated by members of Black Hollywood royalty: Angela Bassett, Wendell Pierce, Black Thought of The Roots–-even Oprah made an appearance.
Coates ties lived experience to history, along with the paradoxes between the beauty and danger of being Black. Likewise, the film interweaves current and historical pieces of Black joy and love, as well as dark moments of existence into its scenes.
Also, clips from vintage newspapers, events and empowering speeches by Angela Davis, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and Chadwick Boseman grace the screen. It also features art by Bisa Butler.
This film is special because not only is it visually beautiful and moving, it also allows us Black folx to see and feel ourselves in the people in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ life and in our own ancestors. It makes for a perfect Black History Month film.
When I saw the trailer, I was blown away.
Equiano Stories is particularly special for two reasons. First, it tells the story of Olaudah Equiano, who’s regarded as the originator of the “slave narrative”.
Olaudah Equiano was captured and sold into slavery at the age of 11. He eventually bought his freedom, became an abolitionist in Europe and wrote an autobiography detailing his transition from a beautiful life in Africa to the brutalities of enslavement.
What’s also dope about this feature is its format. Young Equiano shares his journey through a series of social media posts and live videos, tying modern times to history.
This one is definitely a must during Black History Month, especially for our young people. The brilliance in using modern technology to make history relevant, along with the depiction of Africa and life for African people before slavery, is a story that’s rarely told.
“Amend: The Fight For America”
Amend: The Fight For America is an entertaining and factual series that teaches us about one of the most controversial but necessary amendments to defend and preserve human rights.
Will Smith takes us through the journey of how the 14th Amendment was the focus for many of the country’s most famous civil rights battles. Famous voices like Samuel L. Jackson, Mahershala Ali and Marsai Martin tell us about pushback on the 14th amendment in efforts to make way for voting rights, marriage equality, women’s rights and abolish separate but equal clauses.
You’ll finish this series feeling proud but also angry knowing that Black Americans and our movements for liberation provided the blueprint for literally every other liberation movement in the United States post 1619. But yet, we’re still fighting and are still one of the most underrepresented and disrespected groups in this country.
So, if you’re a history geek like me but don’t have the time or focus to dig into books, these are my four must-sees before we head out from Black History Month.