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Movies to watch in honour of Black History Month

By Ansharah Shakil, February 26 2023

This February Plaza Theatre, Calgary’s independent arthouse theatre located downtown, is playing Blaxploitation movies in honour of Black History Month. Blaxploitation emerged in the 1970s alongside a broadening of racial relations. It was considered by some to be empowering Black people, and by others to be perpetrating common stereotypes and glorifying criminal activity. The genre’s demise in the late 70s was supported by a coalition against Blaxploitation

Though it had its issues, Blaxploitation is still an important part of Black history to acknowledge for paving the way to include Black people in mainstream movies and inspiring the new wave of Black filmmakers like Spike Lee to create movies which included topics from Blaxploitation films, but criticized others, in the 1980s and 1990s. Blaxploitation movies also influenced hip-hop culture, and were some of the first movies to feature funk and soul music in their soundtracks. 

Before Black History Month ends, see some of the Blaxploitation movies playing at Plaza Theatre to learn more about the genre and its impact on history. Because Blaxploitation is just one genre, the following list includes other movies to watch to celebrate Black History Month.

Coffy (1973)

Pat Grier stars as a nurse by day and vigilante by night, seeking revenge for the drug addiction of her younger sister. Though it received mixed reviews at the time, Coffy would later receive acclaim for Grier’s performance and for its ground-breaking portrayal of a female Black protagonist who successfully challenged the white system. 

Cleopatra Jones (1973)

In Cleopatra Jones, Tamara Dobson plays an undercover government agent. In this action comedy, Dobson gets to shine as a James Bond-like Black heroine in a movie which discusses inner-city poverty and the need for Black communities to work together against white supremacy.

Moonlight (2016)

One of the most beautiful films of the 21st century, Moonlight is a profound look at privilege, power, masculinity and identity. The first LGBTQ+ film with an all-Black cast to win an Oscar, it is a brave and timeless film which will enrich the life of anyone who watches it. 

Hidden Figures (2016) 

Hidden Figures depicts the incredible contributions of three female African-American mathematicians working at NASA during the 1960s. The book of the same name, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is a great read if you’re looking for more insight into the real-life events of the movie. 

Love and Basketball (2000)

A Black-written and produced romantic sports drama starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, Love and Basketball is a cult classic which is an interesting look at the lives of athletes. It is also a love story with multi-dimensional characters who are not relegated only to their race, intended to be a “Black When Harry Met Sally.

Miss Juneteenth (2020) 

Miss Juneteenth is a perfect movie to watch in February or June, or both. It tackles the legacy of Juneteenth and the remnants of racism in daily life, but is also an intimate, authentic look at the relationship between a single Black mother and her daughter. 

Claudine (1974)

Claudine is one of the first rom-coms to showcase an interracial relationship that ends in a happy ending. It describes the love story of a Black mother who falls in love with a white garbage collector, focusing on the historical relationship between Black people and the welfare system.  

Summer of Soul (2021)

A documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a fascinating watch to learn more about an oft-forgotten piece of musical Black history that took place on the same weekend as Woodstock. The film contains professional footage of the real-life festival, stock footage, and modern-day interviews, and is both educational and entertaining. 

Rafiki (2018)

Rafiki is the love story of two women in Kenya as they struggle against family and political conflict surrounding LGBT+ rights in Nairobi. Banned in Kenya because of the happy ending, the film’s director refused to change the ending and sued the Kenyan government to allow it to be temporarily screened in the country for the 91st Academy Awards. The sold-out crowds in Nairobi during those screenings speak to Rafiki’s cultural importance and historical significance.

Jump In! (2007)

This list wouldn’t be complete without one of the greatest Disney Channel Original Movies of the 2010s. In all seriousness, Keke Palmer and Corbin Bleu are completely charming in this movie. Bleu portrays a young boxer who joins Palmer’s Double Dutch tournament and discovers a love for it that clashes with his preconceived notions of masculinity. The film deals with gender, bullying and redemption. It was one of the first and is one of the few Disney movies to have an all-Black cast and to focus on the hopes and dreams of regular Black people. 

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