Streaming services are starting to highlight a variety of Black films to watch if you’d like to understand our struggle. Selma (2014), Just Mercy (2019), Hidden Figures (2016), The Help (2011), The 13th (2016), The Hate U Give (2018), and other similar movies are all being promoted and streamed for free on many platforms. This is great, and I’m glad more films with a Black lead/cast are being pushed to mass audiences, but at the same time, I am frustrated!

As a Black person, I don’t always want to watch movies like Harriet (2019), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Birth of a Nation (2016), and I Am Not Your Negro (2016). While these movies were made about us, I’d argue they were not made for us. These are not FUBU films, and while they do have their own place in the film canon, there is more to our story than our struggle.
When I sit down to watch a movie for date night, or for girls night, or for a night in with my family, I’m not turning on something that will remind me of my ancestors’ pain; I have enough reminders of that in my regular life. Instead, I’m choosing to watch something that tells parts of our story that rarely get shown to mainstream audiences, because if there’s an all black cast, the marketing is always tailored to black audiences, because themes like love, pain, fear, and the like can’t possibly be universal. Right?
One thing white people have probably never experienced is going to see a movie specifically because the cast features people who look like you (whether the plot looks appealing or not). This is a unique part of the minority experience in America that I have come to recognize in recent years.

So today, I’m sharing a list of Black films that do not focus on our existence in relation to white people, but ones that feature us in regular, non-racial scenarios... because we have those too! While general audiences were praising movies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) and Love Actually (2003), we (Black people) we’re watching those but also enjoying goodies like Deliver Us from Eva (2003) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996). I grew up loving Clueless and House Party. Get you a girl (or guy) who can do both. We love a well-rounded viewer.

This list is not comprehensive, but I tried to include a variety of options from different decades. Most are from the 90s though, since this when many of my favorites were released, and I only want to include films I personally love and cherish. Are movies like Shaft (1971) and A Raisin in the Sun (1961) classics? Yes, of course! But they're not personal favorites. The more well-known Black films like The Nutty Professor (1996), Good Burger (1997), Coming to America (1988), etc. were excluded. I also omitted movies where a black lead was paired with a white lead (i.e. Men in Black (1997), Training Day (2001), Shawshank Redemption (1994), etc.) Those are important, too (Money Talks (1997) is one of my all-time favorite comedies), but I find the presence of white main character usually makes the movie more “palatable” for non-Black audiences, and that’s not the purpose of this list.


Rom Coms


  • B.A.P.S. (1997) - easily Halle Berry's most important role as an actor. There is so much to relate to in this movie. Going to the club and all the men who hit on you are too broke to pay for your drinks? Having a BFF who's by your side no matter what? Not wanting to get in the pool because God forbid your hair gets wet? If you know, you know. I love this as a romantic comedy because it's not just about "getting the guy" at the end. It's about chasing your dreams and honoring friendships while honoring your integrity... and also getting your man in the end!
  • Two Can Play that Game (2001) - in terms of romantic on-screen duos, it doesn't get much better than Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut in early 2000s. Vivica plays a boss babe who loves her man but uses mind games to keep him in check. This backfires when Morris Chestnut's character starts playing a game of his own.
  • Deliver Us from Eva (2003) - Oh, hello Gabrielle Union and LL Cool J. The ladies still love cool James, even one as uptight at Eva, who also happens to be the matriarch of her family. It takes some convincing to get these two together, but they're a cute pairing. I'd like to call out how this movie plays on the idea that all uptight women just need a good man to "really" "love them." Some feminists might call this one problematic, but I'm calling it a CLASSIC.
  • Boomerang (1992) - So many greats in this movie! Eddie Murphy, Halle Berry, Robin Givens, Lela Rochon, Martin Lawrence, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt! David Allen Grier! John Witherspoon! This movie is basically an amalgamation of Black Hollywood royalty. And the script is just as good as the players. I will admit to saying "love should've brought you home last night" more than once in my life (jokingly, of course)(😉).
  • Breaking All the Rules (2004) - This is one of those movies that got very little attention in my humble opinion, but it was a fun one. Jamie Foxx, Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut are caught in a triangle of sorts, but just like there were love games in Two Can Play that Game, there are breakup rules in this one.

Comedy


  • Life (1999) - This movie depicts part of the struggle (discrimination), but that's not the focus, and it plays on it in the funniest way. Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence are sentenced to life in prison for a murder they did not commit. I remember when this movie came out and begging my mom to take me to see it. It's rated R, so of course she said no. As a now-adult, I see why! Profane language ahead.
  • Friday (trilogy) - I hesitate to include this one because everyone and their dog was hollering "bye, felicia!" a few years back, but I'm listing it anyway because not enough people knew where the saying actually came from, or in what context it was spoken. Also, Next Friday and Friday After Next were both instant Black classics.
  • A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994) - Pretty much anything any Wayans member touches is gold in my opinion. While I grew up watching Shawn and Marlon on TV, their older brother Keenan was paving the way with movies like this.
  • How to Be a Player (1997) - Womanizing Bill Bellamy navigates his way around all the women he's messing around with at one party. For reference, this is the man who coined the term "booty call." You're welcome...?
  • The Last Holiday (2006) - I remember a couple years back, Rebel Wilson caught some bad press for saying something along the lines that she was the first plus-size woman to land a leading role in a romantic movie, and everyone was like, ahem, Queen Latifah would like a word. Ms. Dana Owens has so much onscreen magic no matter what role she's playing, but I think this one often gets overlooked. It can also be classified as a Christmas movie and a romance movie, but I feel like comedy is really at the core, so I'm listing it in this category.

Romance


  • Carmen Jones (1954) - Such an important film. If you're a musical lover, this is a must watch. Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte are an absolute dream together, and they were a beautiful pairing in so many ways. The movie is based on the musical which is based on the opera. So much history here.
  • Love Jones (1997) - Easily my favorite romance movie of all time, it'd be perfect if not for the cigarette smoking throughout, but alas, it was the 90s. This movie show Black people as creatives, artists, deep thinkers, and conversationalists who talk about everything from jazz music to why God must be a woman. I'd also like to add that this movie is one of the reasons I love photography so much.
  • The Best Man (1999) - I'm pretty sure I'd have to give up my black card if I didn't mention this one, and even though it's not a true favorite of mine, I recognize it's place in the Black canon. It's about a writer whose book is loosely based on his love life, and it all blows up in his face right before his wedding. Also, there's Morris Chestnut, and Nia Long, and Sanaa Lathan, and Regina Hall. *chefs kiss*
  • Love and Basketball (2000) - From childhood best friends, to lovers, to estranged, to (spoiler) lovers at the end, this movie takes you on a romantic ride and everyone is in their feelings, including the viewer.
  • Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998) - Three women are fighting in court over the estate of legendary singer Frankie Lymon. When he passed, it was unclear which woman was his actual wife, so the movie shows how they battled for his heart over the years and his money in the end. (TW: substance abuse and domestic violence)
  • The Preacher's Wife (1996) - I've got two words for you: DEN. ZEL. Denzel Washington is one of those Black actors who transcends demographics. Everyone loves his movies: black people, white people, latinx people, old people, young people, babies, pets. You can't really go wrong with a Denzel movie, and when you pair him with Whitney Houston in her vocal prime? Well, it doesn't get much better than that for a Christmas film. He plays an angel who's sent to earth to help a preacher and his family get back to what really matters most, and this one also features Jenifer Lewis, whom We affectionately refer to as The Black Mother of Hollywood.

Action/Thriller


  • Set It Off (1996) - This one touches on our struggle as well. It shows how a series of systemic events can trigger deplorable actions in the most innocent of people. It also shows police shootings and the repercussions it can have on victims' families. There's such great acting by a phenomenal cast. Jada even has a steamy entanglement with Blair Underwood!
  • Bad Boys (1999) - I know this one was a blockbuster, but it was a blockbuster that featured two black men in the lead, in 1995! And it wasn't about our struggle as Black people! I had to include it here.
  • Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) - Horror is easily my favorite film genre, but it's so rare to come across a good horror movie with a black cast. The joke here is that black people have too much sense to get caught in typical horror movie tropes. Oh, the house is haunted? We're moving, immediately. The killer's trying to get me? We're running out the house, not up the stairs. I heard a strange noise in the middle of the night in a strange place? We're not going to investigate, and furthermore, we probably wouldn't even be in that strange place to begin with! Our survival senses are always heightened, because we as a people have been through ENOUGH. This is why it's so iconic that Eddie Murphy made a horror film with an all-Black cast that still fit the bill. He plays a vampire, and as the title suggests, he comes to Brooklyn. Angela Basset plays the detective who investigates the mess he leaves behind. The story gets interesting (and often funny) from there.
  • Tales from the Hood (1995) - This one can be classified as a horror/comedy/drama, since it's an anthology film that tells a few different stories. It's Our answer to the infamous "Tales from the Crypt" tv series. All the tales touch aspects that deeply affect the Black community, and it was executive-produced by Spike Lee, so you know it's good.

Drama


  • Eve's Bayou (1997) - Samuel L. Jackson and the legendary Lynn Whitfield play a well-off couple in the creole south. Their young daughters, played by Jurnee Smollet and Meagan Good, come of age as their family drama plays out in the most public (and subtly supernatural) way. I remember watching this as a kid and not fully understanding all the elements and themes presented, but as an adult, I have such a great appreciation for this film.
  • The Five Heartbeats (1991) - I got nothin' but love for this movie, and if you watch it, you'll get that reference. The songs are as good as the storyline in this one. A heart is a house for love... do you hear me?!
  • What's Love Got to Do with It (1993) - I couldn't do a list of iconic Black films without mentioning this one, with such iconic Black actors portraying such iconic Black entertainers. (TW: Heavy domestic violence)
  • Soul Food (1997) - I remember being a wreck after watching this movie as a kid. Without dropping any spoilers, it tugs at a variety of heart strings and shows how family drama can (and often does) play out at the dinner table.
  • A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996) - This was our answer to Fatal Attraction (1987), and Lynn Whitfield was absolutely iconic - and stunning - in this role. If you're feeling like watching that new Netflix movie Fatal Affair (2020), watch this instead. Trust me.
  • Sparkle (1976) - Look, I know the 2012 version of this film had Whitney Houston and Carmen Ejogo (heart eyes), but the original had more heart and soul than the remake. Off all the Black girl group movies (of which there are very few), this is the one to watch first.
  • Waiting to Exhale (1995) - I know I said I wouldn't be including well-known titles in this list, but it would be a disgrace to exclude this one. If ever there was a film to depict a Black woman's romantic struggle this is it, and 25 years later, it's as relevant as ever.


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7 comments

  1. Oh my word, this was such a good and meaty post! I'm sure it took you weeks to put it together. As I read along, I was mentally tallying up how many on the list I've watched and enjoyed. My favorites are (in no particular order): Two Can Play That Game, Deliver Us From Eva, Love Jones, The Best Man, Bad Boys, Soul Food, Love & Basketball, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Waiting to Exhale, Friday (all of 'em), Set It Off, and How to be a Player. Can you believe I only saw Boomerang for the first time this year? Also, never watched: Tales from the Hood, Vampire in Brooklyn, Carmen Jones, The Five Heartbeats, and A Low Down Dirty Shame?? Please don't take my Black card - haha!

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    1. oh my goodness, yes. this post took soooooo long to write - thank you for recognizing that! haha. and of the one you haven't seen, it's a tough choice, but i'd recommend watching The Five Heartbeats first.

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    2. Okay, I'll start there. I've heard people joke they thought that was a real group until they got older - lol!

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  2. I love this post so much! I can honestly say the only one I haven't seen yet was Carmen Jones. I'm embarrassed to even type that lol and it took me 4 times to watch tales from the hood..... I hate scary movies with a passion 😅

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    1. thanks boo. i loooooooove scary movies so much. i used to force my friends to watch them during sleepovers. but yeah, def give Carmen Jones a watch!

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  3. I absolutely love your list! We're on the up and up with horror/thriller. There is Repentance, starring Forrest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Sanaa Lathan, and Mike Epps. There is also Jacob's Ladder, with Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, and Nicole Beharie (who I think deserves way more airtime). Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union and Ajiona Alexus, is another one. I've been really excited that we've started to really break into the horror/thriller genres. We started off a little shaky with it but I think we're getting better with time.

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    1. it's true, black horror is starting to have its moment. breaking in had me rolling my eyes alot, though. kinda like that movie with Taraji and Idris? No Good Deed? they used all the typical tropes, and it had me so frustrated!! but i mean... i still watched. 🤷🏾‍♀️

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