As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten worse and worse at keeping up with the latest shows and movie releases. I make no excuse about it, everyone knows I pretty much make a list and try and watch as many of them during the summer. (Teacher life sends me into hibernation for the year). Besides work, as a full time adult now (barely) I value my time way way way more than I did in the past. In doing so I find myself revisiting certain movies because they are just that good and had a massive impact on my life.
Of course some were more impactful than others, but each film on this list has shaped me in some way. Whether it be how I view things/people in society, how I view myself, what I value, or simply what I find incredibly humorous while still being so well written/filmed. Some of these films I didn’t love/like initially and took some time to grow on me. Others I can watch every single day and know pretty much word for word. There are even a few that I’ve only seen once, and that was simply enough to seal the deal for their presence on this list.
This by no means is the end all final stop of the absolute best black movies, but I can say without a doubt that these are at least 25 of the greatest black films every young adult needs to see. It’ll definitely change your perspective on many things, and at the very least be a source of stimulating conversation. And as you scroll through you’ll see I have a slight infatuation with Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. (Real Recognize real … just let me have my moment.) So without further adieu (I’ll spare you any extra words)… here’s the 25 of the greatest black movies every young adult needs to see. And if you haven’t seen them.. get your life and get your phone out… open up the notes and add them to your list. (PS: I didn’t put them in any particular order so don’t FLIP out on me!)
25 Of The Greatest Black Movies Every Young Adult Needs To See
1. Get Out: Released in 2017, this was Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. And my oh my what a debut it was. At the very basics of what it is, it is indeed a horror film with an interracial couple at the central plot. However… if you’ve read any reviews, seen the commercials, or actually seen the movie you know the it is much much more. And since it has been released recently… I will go no further to avoid spoiling it… though at this point you really should have seen it.
2. Fruitvale Station: Released in 2013 just two days prior to the non guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial, this was the first dynamic pairing of director Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan. This film covers the 24 hours prior to Oscar Grant’s murder in the BART train station on New Year’s Eve by a police officer. And even though I knew the outcome of the film, I wasn’t mentally prepared for the opening or closing scenes. I cried, and cried, and cried uncontrollably because I saw my brothers faces and lives in the Oscar Grant story. I saw my students, I saw my cousins, uncles, and father all on that screen. It is a touching film that you really need to sit down and watch… preferably with a box of Kleenex.
3. Hidden Figures: Hidden Figures is one of those films that we always knew we needed and were just so thrilled to actually get it. It came right on time to receive all the praise and accolade it deserved, but to also highlight what we’ve known all along: Black Women are BOSS plain and simple. So many times we hear of the strong woman behind the man, and this film brings that strong woman to the forefront so she can get her praise and show off everything we love about her. The women of Hidden figures show us that Black Women really do run the world.
4. Moonlight: Did you watch the Oscars? Did you see the debacle? Yeah… me too. But despite that messy mess, Moonlight won because Moonlight demands a particular respect that must be given. I love that Hidden Figures and Moonlight came out in the same year because it highlights the underdogs and the forgotten. Black men are often categorized into the drug dealer, the aggressive violent character, or the crooked cop. And that occurs so often that is usually what is celebrated. Moonlight took a different route and highlights another aspect of the difficult times that African American men go through without fitting into a stereotypical role.
5. Do The Right Thing: I am obsessed with Spike Lee. There I said it… and Do The Right thing started my obsession. I wrote my 40 page college thesis on the inner workings of Do the right thing on society past, present, and future. The subtle nuances and the bold in your face statements serve as a perfect balance. This is one of my all time favorite movies and with good cause. Do The Right Thing always has, and always will be painfully relevant and whether that is a good thing or not is certainly up for discussion. However if you haven’t seen Do The Right Thing, do your self a favor and put a side a few hours to really sit down and watch a classic take on what we’re still experiencing today as a community.
6. Boyz N’ The Hood: I know I know… you’re either team Boyz N’ The Hood or team Menace II Society. With both films coming out in similar time periods (Boyz N’ The Hood was first though) I’ve always preferred John Singleton’s approach to life in South Central Los Angeles. While both films have their rightful merit, Boyz N The Hood serves more as a coming of age than its comparable counterpart. John Singleton cleverly crafts each character to neither be a full time saint nor sinner. Each epically flawed, you’re drawn in and captivated by the choices these characters make that lead them to their fate. Because i don’t like spoilers… I’ll simply leave you there. But a young Moris Chestnut, Cuba Gooding Jr and Ice Cube all on one screen is perfection!
7. Selma: Selma is one of those films I only needed to see once to be captivated by the amazing cinematography and the relevance of the story even still to this day. Plus you know Ava Duvernay is pure genius in everything that she does. Selma not only presents a historical account of the march, it also humanizes our hero. Martin Luther King is often celebrated as he should be, but the MLK presented on screen in Selma is truly captivating and brings an human emotional quality to the magnanimous Martin Luther King.
8. Dear White People: Dear White People gave me serious Spike Lee vibes (I told you… I’m obsessed) in the trailer and that may have been done purposely as an ode to him and the thematic nature of most of his films. However Dear White People stands on its own as a different type of classic. It is one of those films that begs for a conversation to be had and the altering perspectives can all be respected. I’ve only seen Dear White People once, and that is all I need to discuss the pros and cons of the film in itself. But I do believe that it is a film that should be seen to open up the uncomfortable conversations regarding assimilation, colorism…etc particularly in institutions of higher education.
9. Malcolm X: Okay… this is one of those films that I did not respect or acknowledge its genius until probably last year. And that is because I saw this movie for the first time when I was 6 years old clearly against my parent’s wishes. I’ll never forget that my uncle took me to see this movie in the movie theater with my older cousins. SIX YEARS OLD… I was scarred for quite some time and not to mention terrified of white people for months. Obviously… as someone who is much older and understands the importance of who Malcolm X is and what Spike Lee did in this film it is certainly a film I suggest should be seen. Just… leave the younger children in the play room as you watch.
10. Baby Boy: John Singleton is a genius. And this is because he takes films/ film ideas that seem as though they will fail (i.e.: Boyz N’ The Hood) and makes them so amazing they become instant classics. The unforeseen importance of Baby Boy is what makes the film so great. From the movie posters you would never know just what the picture John Singleton was painting would be. This coming of age is more than just a boy transforming into a man. It shows very clearly just what it means to be come a man as an African American with the chips stacked against you in every respect. Again… there are no perfect characters. We are not made to feel sympathy for Jody, but we do understand. We can respect the sentiment and have shared in many of the similar situations. Situations where we are faced with decisions that leave us between a rock and a hard place, often times forcing us to make the WRONG choice and deal with the consequence later.
11. Antwone Fisher: This film (I think I’m also obsessed with Denzel Washington guys…) introduced us to Derek Luke and the Antwone Fisher story. What I love about this film is the need to show that yes African American men can be extremely violent and aggressive… just like ANYONE else. Things happen in life, traumatic things happen and we react. But this film focuses on the road to redemption and providing help for those suffering with mental anguish. A theme that is often ignored in many films especially when it comes to African American casts.
12. Juice: Okay so theres’s no “think” involved, I am obsessed with 2pac point blank period! And besides being extremely devastated that his music career was cut short by his untimely murder, it is the acting that I truly miss the most. 2pac was a BOMB actor and I don’t care what anyone says. Besides that Juice is a beautiful story of male friendship gone awry (as it often does). My brothers and I spent a summer watching Juice every night on VHS and I pretty much can recite this move line for line. The soundtrack for Juice is also off the chain!
13. Friday: Do you really need any real reason to be convinced to watch Friday? A cult classic that has been a vital part of pop culture for the last 20 years. Don’t believe me: “you got knocked the f*** out”, “and you know thisss man”, and #ByeFelicia to name a few. And De-Bo … of course! Do yourself a favor… if you haven’t seen Friday go watch it now… if you have… go watch it again!
14. Lean On Me: This is absolutely in my top 10 favorite movies of all time, and in my top 5 favorite teacher related films ever! I’ve been watching Lean on Me for quite some time, and it came out when I was one years old. Since it is also my dad’s favorite move I’ve probably been watching it since then as well. There is nothing like Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) telling you to get your ish together or else because he is the HNIC!
15. The Color Purple: This film based on the Alice Walker novel brought us powerful images and lines on the big screen delivered by Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey. Even to this day the Broadway rendition was frequently sold out and praised continuously. And you know damn well… you can recite a line or two from this movie off the top of your head.
16. Hotel Rwanda: This movie is so heartbreaking but needed to be released and seen. We’ve seen all too often issues of genocide and injustice going unnoticed and unreported. People turn a blind eye and pretend it isn’t happening because it isn’t in their backyard. Hotel Rwanda (as well as the film Sometimes In April) blew the lid on the silence in to show just how inhumane humans can be to one another.
17. The Great Debaters: I use this film on a yearly basis in my classroom to show the passion that comes along when you are arguing for something you believe in. This film directed by Denzel Washington, and produced by Oprah, is more than just a film about debating. It hones in on the racial injustices of the time with such class that you can’t help but be drawn in to the dialogue and the plot. And yes I know this is Denzel’s third appearance on the list… (only one more I promise)
18. Fences: Fences is one of my favorite books and I was so excited to see this film on the big screen. After I saw it, I was so excited about how well it was done. I often worry when books are turned into films, but this was certainly not a disappointment. And lets not even forget Viola Davis’ performance… yeah she won an Oscar for it… so you need to see it !
19. The Butler: I’m usually not a fan of movies like this (hence why The Help isn’t on here), but The Butler took on an interesting perspective that was refreshing in this line of film (the subservient caregiver or maid type of scenario). Cecil Gaines isn’t just a butler and that makes the film all the more interesting. He is a husband, a father, and a man before all else who is doing what he needs to do to make sure his family stays afloat.
20. Straight Outta Compton: I was so against this movie when it was coming out because I hate biopics. I hate what they have become (Ie… the whack ass Aaliyah film on Lifetime) BUT… if all biopic films can be like Straight Outta Compton then we are in for a treat because this movie was FUCKING BOMB (pardon my French). If a film can make me feel things while watching, and make me research things post watching it is a win in my book. I found myself looking up so much information about NWA that I didn’t have before because I was thirsty for more information. and the casting… Amazing! F. Gary Gray did a remarkable job at directing and this was a perfect ode to the memory of Eazy E.
21. Dope: I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Dope! It is the quirky feel that makes me feel at home and feel like me. I love when movies offer a different view on what it means to be Black in America. We are not all cut from the same cloth and Dope does an excellent job at reminding us that yes we can be from a particular hood, but we don’t all have to do the same things.
22. Creed: Yes… beyond the fact that Micheal B Jordan is sexy as hell and is my husband in my mind… Creed is absolutely amazing. It is well done (Ryan Coogler… you are the man) and is motivational. I ran 8 miles the next day after watching this film. I could watch this over and over again (not just for MBJ… though that is a benefit) but because it actually made me interested in the Rocky series and hopeful for whats to come next.
23. School Daze: I used to confuse this film as Spike Lee’s first (wrong.. She’s Gotta Have It is the first) but besides my minor faux pas… School Daze is a cult classic hit for many reasons. It shows the insight of being an African American trying to do the right thing (see what I did there) in college while facing several institutionalized barriers. Colorism, racism, self doubt, search of identity… all still relevant themes that sprung up in School Daze back in 1988. (Twas a good year I must say)!
24. What’s Love Got To Do With It: My dad hates this movie, and he hates that I’ve been watching it since I was six (it was a tough year for me at 6). Probably because of the insanely violent sexual assault/ rape scenes. But… you can’t ever tell someone to “Eat the cake Anna Mae” without giving a classic nod to that film. This movie also made me hate Laurence Fishbourne for about 20 years. It was hard to differentiate things for me at six years old okay… but I do remember falling in love with Angela Bassett and those arms!
25. Crooklyn: Okay you know I had to end with another Spike Lee joint. Between him and Denzel I don’t know who I love more… but I digress. Crookyln is a classic view on the black family and the coming of age story of Troy Carmicheal. I’ve seen this movie probably twice but both times I loved it and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Plus anything with Alfre Woodard I’m usually all in!
And there you have it the top 25 greatest black films that every young adult needs to see! Are there any films you think should be added to the list? Drop them below in the comment section. Pssst… if you liked this post don’t be afraid to share the love on social media!!
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Hey there! I’m Melissa, co-founder of Trials n Tresses, natural hair and beauty lover, binge tv watcher and lover of life. When I am not creating content for TNT, I’m busy teaching the future of society.