Black History Month celebrates the culture and remembrance of important figures and events within the Black community. From Selma to Malcolm X, to the upcoming The Hate U Give (debuting at this year’s London Film Festival), many films have captured notable moments in history, allowing audiences to delve deeper into these times. Here, we take a look into the films to watch throughout Black History Month this October and beyond.

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama film based on the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. The film follows the protagonist Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. after being lured by slave traders with the promise of a music career in 1841. He was then sold into slavery and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana before the American Civil War.

Director Steve McQueen found inspiration from the eponymous novel; the story shocked him and pushed him to tell the story of injustice, anguish, hope and freedom. The film went on to receive critical acclaim and several nominations and awards, including Best Film and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong'o.


Detroit centres around a police raid in Detroit named the Algiers Motel incident in 1967 which involved the death of three black men and brutal beatings of nine other people: seven black men and two white women. The director Kathryn Bigelow was inspired to unearth this event by the Ferguson riots in 2014 where a black man was fatally shot by a white police officer. Since release, it has been acclaimed for its grit and sheer realism of police brutality within America.

The Colour Purple

The Colour Purple follows the life of a black woman named Celie Johnson (played by Whoopi Goldberg) and her trials and tribulations in the early 1900s.

Garnering 11 Academy Award nominations and directed by Steven Spielberg, the film is based on a Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, focusing on the lives of black women in the 1930’s. Penned by the acclaimed black female writer, Alice Walker, the book has sold 5m copies worldwide and has since been translated into over 25 languages.


13th is a Netflix Original documentary, the title of which is taken from the 13th amendment to the US Constitution of Rights which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The documentary explores institutionalised modern-day slavery via the US prison system, with the labour of prison inmates – disproportionately skewing towards people of colour, in particular black people – being used to drive private commerce.

Providing an in-depth look into inherent racism, law enforcement, prison privatisation and human rights, the documentary is a sobering and thorough journey by Ava DuVernay through the institution of America’s prison system. The documentary went on to become Oscar and Emmy nominated, and was listed as one of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die".

Malcolm X

Malcolm X is the biographical epic of African American and civil rights leader, Malcolm X. The story of Malcolm X is gripping and layered, showing his time within gangs and prison where he became a Muslim. He went on to teach his learnings of Islam to the masses, taking his beliefs towards combating the trials and hardships of Jim Crow America before his untimely death – he was assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan during a speech to his followers.


Selma chronicles the true story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. leading the treacherous journey to secure equal voting rights for African Americans in the face of opposition and dismissal. The film focuses on the historical march from Selma to Montgomery which culminated the eventual signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Johnson.

It is a story of how the march became a vital part of the civil rights movement and a campaign that prompted that altered history forever.


Belle surrounds the true story of the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, Dido Elizabeth Belle, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The film was acclaimed for its highlighting of black women within a genre of film which lacks representation of POC: period drama. The film, by Amma Asante, received praise for how it explored the story of justice, acceptance, love and society navigated by black women in an Aristocrat era.

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give is based on Angie Thomas’ New York Times bestselling novel and stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr, a teenager growing up in modern-day America.

Starr is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly black, neighbourhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressures from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

The Hate U Give arrives in UK cinemas on October 22, 2018.