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50 movies that address the history of racism in America

  • The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)

    - Director: Ivan Dixon
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 102 min

    "The Spook Who Sat by the Door" follows the first Black man in a fictional CIA, who is aware of his token status in the agency. After learning a few techniques from the agency, he organizes the "Freedom Fighters" to help protect Black Americans and ensure their freedom. The film addresses the need for Black people's self-defense, a notion practiced during the civil rights movement.

  • Ganja & Hess (1973)

    - Director: Bill Gunn
    - IMDb user rating: 6.3
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 110 min

    One of the first few horror films to have Black representation, Bill Gunn plays his own lead in "Ganja & Hess" and portrays diversity and range for Black actors in cinema. The film presents two Black lovers who've been killed and have emerged as immortal vampires. Initially pitched as a blaxploitation film, the movie is more experimental and artistic.

  • Killer of Sheep (1978)

    - Director: Charles Burnett
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Metascore: 96
    - Runtime: 80 min

    This black-and-white film follows a Black man who works in a slaughterhouse to feed his family. While the adults face challenges of their own, the children are almost accustomed to their dangerous surroundings. The film mirrors the harsh realities of the ghetto, trauma, and financial struggle due to racial inequity from childhood to adulthood.

  • Losing Ground (1982)

    - Director: Kathleen Collins
    - IMDb user rating: 6.4
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 86 min

    Sara, a young Black woman, is having trouble with her marriage after her husband sparks interest in a Puerto Rican woman, causing Sara to question her own identity and self-worth being both Black and a woman. "Losing Ground" was one of the first feature-length films created by a Black woman.

  • She's Gotta Have It (1986)

    - Director: Spike Lee
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: 79
    - Runtime: 84 min

    The themes of "She's Gotta Have It" include gender, Black feminism, and sexual liberation. Nola Darling lives a sexually liberated lifestyle with three men before she is forced to choose one lover. Spike Lee examines the representation of Black women's wellness and freedom of stereotypes.

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  • Tongues Untied (1989)

    - Director: Marlon Riggs
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 55 min

    This documentary focuses on the expression of gay Black men and their culture. Marlon Riggs explores the intersectionality of being both Black and gay in a racist and homophobic society. Riggs shines a light on many issues the community faces, including examples of hypersexualized Black men in relation to their white counterparts.

  • Do the Right Thing (1989)

    - Director: Spike Lee
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Metascore: 92
    - Runtime: 120 min

    A series of racially motivated events is outlined after an Italian-owned restaurant has a wall-of-fame with only Italian actors in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Believing there should be Black actors on the wall, heightened emotions on race relations lead to a race riot. This staple in the Black community is a representation of racial inequity and injustices themed across the country today.

  • Daughters of the Dust (1991)

    - Director: Julie Dash
    - IMDb user rating: 6.5
    - Metascore: 81
    - Runtime: 112 min

    This film portrays the effects of Black enslavement past the borders of America and into West Africa and creolized cultures. A family of women in the Gullah community struggles to carry on their vibrant Yoruba culture away from their homeland. Julie Dash's film heavily inspired Beyonce's "Lemonade" video as it explores Black womanhood and the search for freedom after slavery.

  • Boyz n the Hood (1991)

    - Director: John Singleton
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 76
    - Runtime: 112 min

    Based on his own life, John Singleton portrays three young Black men in a neighborhood riddled with poverty, gang violence, and other harsh issues that hit the community. Each man navigates their path through Central Los Angeles when tragedy strikes, symbolizing a trauma cycle of "what's going on in the hood."

  • Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992)

    - Director: Leslie Harris
    - IMDb user rating: 6.4
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 92 min

    Chantel Mitchell is a Black, 17-year-old high schooler from Brooklyn, New York, who dreams of going to college and hopes to become a doctor. Her plans fall short when she becomes pregnant. Mitchell copes with her fears of becoming a statistic, riddled with stereotypes that follow young Black girls.

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