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50 movies that address the history of racism in America

  • Malcolm X (1992)

    - Director: Spike Lee
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 72
    - Runtime: 202 min

    Malcolm X was a Black activist who taught against racism and white violence while promoting Black empowerment and separation. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance of the real-life events in the activist's life and his impact on the Black community; many sentiments still followed and repeated to this day.

  • Hoop Dreams (1994)

    - Director: Steve James
    - IMDb user rating: 8.3
    - Metascore: 98
    - Runtime: 170 min

    This documentary follows two Black teenage boys from a predominantly Black neighborhood in Chicago. They attend a predominately white school in hopes of pursuing their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. The film constantly touches on race, social class, and the education system with topics in code-switching, economic hardships, and racism.

  • Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

    - Director: Carl Franklin
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: 78
    - Runtime: 102 min

    Denzel Washington makes another appearance on the list as a World War II veteran. He finds himself entangled in a case involving a missing white woman. Racism is at the center of the story's plot as Washington's character is consistently demeaned and belittled, and the film portrays an overall lack of care for Black lives by society.

  • The Watermelon Woman (1996)

    - Director: Cheryl Dunye
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: 74
    - Runtime: 90 min

    In the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian woman, Cheryl, who plays herself in the film, is a struggling filmmaker who hopes to make a film about a Black lesbian character who is often belittled to "mammy" roles in early 20th century movies. The movie explores lesbianism, Blackness, and womanhood as each can intersect and coexist to their fullest identity.

  • Down in the Delta (1998)

    - Director: Maya Angelou
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Metascore: 73
    - Runtime: 112 min

    Alfre Woodard stars in "Down in the Delta" as a character named Loretta, who is sent to Mississippi from Chicago to get clean from drugs and reconnect with her family's traditions. As a result of slavery, Black Americans have difficulties following family trees and often hit dead ends. Maya Angelou gives us a story of family, heritage, and traditions reborn.

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  • Bamboozled (2000)

    - Director: Spike Lee
    - IMDb user rating: 6.5
    - Metascore: 50
    - Runtime: 135 min

    This satirical piece mirrors early 20th-century film as a television executive (Damon Wayans) decides to bring minstrel shows back to television. The film hits many racist stereotypes throughout including blackface, "jive" dances, and other racist tropes. The abstract film leans into old portrayals of Black characters as an examination of the past, present, and future of Black film.

  • How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) (2005)

    - Director: Joe Angio
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Metascore: 70
    - Runtime: 85 min

    This documentary discusses Melvin Van Peebles' story and his breakthrough into Hollywood. Peebles' filmmaking style of the 1970s is highlighted throughout the film as a call for revolution within the Black community and more Black representation in film.

  • The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2005)

    - Director: Keith Beauchamp
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Metascore: 80
    - Runtime: 70 min

    Emmett Till was a Black, 14-year-old child from Chicago who, on a visit to his great-uncle's home in Mississippi, was brutally murdered by two white men. This documentary tells the story of Till, his murderer's acquittal in court by an all-white, all-male jury, and the racial uprising that followed in the 1950s. The film emphasizes the injustices of the racist South and white violence against the Black community.

  • The Great Debaters (2007)

    - Director: Denzel Washington
    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Metascore: 65
    - Runtime: 126 min

    Denzel Washington directs and stars in this true story of a Black professor's quest to begin a debate team at Wiley College, during the Great Depression. The now-legacy was unheard of at the time as Jim Crow laws were as prominent as ever, and the fear of violence against the Black community rang high. The film is a testament to the team and its coach for overcoming a racially unjust society.

  • Trouble the Water (2008)

    - Directors: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Metascore: 83
    - Runtime: 93 min

    "Trouble the Water" journeys a young Black couples' tragedy during Hurricane Katrina. The film shows predominantly Black neighborhoods flooded, families destroyed, and people killed during the natural disaster. The film is a visual displaying the lack of government support due to racism and classism during the historical event.

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