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10 Impactful Documentaries To Stream During Black History Month & Beyond

It's not just Black history, it's American history.

There are plenty of entertaining and informative ways to celebrate Black history right from your home, whether you watch a movie as a family or dive into a whole new educational platform. Another way to immerse yourself and your family is by streaming some of the best documentaries about Black history that help tell the story of a nation.

African American history isn't just a section that's reserved for a specific group of people; it's American history. However, despite the past and current accomplishments of African Americans in this country, issues continue on how that education is conceived and taught. "The first time many schoolchildren learn about Black people is through enslavement and other oppression-centered narratives," University of Missouri professor LaGarrett J. King wrote in an op-ed titled Black History Is About More Than Oppression for EdWeek.

"Black people are taught as passive people and disconnected from their liberation," King continued. "The prevailing narrative emphasizes white saviors and the federal government as Black people’s primary liberators. When Black liberation is taught, 'liberation' is limited to 'nonviolence,' and historical narratives that state otherwise are vilified and compared to white supremacy."

In other words, it's our job, Black and white, parents and individuals to change the narrative and celebrate Black history, not just during the month of February or a 28-day public recognition from the federal government, but as an entwined and sacred part of this nation.

While some of the titles on this list may be violent, tragic, and disturbing (and should be watched with parental discretion), others are uplifting and encouraging. But hey, that's history, isn't it? So sit back and turn on one of the many insightful documentaries below. And once you're done with one, turn on another because all of them will hopefully inspire more open-mindedness and less ignorance.

Becoming (2020)

This intimate documentary follows the trials, tribulations, hopes, and connections with the first African American woman to become First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. The documentary follows the former first lady on her 2019 book tour for her New York Times Bestseller, Becoming. It also takes us inside her life as a wife, mother, and global role model.

Watch Becoming on Netflix.

4 Little Girls (1997)

There won't be a dry eye after watching 4 Little Girls. Directed by Spike Lee, this documentary is about the racist bombing of 16th Street Baptist Curch in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, that claimed the lives of Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. The bombing was caused by four members of the Ku Klux Klan and altered the cause of the civil rights movement. Given the nature of this documentary, which contains graphic images and racist language, parents may want to screen it ahead of time.

Watch 4 Little Girls on Amazon, Hulu, HBO Max, and YouTube.

King In The Wilderness (2018)

King In The Wilderness documents the last 18 months of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to his assassination in 1968. The film also reveals the anxiety and personal conflicts Dr. King faced, plus the immense racism faced by African Americans. Parents, please note that this documentary also contains strong racist language and graphic images.

Watch King In The Wilderness on HBO.

13th (2016)

Directed by Ava DuVernay, 13th dives into the racial inequality of America's prison system and the mass incarceration of African Americans. This documentary also features commentary from politicians, activists, and scholars. 13th is rated TV-MA and, according to Common Sense Media, is recommended for older teens.

Watch 13th on Netflix.

The Black Power Mixtape (2011)

If you ever wanted to get real insight on the Black Panthers, this is the film for you. Directed by Göran Olsson, the documentary examines the evolution of the Black Power movement from 1967 to 1975, viewed through the lens of Swedish journalists and filmmakers. Parents, do note that that it contains racist language and graphic images.

Watch The Black Power Mixtape on Amazon Prime.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (2016)

Did you know Jesse Owens was not the only Black athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin? Olympic Pride, American Prejudice is a raw documentary film that sheds light on the 17 other American Black athletes who competed alongside Owens. Do note that this documentary contains racist language.

Watch Olympic Pride on Amazon Prime and YouTube.

Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (2020)

Produced by Shondaland, this is an inspiring, feel-good film that follows dance legend Debbie Allen and her group of students as they prepare for their annual "Hot Chocolate Nutcracker" performance.

Watch Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker on Netflix.

A Ballerina's Tale (2015)

This documentary revolves around the career of Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. The film also dives into the history of racism and body image in ballet.

Watch A Ballerina's Tale on Amazon Prime and Sling TV.

Versailles '73 American Runway Revolution

This one is for the fashionistas! Versailles '73 American Runway Revolution is a documentary that recalls the once-in-a-lifetime fashion show in 1973, which sparked the rise of Black women in the modeling industry. Pioneers include Stephen Burrows, Bethann Hardison, Marisa Berenson, Pat Cleveland, Grace Mirabella, Harold Koda, Dennis Christopher, and Mikki Taylor.

Watch Versailles '73 American Runway Revolution on Amazon Prime.

Dark Girls (2011) and Dark Girls 2 (2020)

"You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl." It's a phrase that's all too familiar for African American women and steeped in generations of history. Dark Girls explores the racial beauty bias within Black culture against dark-skinned Black women. Dark Girls 2 continues the narrative of beauty prejudices that Black women face around the world.

Watch Dark Girls on Amazon Prime and the sequel on OWN.