With everyone currently quarantined, there’s no better time to have your own mini Black Film Festival at home. Here are a list of Black movies you can stream on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime right now.
In these trying times, it can be therapeutic to dedicate some time to watching ourselves onscreen. But because of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) onscreen means your television, computer, tablet, or cell phone. I get the impulse to wallow in misery, but I would like to suggest an alternative: Have your own mini Black Film Festival at home.
Make an event of it. Pop popcorn, put on your favorite outfit, maybe make a few drinks, and pretend that the world isn’t ending. For a couple hours a day, we are all on a Black vacation. And here are some films to start you off with, featuring Black movies that can be found on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
High Flying Bird (2019)
It’s very rare in our hectic current cultural moment for a Black film to feel casual, fun, and hopeful. Though High Flying Bird covers the same territory as He Got Game, Hoop Dreams, and Blue Chips, it feels much more like a playful heist film. This is no surprise considering it’s directed by heist film veteran, Steven Soderbergh. But what I really love about High Flying Bird is the way that it centers fascinating and intelligent Black women in its narrative. There is a tendency in basketball films to push them to the side to focus on the male leads. But Andre Holland charmingly shares the screen with Bobbi Bordley, Jeryl Prescott, Sonja Sohn and of course, rising star Zazie Beetz. More casts like this, please.
Dolemite is My Name (2019)
This is the film that should have gotten Eddie Murphy an Oscar. And it would be way more than a comeback award, because he really gives his all in this film. His performance as real-life comedian and director Rudy Ray Moore is transcendent. There’s so much love and consideration in his performance. He’s just bursting with energy and playing off every character and extra he encounters. Dolemite is My Name is a film that feels like a love letter to Black comedy as a whole, and I’m so glad it’s in the world.
See You Yesterday (2019)
This heartfelt little indie just won an Independent Spirit Award this year and yet it still doesn’t get enough love. See You Yesterday tells the story of two smart, young Black teens who are working on a time machine. Director Stefon Bristol and co-writer Fredrica Bailey’s script is both authentic, hilarious and, eventually, heartbreaking. Newcomers Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow are charismatic as two nerdy best friends trying to change the world. The less I say about this film the better; its melancholy tonal shift and poetic ending speak for themselves.
Bad Boys 2 (2003)
This iconic sequel is a glorious experiment in excess. It’s a blockbuster that revels in its bigness, with giant set pieces and a glossy sheen absent in its ’90s predecessor. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have an easy comedic chemistry, which is likely why a sequel was released this year. But if you go on Netflix, you can re-experience when the franchise boldly went off the rails. Did anyone remember that Michael Shannon is in this movie? As a Klansman? So much to consider.
Two Can Play That Game (2001)
“The CIA ain’t got shit on a woman with a plan.” Every quote in this film is an Instagram caption. Two Can Play That Game is the rare modern romantic comedy that feels timeless, with an easy chemistry among the performers that comes through even when their dialogue is a bit corny. Vivica A. Fox, Morris Chestnut, Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones, and — sigh — Anthony Anderson are one of the best Black romcom ensembles since 1999’s The Best Man. This is a film where the bloopers at the end are worth sitting through.
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Is there anything more cathartic than watching four iconic actresses bond with the scenic Arizona landscape as a backdrop? The great thing about Waiting to Exhale is that you always remember it as an emotional film, but forget how funny it is. Then every time you revisit the film, it feels like a surprise. I find something new to love about this film every time I watch it. Like living legend Loretta Devine — looking as fine as her Different World days — romancing Gregory Hines.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
There is no bad time to watch Barry Jenkins’ beautiful, sumptuous romantic drama. With admitted influence from Douglas Sirk, If Beale Street Could Talk is a feast for the eyes and the ears. It’s a mosaic of longing looks, bright colors, an engrossing score, and an abundance of glowing brown skin. Beyond the romance is one of the most loving portraits I’ve ever seen of a Black family working hard to actively love each other, remaining steadfast even as circumstances become dire. By the end, I wanted Colman Domingo to be my dad. In my mind, he and Regina King both won Oscars.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)
This long, immersive concert documentary gives viewers an intimate look at the artistic process of one of our most precious Black entertainers. Grace Jones is an enigmatic woman, but in this documentary, viewers are privileged enough to get to know her, her ideas, and how they were influenced by troubled family history. This is the kind of documentary you can put on when you’re lonely and it feels like you’re spending private time with Jones. The scenes in her homeland of Jamaica with her mother are the best. There has been so much talk over the years of Grace Jones being intimidating or hypersexual, but the time in her homeland reveals her as a woman who is trying to be a symbol of strength for the world. And I think she succeeds.
Amazing Grace (2018)
While we are all at home, we can still go to church. This documentary showcasing the late great Aretha Franklin coming home to gospel music in the middle of her mainstream success is an image so beautiful that it brought me to tears in the theater when I saw it. Experiencing the film through streaming doesn’t interfere with the film’s power at all. Amazing Grace is a full-bodied spiritual experience with one of the most astonishing voices the world has ever seen at its center. This documentary puts you right in the church and makes you feel at home there.
Fear of a Black Hat (1993)
We all know the 1993 comedy CB4, but what about the rap mockumentary released that same year? Rusty Cundieff’s Fear of a Black Hat takes a more intellectual approach to its satire, engaging with the ways that early rap groups performed Blackness. This is the kind of film begging for reexamination from critics, especially considering how much rap has changed over the years. Cundieff, who also directed the classic horror anthology Tales From the Hood, continues his engagement with Black masculinity in both thoughtful and humorous ways. This is a ’90s gem that deserves its due. It’s also really funny.
Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
Director Robert Townsend is a legendary Black talent, with Hollywood Shuffle being his crown jewel. His satire of Hollywood and the way that it stereotypes Black actors is just as relevant as it was back in 1987. It’s also notable for being a satire that predates the reign of the Wayans comedy dynasty, if only by a year. But then again, Keenen Ivory Wayans is in the film and also co-wrote the script. The very next year saw the release of Keenen’s directorial debut, the Blaxploitation satire I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. So, I think it’s fair to call them both the fathers of Black satire. We’re lucky to have them.
Jason’s Lyric (1994)
This unsung Southern Gothic romance is a great showcase for Jada Pinkett Smith. Though she’s always been loved and respected, she’s rarely gotten the opportunity to be a sensual, compelling romantic lead. Jason’s Lyric tells the story of Jason (Allen Payne), a young man with a troubled family trying to strike out on his own. When he meets Lyric (Jada Pinkett Smith), the path forward with her becomes clear. Their love both excites them and unlocks their potential. It’s a slow, melancholy story with deep emotion and surprising eroticism. Jason’s Lyric is a classic romance begging for a remake. Bring Black Southern Gothic back to the big screen!
Fast Color (2019)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a star just waiting for her Oscar-winning performance. From prestige films like Belle to romantic dramas like Beyond the Lights to television, Mbatha-Raw has proved herself again and again to be a brave and talented actress. Julia Hart’s Fast Color is further proof of her talent. She plays a troubled woman with superpowers, on the run from capture. While she’s dealing with her issues, her mother (Lorraine Tussaint) has been raising her daughter in isolation. But once they’re all together again, their relationships begin to change. This film has done what so many others have failed to do—center a superhero story on a Black woman while really delving into her personal history. One more thing: Hollywood has really underused Lorraine Tussaint and Fast Color is the proof.
Nijla Mumon’s debut feature is the kind of Black story we don’t see enough of. The film tells the story of Summer (Zoe Renee) and her struggle with defining what Muslim identity means to her. She comes into the faith on the cusp of adulthood after her mother converting to Islam somewhat late in life. Suddenly, Summer is dealing with new expectations from her mother and her Mosque, complicating school, dating and her passion for dancing. Newcomer Renee gives a nuanced performance, bolstered by genuinely sweet scenes with Kelvin Harrison, Jr (Luce, Waves) who plays her quiet love interest. Jinn is a small film overflowing with meaning.
Selah and The Spades (2019) ( Coming April 17th)
There’s a scene in Selah and the Spades where our titular heroine practices smiling into her bedroom mirror. It doesn’t come easily to her. From the look in her eyes, viewers can see the practice in her expression. Selah is a teenage girl fully aware that she is being perceived and needs to make a good impression. And it’s not because she wants you to like her, it’s because she knows that she needs to be liked in order to survive. As the leader of the private school underground clique the Spades, she is a master of presentation out of necessity. And in that one moment, writer and director Tayarisha Poe cements her status as a Black creative to watch. She knows what she’s doing.
Tubi TV has one of the most varied catalogues of Black cinema currently online. From Blaxploitation to dramas to more recent straight to video romcoms, Tubi TV has it all. It’s the only streaming service that feels like a video store, and it’s completely free to use. It also tends to have a lot of the older films found in Amazon Prime’s catalogue. So if you’re boycotting them right now, Tubi TV is here for you.
Jourdain Searles is a writer, comedian, and podcaster who hails from Georgia and resides in Queens. She has written for Bitch Media, Thrillist, The Ringer, and MTV News. As a comic, she has performed stand-up in venues all over New York City, including Union Hall, The People Improv’s Theater, UCB East, and The Creek and the Cave. She can be found on Twitter.