Black History Month is almost over, ya’ll! My philosophy on Black History Month is that #BHM is a present-day celebration and opportunity to learn more about Black global culture. I like going to cultural events in my community (the DC metro area), (like this one I went to last weekend!). However, I can’t always get out of the house to do grown up things because childcare ain’t free. In that case, I binge-watch documentaries and biopics to pique my interest about history and historical figures.
I’ve rounded up my favorite 28 biopics and documentaries that are streamable on Netflix, because I’m addicted to streaming things. I know, I know…you only have 6 days left in Black History Month. But wouldn’t it be great to let it spill over into March, April, May…? Or, you can just do 4-a-days through the end of the month! LOL.
Now that President Obama is no longer our current POTUS, this biopic about his early years feels bittersweet. I still haven’t seen the one of his courtship with Michelle, Southside with You.
2. Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property
Whether you decided for or against seeing Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, this documentary’s combination of expert interviews, historical documents, and reenactments might shed some light the biopic missed.
If you’re hungry for information about the American prison industrial complex, Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed documentary, 13th, is a good primer.
4. Stretch and Bobbito
Radio hosts Stretch and Bobbito aren’t Black, but their impact on hip-hop history is documented and undeniable. The self-produced documentary has appearances from greats like Jay-Z and Q-Tip, and plenty of vintage photos and film footage.
I’m a bit obsessed with the Marley family–they’re preternaturally gorgeous and talented. This comprehensive look at Bob Marley’s life and loves remains one of my faves.
Technically, Celia is a Colombian telenovela, not a biopic. But this fun, 80-episode soap opera–yes, 80 episodes!– based on the life of Cuban salsera Celia Cruz mixes a lot of fictional drama with fact.
7. Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom
I don’t know if anyone can study the life of Nelson Mandela and not end up wondering how a man with such a remarkable life did not ultimately hate those who did him so wrong. Long live Madiba!
8. Fruitvale Station
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been avoiding watching this biopic of the tragic BART police shooting of Oscar Grant. Yes, this movie is relatively old…just been avoiding it. I plan to finally sit down with it this month, along with a pile of tissues and a middle finger.
9. Biggie and Tupac
Hip-hop’s biggest unsolved mysteries are the deaths of beloved rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Everybody has a conspiracy theory on what happened to them. This film tries to fill in some of the holes, but ultimately leaves you with the same question: Who shot Pac and B.I.G?
10. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
The Butler is loosely based on the true story of Eugene Allen, who served as a waiter and butler at the White House for 34 years. It’s not completely faithful to reality, but it’s a heart-warming account of triumph that gives a nod to the Civil Rights Movement.
11. God Grew Tired of Us
Three young Sudanese undertake an arduous trek to escape the violence in their homeland and emigrate to the United States, where they struggle to acculturate.
12. What Happened, Miss Simone?
This documentary did a great job at both showcasing Nina’s Simone’s genius and her struggles with mental health.
13. Schooled: The Price of College Sports
If you’re a proponent of paying college athletes, this documentary gives a great (and obviously biased) examination of the million-dollar sports industry.
14. The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne
This fascinating documentary details the life of master thief Doris Payne, who is still outchea getting five-finger discounts from fine jewelry establishments in her 80s.
15. Fresh Dressed
A fun retrospective of the rise of urban fashion tied to its muse and co-conspirator, hip-hop. If you ever wore Cross Colours, FUBU, Karl Kani, or even just your overalls with one strap hanging down, you should enjoy this.
16. The Art of Organized Noize
One of my favorite things about living in Atlanta was the connection to Southern hip-hop and location. Discover the origins of The Dungeon Family’s production wunderkinds, Organized Noize.
17. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Get into the inner workings of the Black Power Movement with this all-too-short documentary.
18. Keep on Keepin’ On
An elderly jazz trumpeter takes a blind piano prodigy under his wing in this heartwarming documentary about how music brings us together.
19. Evolution of a Criminal
Filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe excavates his past, starting with the teenage heist that led to his incarceration and ultimate redemption.
Even if you’re not a fan of the game or the player, Allen Iverson is a polarizing enough figure to make this doc about his legacy worth your time.
21. The Trials of Muhammad Ali
He was a baaad man, and he was pretty. But in the middle of all that, he converted to Islam and refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Trials explores the tumultuous years of Muhammad Ali’s life.
22. The Cuba Libre Story
I binge-watched this series about the birth of Cuba after having started Celia. The snarky historians they interviewed make it actually a little funny and very informative.
23. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
When I first saw Being Elmo a few years back, I was floored that the voice behind that furry red monster was a Black man. He’s no longer there for, um, reasons, but the doc is still pretty inspiring.
24. BMF: The Rise and Fall of a Hip-Hop Empire
Everybody likes a little true crime documentary, right? I lived in Atlanta when this story broke and it rocked the metro area.
25. Sample This
I consider Sample This an uber-documentary of hip-hop histories–a focused study at the sampling of the percussion break used in “Apache” and its impact.
26. Miss Sharon Jones
Although soul singer Sharon Jones ultimately passed away of cancer in 2016, this 2014 documentary about her struggle and then-victory over the illness is still touching. She was an amazing lady.
27. A Ballerina’s Tale
I really enjoyed this peek into the journey of superstar ballerina Misty Copeland, directed by veteran Nelson George. You learn some surprising things about her.
28. Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child
What do you get when you lace Bootsy Collins’ spaced-out voice over original concert footage of rock god Jimi Hendrix? Trippy fun.
Have you seen any of these films? Which ones are your faves?