51 Modern Black Films Everyone Should See At Least Once

This essential list of black films picks up in the year 2001, where our compilation of 70 classic black films left off. Only time will tell which of these movies become classics, but they’ve all definitely earned at least one watch from all of us.


The Brothers (2001)

Screen Gems

Written by: Gary Hardwick

Directed by: Gary Hardwick

What it’s about: Four friends (Shemar Moore, Morris Chesnut, Bill Bellamy, and D.L. Hughley) find themselves questioning friendship, women, and family after one of them announces he’s getting married. Think Waiting to Exhale for men.

Why you need to see this: This film is the cream of the crop when it comes to black male–driven rom-coms. Plus, it’s a fun and endearing look at the kind of conversations that happen when your man is hanging with “the boys.” And did we mention you get to see Shemar Moore and Morris Chestnut shirtless in their prime? —Sylvia Obell


Baby Boy (2001)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: John Singleton

Directed by: John Singleton

What it’s about: A coming-of-age film that follows Jody (Tyrese Gibson) as he struggles to become the man his family needs him to be while living everyday life in South Central L.A.

Why you need to see this: I could sit here and talk about how the film adds depth to a character that’s usually depicted as a flat stereotype blah blah blah, but the real reason you really need to watch this is TARAJI P. HENSON! The life and heart she brings to her portrayal of Jody’s girlfriend Yvette will have you rooting for her (and even his trifling behind) by the end of the movie. Think Cookie before she went to prison. —S.O.


Training Day (2001)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by: David Ayer

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

What it’s about: A corrupt detective (Denzel Washington) takes a rookie cop (Ethan Hawke) through an explosive 24-hour training on his first day as an L.A. narcotics officer.

Why you need to see this: Denzel Washington earned every bit of his historic Oscar win for this role. His transformation into the morally corrupt Detective Alonzo Harris will prove to you that King Kong really doesn’t have anything on him. —S.O.


Save the Last Dance (2001)

MTV Films

Written by: Duane Adler, Cheryl Edwards

Directed by: Thomas Carter

What it’s about: A white girl from the suburbs (Julia Stiles) moves to the South Side of Chicago to live with her father after her mother’s tragic death. There she bonds with a black classmate (Sean Patrick Thomas) over their love of dancing, but the two struggle to overcome their different backgrounds and the stigma around interracial relationships.

Why you need to see this: In addition to all the fun dance sequences, the film will take you into a world most teen movies were avoiding back then: a black inner-city high school. It also introduces you to a fresh, diverse cast of characters, including fan favorite Chenille (Kerry Washington). —S.O.


Two Can Play That Game (2001)

Screen Gems

Written by: Mark Brown

Directed by: Mark Brown

What it’s about: A woman (Vivica A. Fox) plays a series of mind games with her boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) in an effort to teach him a lesson after catching him having dinner with another woman. But things begin to backfire when he starts to play back.

Why you need to see this: Let’s be honest, we’ve all played a mind game or two on a significant other. This film will have you laughing from beginning to end at how ridiculous things can get in this game called love. It’s relatable, it’s funny, and Bobby Brown is in it. —S.O.


Antwone Fisher (2002)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Antwone Fisher

Directed by: Denzel Washington

What it’s about: Based on the autobiography Finding Fish, it’s the story of a temperamental young man in the Navy who is forced to see a psychiatrist. There, he confronts the physical, mental, and sexual abuse he faced growing up in foster care. Eventually, Fish finds forgiveness and the family he never had.

Why you need to see this: This film was not only Denzel’s directorial debut, it also introduced Derek Luke. It’s an oft-untold story of the traumas black men face that manifest in adulthood, and it gave us the triumphant quote “I’m still standing! I’m still strong!” —Driadonna Roland


Paid in Full (2002)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Matthew Cirulnick, Thulani Davis, Azie Faison Jr., Austin Phillips

Directed by: Charles Stone III

What it’s about: Set in late 1980s Harlem, a trio of friends’ loyalty and wits are tested as they become major players in the drug business.

Why you need to see it: It’s the only post-2000 crime movie that comes close to touching classics like Belly and Juice. The film will tease your brain as you, like the characters, try to figure out who can actually be trusted in a business where everyone is out for themselves. —S.O.


Barbershop (2002)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, Marshall Todd

Directed by: Tim Story

What it’s about: A second-generation barber (Ice Cube) contemplates whether or not to sell his family barbershop, which, like many barbershops across America, has become a cornerstone of the community.

Why you need to see it: Whether they’re arguing over hairlines or debating whether OJ “did it,” this hilarious comedy will leave you feeling like you just spent the day at your local barbershop. Its sequel, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, is also worth a watch. —S.O.


Brown Sugar (2002)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written By: Michael Elliot, Rick Famuyiwa

Directed By: Rick Famuyiwa

What it’s about: Childhood friends (Sanaa Lathan, Taye Diggs) who have bonded over their love of hip-hop struggle when feelings arise as one of them gets ready to walk down the aisle.

Why you need to see this: All the characters in this film have such amazing chemistry it will be hard for you to believe they all aren’t friends in real life. And the movie’s music focus will have you reminiscing about when you first fell in love with hip-hop. —S.O.


Drumline (2002)

20th Century Fox

Written by: Tina Gordon Chism, Shawn Schepps

Directed by: Charles Stone III

What it’s about: A hotheaded but talented drummer is recruited to the marching band of fictional Atlanta A&T University and bumps heads with the senior leader of the corps as he and his buddies work to make the drumline.

Why you need to see this: At historically black schools, halftime is game time.

This Nick Cannon starrer held it down for HBCUs and showed the intensity and vibrancy of marching band culture. —D.R.


Bad Boys II (2003)

Columbia Pictures

Written by: Marianne Wibberley, Cormac Wibberley, Ron Shelton, Jerry Stahl

Directed by: Michael Bay

What it’s about: Hilarious best friends and Miami narcotics detectives Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith) are back at it again; this time they investigate an Ecstasy kingpin when things take a personal turn.

Why you need to see it: Smith and Lawrence prove that no amount of time can kill their comedic chemistry in this sequel to the original Bad Boys (1995). While it’s still debatable which of the two is better, this one is without a doubt funnier. —S.O.


Deliver Us From Eva (2003)

Focus Features

Written by: James Iver Mattson, B.E. Brauner, James Iver Mattson, Gary Hardwick

Directed by: Gary Hardwick

What it’s about: An uptight food inspector (Gabrielle Union) is adored by her three younger sisters but hated by their husbands for her constant meddling. The three get so fed up that they pay a local playboy (LL Cool J) to make her fall in love with him in an effort to get her to leave them alone — a plan that goes smoothly until he actually starts to fall for her.

Why you need to see it: It’s a light and fun rom-com that will have you calling your siblings by the film’s end. —S.O.


Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Lionsgate Films

Written by: Keir Pearson, Terry George

Directed by: Terry George

What it’s about: Hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) takes in refugees during the Rwandan genocide as the Hutus engage in an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tutsis. The U.N. pulls out, and it’s increasingly difficult for Paul to protect the refugees, his family, and his hotel.

Why you need to see this: Rusesabagina was a real-life hero. His selflessness and courage in the face of absolute danger are inspiring, and both Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, who played his wife, were nominated for Oscars. Come for the gripping story, stay for the outstanding performance only Cheadle could give. —D.R.


Soul Plane (2004)


Written by: Bo Zenga, Chuck Wilson

Directed by: Jessy Terrero

What it’s about: After winning a lawsuit against an airline for an especially horrible flight, Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart) decides to start his own that caters to black clients. However, the airline’s maiden flight has more than a few obstacles thanks to some last-minute passengers.

Why you need to see this: OK, hear me out — I know this is one of those ridiculously loud comedies, but it’s really, really funny. Also it launched Kevin Hart’s career; we at least owe it a watch for that. —S.O.


Ray (2004)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Taylor Hackford, James L. White

Directed by: Taylor Hackford

What it’s about: The biopic follows the life and career of music legend Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) from his childhood in the South to his rise to fame amid his battle with addiction in the 1950s and ’60s.

Why you need to see it: Because THIS is how you do a legend justice! Jamie Foxx’s transformation into Charles will give you chills. Kerry Washington and Regina King also give stellar performances. —S.O.


Hustle & Flow (2005)

Paramount Classics

Written by: Craig Brewer

Directed by: Craig Brewer

What it’s about: A Memphis pimp (Terrence Howard) attempts to become a rapper with the help of his friends.

Why you need to see it: What the film may lack in plotline, the cast makes up for with great acting. You’ll also get to witness the beginning of the major chemistry between Cookie and Lucious, er, I mean Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. —S.O.


Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)


Written by: Tyler Perry

Directed by: Darren Grant

What it’s about: Helen’s (Kimberly Elise) husband, an attorney, leaves her for another woman after 18 years of marriage. Forced to move in with her grandmother, Madea (Tyler Perry), Helen is courted by a blue-collar man and must decide whether to forgive or move on after her husband falls ill.

Why you need to see this: Bear with me on this — Tyler Perry was a self-made millionaire before this film hit the big screen. The unfiltered, straight-shooting character Madea resonated with many people who were proud to see the play (of the same name) translated to film. And let’s give credit where it’s due: This film made over $50 million with a $5 million budget, kicked off a string of No. 1 films, and renewed Hollywood’s interest in green-lighting films with majority-black casts. —D.R.


The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Written by: Steve Conrad

Directed by: Gabriele Muccino

What it’s about: Based on a true story, the film follows single father Chris Gardner as he fights to survive after he and his son are evicted from their home right when he is set to begin an internship that has the potential to change both of their lives for the better.

Why you need to see this: This film will make you believe in the power of your dreams and cry a river of tears at the same damn time, and you’ll be better for it. Also, real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith give outstanding performances in their first film together. —S.O.


ATL (2006)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by: Tina Gordon Chism, Antwone Fisher

Directed by: Chris Robinson

What it’s about: The city of Atlanta is basically a main character in this movie about four friends learning how to deal with and overcome different obstacles as they prepare for life after high school.

Why you need to see this: We’ve seen similar movies set in New York, L.A., and Chicago, but ATL gives the city its much-awaited turn to showcase what it’s like to be a black teen growing up in the South. —S.O.


The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written by: Peter Morgan, Jeremy Brock

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

What it’s about: Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) becomes the personal doctor to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). But after witnessing glaring atrocities and having an affair with one of Amin’s wives (Kerry Washington), Garrigan resorts to desperate measures in an attempt to escape.

Why you need to see this: Whitaker’s performance is a master class; he earned that Best Actor Oscar. He is chilling as the ruthless yet charming yet sociopathic dictator in a film that just scratches the surface of the real-life horror Amin inflicted upon his citizens throughout the 1970s. —D.R.


Dreamgirls (2006)

DreamWorks Pictures

Written by: Bill Condon, Tom Eyen

Directed by: Bill Condon

What it’s about: A soul-singing trio teams up with an ambitious manager as they try to make it big during the Motown era.

Why you need to see this: The soundtrack in this musical will have you wanting to sing along to the entire movie. Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” performance alone is enough reason to give this a watch. —S.O.


Something New (2006)

Focus Features

Written by: Kriss Turner

Directed by: Sanaa Hamri

What it’s about: Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) backs out of a blind date with landscape architect Brian Kelly (Simon Baker) when she sees that he’s white. She changes her tune after she hires him to renovate her garden and finds herself falling in love. When she’s later introduced to the type of man she always dreamed of, Kenya must make a choice.

Why you need to see this: The film didn’t make waves commercially, but it showed a side of interracial dating that is rarely told: the perspective of a well-to-do black woman. It was honest about traditional family values and how certain hang-ups can get in the way of true love if a person is afraid to try…something new (sorry). It’s also an endearing girlfriends film, and the leads have palpable chemistry. —D.R.


Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Written by: Doug Atchison

Directed by: Doug Atchison

What it’s about: Akeelah (Keke Palmer), a talented 11-year-old girl from South L.A., hopes to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Her mom isn’t on board, but her community rallies behind her, and Akeelah finds a coach to whip her into champion shape.

Why you need to see this: There was no doubt when you saw this that Palmer would be a star. But more important, the precocious, determined Akeelah showed us it was OK for black girls to be smart and competitive. Who didn’t aspire to win the spelling bee after this? —D.R.


Inside Man (2006)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Russell Gewirtz

Directed by: Spike Lee

What it’s about: A Wall Street bank heist turns into a hostage situation, and the intense standoff between the clever perpetrator (Clive Owen) and a skilled negotiator (Denzel Washington) is heightened when a mysterious third party (Jodie Foster) enters the mix.

Why you need to see this: You don’t associate Spike Lee with crime thrillers, but this film is an expert entry in the genre. It’s energetic and witty. Watching Washington and Owen square off is a delight. (And America gets its first glimpse of Chiwetel Ejiofor.) —D.R.


This Christmas (2007)

Screen Gems

Written by: Preston A. Whitmore II

Directed by: Preston A. Whitmore II

What it’s about: Various secrets come to light as the Whitfield family reunites for its first Christmas together in four years.

Why you need to see it: It’s rare that we get a relatable, well-done, not straight-to-TV holiday movie about us. (Note that this is the only one on this entire list.) Plus all of the Whitfield siblings are fine. —S.O.


The Great Debaters (2007)

The Weinstein Company

Written by: Robert Eisele, Jeffrey Porro

Directed by: Denzel Washington

What it’s about: Based on the true story of a professor at Wiley College who in 1935 formed the school’s first student debate team, which went on to make history when it challenged Harvard in the national championship.

Why you need to see it: This criminally under-told story is something the entire family can and should enjoy. Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Nate Parker, and Denzel Whitaker will leave you inspired. By the end of the movie you’ll be giving them a standing ovation. —S.O.


Daddy’s Little Girls (2007)


Written by: Tyler Perry

Directed by: Tyler Perry

What it’s about: A mechanic (Idris Elba) gets help from the successful attorney (Gabrielle Union) he’s been hired to chauffeur in an effort to get custody of his three daughters from his evil ex-wife and her drug dealer boyfriend.

Why you need to see it: I know what you’re thinking, Another Tyler Perry movie, but this one has a really good cast — Idris Elba, Gabrielle Union, Tracee Ellis Ross, Malinda Williams, Louis Gossett Jr. — and no Madea. Did I mention fine-ass Idris Elba is in it?! —S.O.


I Think I Love My Wife (2007)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written by: Chris Rock, Louis C.K., Éric Rohmer

Directed by: Chris Rock

What it’s about: A married father of two (Chris Rock) questions whether he’s happy with his life when a really attractive free-spirited woman (Kerry Washington) enters the picture.

Why you need to see it: Wives everywhere probably hated the premise of this film on sight, but I challenge all to look past the title and watch this film; the ending might just surprise you. It’s also great to see a black married couple who are both successful working parents on the big screen. —S.O.


Stomp the Yard (2007)

Screen Gems

Written by: Robert Adetuyi, Gregory Anderson

Directed by: Sylvain White

What it’s about: DJ enrolls at Truth University in Atlanta and finds himself struggling to keep up in class, woo a girl who seems out of his league, and navigate between rival fraternities that want to take advantage of his thrilling street-dancing skills.

Why you need to see this: Simply put, a handsome, often-shirtless Columbus Short dances his ass off, in a film that authentically shines a spotlight on the culture of black Greek life and historically black colleges and universities. —D.R.


Why Did I Get Married? (2007)


Written by: Tyler Perry

Directed by: Tyler Perry

What it’s about: An adaptation of Tyler Perry’s play about the trials of marriage, told through four upper-class couples who are all friends. Drama unfolds when they take their annual reunion trip in the Colorado mountains.

Why you need to see this: This dramedy was brutally honest about the ups and downs of marriage, and the issues that threaten to break them apart. It spawned a sequel (2010’s Why Did I Get Married Too?), opened at No. 1, and earned over $55 million. Keep it real — you didn’t think loudmouth Angela (Tasha Smith) was hilarious? —D.R.


The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written by: Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sue Monk Kidd

Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood

What it’s about: Based on the best-selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, the film follows 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) as she runs away from her abusive father with her caregiver (Jennifer Hudson). The pair are taken in by the Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo), who are more connected to Lily’s past than it might appear.

Why you need to see it: The stellar cast does an amazing job making this soulful story come alive. You’ll leave the movie with a few solid lessons to carry with you through life. (PS: You should read the book too!) —S.O.


Cadillac Records (2008)

TriStar Pictures

Written by: Darnell Martin

Directed by: Darnell Martin

What it’s about: Motown wasn’t the only show in town — this film chronicles an earlier soul label, Chicago-based Chess Records, and its impressive but turbulent roster of musical legends, from Etta James to Muddy Waters.

Why you need to see this: Beyoncé as Etta James, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Yasiin Bey (then Mos Def) as Chuck Berry, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters. The music alone is worth your time. —D.R.


Notorious (2009)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written by: Reggie Rock Bythewood, Cheo Hodari Coker

Directed by: George Tillman Jr.

What it’s about: Hip-hop legend Notorious B.I.G.’s life, rise to fame, and tragic death.

Why you need to see it: The film does a great job honoring one of the greatest rappers of our time. Whether you’re a Biggie fan or not, this endearing look at the man behind the music makes it worth the watch. Also, Derek Luke was born to play Diddy. —S.O.


Precious (2009)


Written by: Geoffrey Fletcher, Sapphire

Directed by: Lee Daniels

What it’s about: An abused, illiterate teen (Gabourey Sidibe) who is pregnant with her second child (by her own father) is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

Why you need to see it: Listen, this is definitely the kind of movie that breaks your heart so bad you can only watch it once — but you still need to watch it once, because it forces everyone to take a hard look at just how damaging a lot of issues we sweep under the rug as a community can be. Also, Gabourey and Mo’Nique give the performances of their lives. —S.O.


For Colored Girls (2010)


Written by: Tyler Perry, Ntozake Shange

Directed by: Tyler Perry

What it’s about: The film follows a group of women, most of whom live in the same Harlem apartment building, as they deal with different issues that impact women in today’s society.

Why you need to see it: It’s rare that you’ll see this many issues addressed in one movie. It’s hard not to relate to at least one of these women on a personal level. Also, when’s the next time you’re going to see Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, AND Whoopi Goldberg in the SAME DAMN MOVIE!? —S.O.


The Help (2011)

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Written by: Kathryn Stockett, Tate Taylor

Directed by: Tate Taylor

What it’s about: Based on a novel, this film is about budding writer Skeeter (Emma Stone), who disrupts her small Mississippi town in 1963 when she decides to interview the black domestic workers who take care of prominent white families.

Why you need to see this: This film told the ugly truth of the racism maids endured at the hands of the white women whose children they helped raise and whose households they kept afloat. Though they are “the help,” they take a bit of their power back when they share their stories, and the cast, led by Viola Davis, give excellent performances. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, with Octavia Spencer winning Best Supporting Actress. —D.R.


Think Like a Man (2012)

Screen Gems

Written by: David A. Newman, Keith Merryman

Directed by: Tim Story

What it’s about: Four women feel empowered to turn the tables on their partners after taking the advice in Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. When the men find out, however, it’s a war of the sexes.

Why you need to see this: It manages to be an entertaining translation of a book that was already a cultural phenomenon and sparked Steve Harvey’s ascendance (for better or worse). It cost $12.5 million to make and grossed over $96 million, making it an undeniable success and spawning a sequel (2014’s Think Like a Man Too). Last but not least, the entire cast is painfully beautiful, and Kevin Hart is at his funniest. —D.R.


Django Unchained (2012)

The Weinstein Company

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

What it’s about: German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz is chasing the notorious Brittle brothers, and promises Django (Jamie Foxx) freedom in exchange for his help catching them. Their journey puts Django in a position to free his enslaved wife (Kerry Washington).

Why you need to see this: What Quentin Tarantino film isn’t controversial? This one is bloody, cheeky, and excessively violent, but hey, the black man wins in the end. It’s almost like a Western meets blaxploitation. —D.R.


The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Malcolm D. Lee

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

What it’s about: A sequel to 1999’s The Best Man, this film sees a group of college friends reuniting for Christmas after 15 years. Plenty has changed, but old tensions re-emerge, and some passions never die.

Why you need to see this: The original film The Best Man was a landmark for ensemble dramedies starring POC. Fifteen years later, the most popping black actors of the late ’90s/early aughts look just the same, because black don’t crack, and deliver an unexpectedly heart-rending film that exalts the power of love, family, and friendship. —D.R.


12 Years a Slave (2013)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written by: John Ridley, based on the novel by Solomon Northup

Directed by: Steve McQueen

What it’s about: Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man, is deceived and sold into slavery in the South, struggling to survive while never losing faith that he will again be free.

Why you need to see this: Real life can be crazier than fiction, and this is one of those stories. Also: Lupita Nyong’o. —D.R.


Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

The Weinstein Company

Written by: Danny Strong

Directed by: Lee Daniels

What it’s about: Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) leaves the South and lands a job as a butler at the White House. Cecil serves eight presidents and has a front-row seat to history, but his allegiances clash at times with his wife (Oprah Winfrey), who feels neglected, and son (David Oyelowo), who leans revolutionary.

Why you need to see this: It’s heartfelt and ambitious, aging the characters over the span of three decades. And the juxtaposition of subservient Cecil with his anti-establishment son reflects current ideological differences between older and younger generations of black people in America. —D.R.


Fruitvale Station (2013)

The Weinstein Company

Written by: Ryan Coogler

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

What it’s about: The film follows the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who was murdered by police on New Year’s Day 2009.

Why you need to see it: By giving such a close-up 24-hour look at Grant’s life, the film really forces audiences to see him as a whole person and not just another name in a headline — an important message in a world where black men are murdered so often that people seem to become numb to the fact that they are human beings who have family, dreams, and fears just like everyone else. —S.O.


42 (2013)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by: Brian Helgeland

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

What it’s about: The biopic tells the story of baseball all-star Jackie Robinson, from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to his historic rookie season when he integrated Major League Baseball in 1947.

Why you need to see it: This is a love story disguised as a sports film. Believe me when I say the story of Jackie and Rachel Robinson will remind you how much more you can conquer when you have the right person by your side. —S.O.


Belle (2013)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Written by: Misan Sagay

Directed by: Amma Asante

What it’s about: Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the mixed-race child of a Navy officer, is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle in 18th-century England. Dido hopes to have some influence as her uncle presides over a case that becomes crucial to the abolition of slavery in England.

Why you need to see this: Helmed by a black female British director, this film is a beautiful imagining of the life of Dido Belle, inspired by a 1779 painting of her beside her cousin. Dido was raised as an equal, but it’s likely she still faced indignities; Belle allows for this and lets Mbatha-Raw shine, even giving her a chance to be a romantic heroine. —D.R.


Get On Up (2014)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, Steven Baigelman

Directed by: Tate Taylor

What it’s about: The Godfather of Soul, James Brown. This biopic chronicles the genius and flaws of the man who rose from abject poverty to become one of the most prolific musicians ever.

Why you need to see this: The story of the man who sang “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” being written by three white people and directed by a fourth certainly ruffled some feathers, but this film is criminally underrated. Chadwick Boseman acted his ass off as the title character. As biopics go, it’s pretty bold — it breaks the fourth wall often and the narrative is nonlinear. But it’s fitting for the eccentric innovator that Brown truly was. —D.R.


Beyond the Lights (2014)

Relativity Media

Written by: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood

What it’s about: A superstar singer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meets a young cop (Nate Parker) while having an emotional breakdown about the pressures of fame. The two begin to fall for each other as they help each other get the courage to find their own voice.

Why you need to see it: It’s the new-age The Bodyguard that we didn’t know we needed; a modern love story that addresses our society’s obsession with fame and celebrity in refreshing way. —S.O.


About Last Night (2014)

Screen Gems

Written by: Leslye Headland, Tim Kazurinsky, Denise DeClue

Directed by: Steve Pink

What it’s about: Things get complicated when four friends (Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy, and Joy Bryant) start dating each other after a double date despite their vastly different views on love and relationships.

Why you need to see it: The chemistry between Regina Hall and Kevin Hart will have you crying from laughing so hard. Both actors said they felt they met their comedic match in each other while filming this. I don’t know why it took them this long to be cast as a couple, but I want more. —S.O.


Dear White People (2014)


Written by: Justin Simien

Directed by: Justin Simien

What it’s about: Four Ivy League students take starkly different paths as they navigate the pressures of being “a black face in a white space.” The tensions boil over during an explosively offensive Halloween party.

Why you need to see this: This highly anticipated film popped off from a hilarious Twitter feed, then a successful crowdfunding campaign. It’s a feat in modern filmmaking, and viewers identified with the layered, complex characters. —D.R.


Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Universal Pictures

Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

What it’s about: The biopic follows the rap group N.W.A’s rise from Compton to fame in the mid-1980s.

Why you need to see it: Newcomers O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell play Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E so well you’ll forget they’re not actually them (and that this wasn’t the way it all really happened). —S.O.


Dope (2015)

Open Road Films

Written by: Rick Famuyiwa

Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa

What it’s about: High school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends are a group of ’90s-loving geeks in a punk band, just trying to survive Inglewood and make it to college. A wild party leaves Malcolm in possession of materials that belong to dope dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky), making him a most-wanted man by Dom’s bosses.

Why you need to see this: This charming cast of newcomers are smart oddballs — everything black kids in the hood aren’t supposed to be — but they use it to turn the tables on the people in power who try to hold them down. Plus, the soundtrack is…dope. —D.R.


Creed (2015)

Warner Bros.

Written by: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington, Sylvester Stallone

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

What it’s about: The son of the late Apollo Creed (Michael B. Jordan) attempts to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a heavyweight boxer with the help of his father’s old rival and friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

Why you need to see it: Michael Bae Jordan is shirtless for half the movie. Abs aside, this was arguably the best movie of 2015. Jordan and Stallone play off of each other very well, and the fight scenes will have you cheering out loud. —S.O.

Are there any must-see modern black films you’d add to the list? Let us know!


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