Although the Lumiere Brothers released the first motion picture in 1895, it took at least 30 years for the first black person, Stepin Fetchit, to earn screen credit. Later, Hattie McDaniel would become the first African-American person to win an Academy Award, and 24 years after that, Sidney Poitier would win his, becoming the first African-American man to win.
Decades after that, there were still few roles for people of color: if black people wanted to make it to the big screen, they would have to start making films themselves. The result? Black movies, and specifically, some of the best black movies of all time. From the blaxploitation era of the ‘70s, into the ‘80s with Prince’s Purple Rain, and continuing with ’90s black movies like Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, these classic black movies put black people and their stories center stage, through the lens of people who had actually lived them.
In the past few years, we’ve seen black creators push the boundaries of black cinema into superhero and horror genres, while also expanding on romantic comedies. From the work of Samuel L. Jackson to Denzel Washington to Viola Davis, to newer talents like Tessa Thompson, we’ve seen black film evolve from a niche genre to a necessary component of Hollywood. To celebrate that, here are the best black movies of the last 30 years.