10 great family movies to watch during Black History Month

Continue to celebrate Black History Month in February by watching one of these films on your next family movie night.
Continue to celebrate Black History Month in February by watching one of these films on your next family movie night. Getty Images

These 10 movies span the full range of African-American cinema - from the inspiring football Drama "Remember the Titans" to the sentimental drama of Alice Walker's novel-turned-movie "The Color Purple." Kids and parents will find much to appreciate in these films that bring to life the experiences of the past - from the Civil War to civil rights - that have shaped us all.

'March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World,' ages 4 and older

This Scholastic Storybook DVD includes narrations of four children's books about the civil rights movement and black history. Two focus on Martin Luther King Jr., one follows Rosa Parks and the bus boycott, and the final story chronicles how a slave mailed himself to freedom. Although the DVD is preschooler-friendly (it's basically just narration accompanying images from the books and archival photographs), there are some words like "boycott," "segregation," and "lynching" (not to mention all of the pro-integration political organizations) that will go over younger viewers' heads. The stories provide powerful examples of individuals who stood up to, as author Nikki Giovanni calls them, "evil customs" and made a tremendous impact to African-American history.

'A Ballerina's Tale,' ages 9 and older

"A Ballerina's Tale" examines the life and career of Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer at New York's American Ballet Theater. Not only is Copeland a significant role model for any young girl who dreams of a career as a dancer, she's also emerged as an important example for the black community, showcasing the ways the rarified world of classical ballet is evolving and becoming more diverse. There's no swearing, drinking, strong language, or sex, just lots of amazing dancing, so the film is excellent for anyone who's a fan of ballet.

'Remember the Titans,' ages 10 and older

"Remember the Titans" tells the inspirational true story about the struggles and victories of a newly-integrated high school football team in 1971 Alexandria, Virginia. As such, the film reflects the divisive nature of the times - the film begins with a near-riot scene between African-Americans and whites on the street separated by the police as bottles and windows break. The racial tensions of the town _ segregation in restaurants, racial slurs, fist fights in the high school - are shown to highlight the backdrop in which the Titans must learn to get along and play together as a team. The movie includes racist comments and situations and some locker room insults. A major character is critically injured in a car accident. When the boys refer to a long-haired teammate as a "fruitcake," he responds by kissing one of them on the mouth. There are some scuffles and threats of more serious violence. Ultimately, "Remember the Titans" is a deeply moving film about the courage of individuals and the power of sports to transcend perceived and ingrained differences.

'Betty & Coretta,' ages 11 and older

"Betty & Coretta" is a biographical story about the widows of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The movie is set during the civil rights movement, so you'll see video footage of violent exchanges between police and protesters, the firebombing of a family's house, and a re-enactment of Malcolm X's assassination. Language ("son of a bitch," "hell," "damn") is sparse, and sexual content is limited to references of King's marital infidelity. This moving story offers a unique glimpse into the historical events of this time period, shown from the point of view of the women who shouldered the weight of the cause after their husbands were killed for their work.

'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?', ages 12 and older

This film deals with a couple that approaches their parents with their impending (and hotly contested) marriage. The main conflict revolves around disagreements between parents and their children about interracial marriage and the generation gap in general.

'Hoop Dreams,' age 13 and older

This three-hour-long documentary film features a lot of intense discussion by two young men about their experiences with parental separation and divorce, familial drug use, extreme poverty, sport-related injury, urban blight and violence, and teen pregnancy, all while they're trying to earn college basketball scholarships. There's some locker-room profanity and some strong language from basketball coaches, such as "bulls--t," and a scene where one of the characters is listening to music with particularly strong lyrics.

'Malcolm X,' ages 13 and older

"Malcolm X" - Spike Lee's epic biopic about the black minister, leader, and human rights activist _ features some scenes of racial violence, notably disturbing news footage, and two violent incidents that involve guns and blood. Language is strong, but infrequent, except for many uses of the "N" word. Malcolm's early days living a life of crime include many references to and images of drugs and prostitution, and he also has an active sex life (everything changes when he becomes a Muslim). Teens should be OK, given the overall power and significance of this film, and the undeniably positive message it brings.

'Selma,' ages 13 and older

"Selma" follows the events leading up to 1965's momentous Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march organized by Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference to campaign for voters' rights. Narrowly focused on the time leading up to the march, Selma provides a historical context for how each of the group's campaigns concentrated on raising awareness about a different issue in the segregated South. Expect several intense, disturbing scenes of race-based violence perpetrated against the non-violent protesters, including protesters being beaten bloody with sticks, weapons, and even whips. Others are killed, including innocent girls in a church that's blown up. Despite the historically accurate violence and the occasional strong language (ranging from "f--k" and "s--t" to frequent racial slurs) - as well as a subplot about infidelity - this is a powerful, educational drama that parents should watch with their mature tweens and teens.

'The Color Purple,' ages 14 and older

This intense drama is the adaptation of award-winning author Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" and deals with serious themes - incest, marital abuse, overt racism and sexism - that are not appropriate for young children. On the other hand, mature teenagers will benefit from seeing the movie, as it will open their eyes about the difficulties women - especially black women - experienced in the early 20th century. Many scenes include glimpses of violence and abuse, all against women, but here are also positive messages about the importance of women's relationships with other women, the power of the sisterly bond, and the human capacity to overcome oppression.

'The Book of Negroes,' ages 15 and older

"The Book of Negroes" is a standout six-part miniseries chronicling an African woman's quest for freedom after years of enslavement. It views historical events - and the evils of slavery - through a realistic and often sobering lens but tends to focus on the main character's strength and resilience rather than on the horrors of her struggles. You'll see violent acts such as stabbings, shootings, and beatings with some blood, along with simulated sex (including implied rape). Some characters drink alcohol. You'll also hear some characters use the "N" word.


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