Black History Month is a dedicated time each year to recognise and celebrate the resilience and achievements of the Black community, while also commemorating the trailblazers who have indelibly left their mark on history and acknowledging the work that must still be done to achieve a more equal society.
In the US and Canada, Black History Month is observed in February, while in the UK it is celebrated in October. Here in Australia, our own Black History Month takes place in July and is a showcase of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, heritage and cultures which acknowledges and celebrates First Australians’ achievements and contributions.
If you are keen to learn more about why Black History Month around the world is so important — and are eager to uncover valuable information about the issues faced by Black communities and the people advocating for them — here are some powerful documentaries to add to your watchlist.
I Am Not Your Negro
Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro explores the history of racism in the United States through the stories of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as Baldwin’s own personal observations of American history.
First Australians, the Untold Story of Australia
This seven-part documentary, directed by Beck Cole, chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia from the perspective of its First People.
First Australians is an investigation into what happened when the oldest living culture in the world was overrun by the world’s greatest empire.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Presented and written by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., this six-hour series explores the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed — forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds.
Commencing with the origins of slavery in Africa, the series moves through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to the present — when America is led by a black president, yet remains a nation deeply divided by race.
Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin, LA 92 chronicles the several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles that erupted after the verdict was handed down in the Rodney King trial.
The film uses rare archival footage to capture how tumultuous this time in LA history was, as people reacted to the acquittal of the police officers who brutally beat King after a high-speed chase ensued.
The subsequent rioting lasted six days and killed 63 people, with 2,383 more injured.
In this award-winning masterpiece from Ava DuVernay, the realities of modern-day slavery are held under a microscope to reveal an unsettling truth.
In the age of mass incarceration, in which one out of four African-American males will serve prison time at one point in their lives, it is evident that the horrors of the Jim Crow era are still very much alive and well in the American prison system.
The Australian Dream
Directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Daniel Gordon, The Australian Dream centres around retired AFL star, Adam Goodes, who left the sport he loved and embarked on an advocacy journey after enduring racial abuse during a game.
An activist for Indigenous causes, Goodes spoke out about his experience and was met with the heartbreaking fact that Australia is often incapable of, and unwilling to, confront its own problematic past.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story
In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested in New York City for allegedly stealing a backpack — despite consistently maintaining his innocence.
He was charged and bail was set at $3,000 — an impossible amount of money for his impoverished family to find. He was sent to Rikers Island Prison to await trial to prove his innocence.
Browder was finally released from prison in 2013 but, having been subjected to unimaginable violence and extended periods of solitary confinement, took his own life two years later.
Executive produced by Jay-Z, this harrowing documentary is an exploration of the ways in which the social justice system consistently fails young Black men and the devastating consequences of a deeply ingrained racial prejudice.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. is often regarded as the face and father of the Civil Rights Movement. Famed for his non-violent protests and rousing calls-to-arms, the activist is perhaps one of the most quoted (and misquoted) figures in history, with a legacy that has spanned the swinging sixties all the way through to the age of social media.
In this documentary, filmmaker Sam Pollard examines the harassment of MLK at the hands of the FBI, as the American government actively sought to undermine the civil rights icon and the movement itself.
In Incarceration Nation, writer and director and Guugu Yimithirr man Dean Gibson explores the firsthand devastation by those affected, meets those who are trying to make a difference and discusses this systemic problem with some of our nation’s brightest minds.
Through archive footage and interviews with experts and academics, Incarceration Nation gives voice to those for whom this is lived experience — Keenan Mundine, Carly Stanley as well as the Dungay, Fisher, Day and Hickey families who each share the trauma of losing a family member whilst they were in custody.
Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union
Directed by Emmy winner Peter Kunhardt, this docuseries starts with Obama’s childhood and takes us through his perspective as the son of a white mother from Kansas and an African father, his spiritual formation by a generation of Black leaders and his hopes for a more inclusive country.
Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union pieces together conversations with colleagues, friends and critics, as well as snippets from his own speeches and interviews, to chronicle Obama’s personal and professional story, as well as the ongoing issues of inequality in America.