10 Powerful Black History Movies HBCU Students Should Watch

Last Updated on May 26, 2023

Black History Movies: The Great Debaters looks at the first black college debate team to participate in and win interracial debates in the 1930s.
The Great Debaters (2007), directed by and starring Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey.

We love celebrating Black History Month every February, but there is too much of our history to absorb in just one month. So we've compiled a list of 10 Black History movies that HBCU students should watch throughout the year to continue learning about their ancestors. All these films depict the black experience from different perspectives and times in history.

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Here is our short list of Black History Movies for HBCU students:

Civil Rights Black History Movies

Boycott (2001)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B007VX03FG&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B007VX03FGIt was December 1955 when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her arrest initiated a series of civil disobedience rallies that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The one-day boycott that changed the history for black Americans is depicted in the movie, “Boycott“. The movie focuses more on the leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the spokesman for the boycott movement. The is a must see for HBCU students who may be too young to fully understand the Civil Rights movement and the way it changed history for black Americans.

Selma (2015)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B00NMF8SEK&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B00NMF8SEKSELMA is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay's SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.

HBCU Black History Movies

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B00KGJK460&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B00KGJK460The magnificent story of the Fighting 99th (first group of black American pilots who were allowed to fight for their country) is portrayed in The Tuskegee Airmen. During World War II, as the U.S. lost a lot of its men in battle, 4 black, newly recruited pilots went into training to be the first black squadron to fight for the U.S. The story revolves around their brutal training, the racial prejudices that they have to overcome and finally, their success in battle against German pilots.

Tuskegee Airmen is a tale of heroism, valor, and dignity that that should be in your collection of black history movies. Any HBCU student would be proud of this legacy of black American's fight for freedom. Laurence Fishburne, Allen Payne and Malcolm-Jamal Warner take the leads in this action film.

Miss Evers' Boys (2002)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B00005RDAN&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B00005RDANMiss Evers' Boys is the story of Nurse Eunice Evers (Alfre Woodard) who got involved in a government-funded syphilis research study, where the subjects were African-American men who tested positive for the disease. When government funds for the project dried up, the research continued to become the “Tuskegee Experiment”, which studied the effects of syphilis on untreated patients. The patients are made to believe that they are being treated when in reality they are not receiving the medicine that can cure them.

Miss Evers' character was depicted with sympathy as she was caught in this dilemma of saving the patients she herself recruited in a study that span 40 years. This HBO film is ideal for HBCU students interested in black history movies related to of nursing, ethics, medicine and medical research.

The Great Debaters (2007)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B00125WAWS&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B00125WAWSDenzel Washington, two-time Academy Award Winner, stars in The Great Debaters, a movie about a radical black debate team coach, Melvin B. Tolson at historically black Wiley College. Tolson motivated his debate team to use the power of words as they participated in the first collegiate inter-racial debate in the U.S. The team was successful in being able to debate Harvard University.

The movie's sub-plots explored the social implications of racism during the Great Depression, when lynching of blacks was rampant. Denzel Whitaker plays the role of James L. Farmer, Jr. who joined Tolson's debate team at a young age of 14. Produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, this epic film was released on December 2007. It is among the top 10 black history movies that show the real-life struggles of black students during the 1930s.

Black History Documentaries

Hidden Colors 4 (2016)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B01G06T00S&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B01G06T00SHidden Colors 4: The Religion Of White Supremacy is the latest follow-up film to the critically-acclaimed hit documentary series Hidden Colors. The original Hidden Colors documentary was about the real and untold history of people of color around the globe. The film discussed some of the reasons the contributions of African and aboriginal people have been left out of the pages of history. Traveling around the country, the film featured scholars, historians, and social commentators who uncovered such amazing facts about things such as: The original image of Christ, The true story about the Moors, The original people of Asia, The great west African empires, The presence of Africans in America before Columbus, The real reason slavery was ended and much more.

In this fouth installment of the Hidden Colors series, the film explores topics such as: The motivation behind European global subjugation, The history of rarely discussed vast West African empires, How germ warfare is used on melanated people, The history of slave breeding farms in America and much more.

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2016)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B01A1H2DJC&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B01A1H2DJCBlack Panthers is a documentary by Stanley Nelson that chronicles the history of the Black Panther Party. From their formation in 1966 in Oakland, California, the film follows the revolutionary African-American group's rise throughout the '60s and '70s and features interviews with former members, FBI members and street police officers that clashed with the party, in addition to archive footage. Although they gained the backing of Hollywood icons Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda, the radical Nationalist group struggled with inner conflict and exterior pressure during the height of their relevance, struggles that would eventually contribute to their demise.

Black History Movies Based on a True Story

Shaka Zulu (1986)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B003LMGXC8&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B003LMGXC8Shaka Zulu is the story of the legendary 19th-century African King Zulu, who defied the British colonists in South Africa. First shown in the mid-80s as a TV mini series and completely filmed on location in South Africa, Shaka Zulu was restored and remastered in a 4 DVD set.

Shaka Zulu successfully united the warring tribes of South Africa and turned them into a strong force against the colonial rule. Henry Cele played the role of Shaka and artistically showed the facets of Shaka's characters – one minute charming, the next, brutal and horrifying. This is an interesting look at a fascinating time in history that changed the future of many blacks in South Africa.

Glory (1989)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B00170GYDE&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B00170GYDEGlory is one of the more memorable black history movies which shows a fact-based account of the first black regiment who fought for the Union during the Civil War. The movie depicts the true story of the 54th Regiment, the first black group of soldiers who were trained and who actually went into battle. Aside from the rigorous training and the horrid situations that they had to endure during the war, the black soldiers had to deal with prejudice for being African-Americans serving their country.

Glory has a strong array of actors – Morgan Freeman (the inspiring Sergeant who motivated the soldiers), Denzel Washington (a runaway slave), and Matthew Broderick (the young Colonel who led the regiment into battle). Superbly directed by Edward Zwick, the movie depicted the sorrow and pride of black Americans who served their country during the Civil War.

Rosewood (1997)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B006J810LA&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B006J810LAAs the year 1923 unfolds, many of Rosewood families' hope for the new year were destroyed. Rosewood was a town with extreme racial prejudice in rural Levy County, Florida. On January 1, 1923, a tragic event happened – the town was razed in fire by a white mob. Houses were burned and lives were sacrificed.

World War I veteran (Ving Rhames) joins forces with a shopkeeper (Jon Voight) in rescuing the women and children and bringing them to safety in nearby swamps. When it comes to black history movies, Director John Singleton tackled an important piece of history for African-Americans, back when white mob lynching was frequently happening and destroying lives.

Bonus Black History Movie

Malcolm X (1992)

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B000QFQE4U&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=hbli0b 20ir?t=hbli0b 20&l=am2&o=1&a=B000QFQE4UMalcolm X lived at a time of racial prejudice and like many African-American boys during that time, had a hard time growing up. He got involved with the underworld, robbing, selling drugs and women, and will later spend years in jail. Yet, this far- from-ideal past was an important chapter in his life. His life will later be turned around after he became involved with radical causes.

Malcolm X became an Islam convert while in prison and later on became a Muslim minister. He is considered as one of the most important black Americans in history, who through his speeches, encouraged millions of black Americans then and now to be proud of their race. Denzel Washington plays the role of Malcolm X and he did a fine job at it. With the superb craftsmanship of Director Spike Lee, Malcolm X definitely tops the list of our favorite black history movies and should not be missed.

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