Black History Month movies and TV shows to stream in 2021

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Black History Month is here and popular streaming services are promoting content on their respective libraries to help people educate themselves on and celebrate Black culture.

Whether it’s stories with historically Black protagonists or simply movies and TV helmed by Black creators, there’s no shortage of things to watch in February 2021 to celebrate Black history. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and many more streamers have even sectioned off parts of their apps so that users can specifically engage with content focused on the Black community. 

To help those who may be overwhelmed by the amount of content to stream during Black History Month, below is a rundown of some great places to start, including 2021 debuts and some potentially missed hits from the past:

When They See Us (Netflix)

‘When They See Us’ is available to watch on Netflix during Black History Month 2021.
(Netflix)

This Netflix original series dropped in 2019 and dramatizes the infamous real-life story of the Central Park 5. From acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, “When They See Us” takes viewers through the more than two-decade journey of Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana as they fought a wrongful conviction for a horrific crime.  

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When a woman was assaulted and raped in New York’s Central Park in 1989, the five teens were convicted of the crime. However, they were innocent and were eventually exonerated in 2002. This Emmy-nominated, four-part limited series offers a chilling look at the case and the uphill battle the teens faced to prove they didn’t commit the crime in a system that seemed largely indifferent to their innocence.

Judas and the Black Messiah (Theaters, HBO Max)

‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ drops on HBO Max this month.
(HBO)

Dropping on HBO Max as part of Warner Bros. decision to release its 2021 titles simultaneously in theaters and on streaming, “Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the story of an FBI operation in Illinois in the 1960s designed to take down the Black Panther Party emerging in the state. 

When FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, played by Martin Sheen, announces that he finds the Black community emboldened by the civil rights movement to be a threat to his idea of the American way of life, the bureau sets out to infiltrate the party and find a way to bring it down. Enter a petty criminal named Bill O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield. He is told that he can either infiltrate the party and get dirt on its leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), or go to jail. 

He opts for the former and the story unfolds as a cat-and-mouse game with the fate of a movement in the Black community hanging in the balance. 

Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History (Netflix)

For those looking for a more family-friendly way to celebrate Black History Month, Netflix dropped an educational comedy special from Kevin Hart in 2019. When his daughter becomes disillusioned by stories about Black history being all about injustice, Hart takes her on a journey to highlight the unsung heroes of the Black community in America. Through comedic reenactments and archival footage, viewers are taken on a G-rated romp through parts of Black history that aren’t typically covered, such as the first Black arctic explorer and the first Black woman to go to space. 

If Beale Street Could Talk  (Hulu)

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is an Oscar-nominated film that came out in 2019 that’s based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. 

The story follows the injustice faced by a pair of young Black lovers who struggle to find an apartment in New York City. When they eventually do, their lives are turned upside down when a cop essentially frames the man for raping a White woman despite evidence that he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. The audience follows the couple on an exhausting journey to prove his innocence in a system that’s indifferent to the impact the looming conviction is having on their lives.

Your Attention Please (Hulu)

Hulu is dropping a second season of this original series in February to mark Black History Month. The show, hosted by Craig Robinson, takes viewers on an educational journey to highlight Black innovators who have contributed great things to the world but often go underrepresented. 

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Previously featured on the show were people like Iddris Sandu, M.A.I., Tomi Adeyemi, Moogega Cooper, Coco and Breezy, Phillip Youmans, Hilton Carter, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Nicole LaPointe Jameson. 

The new season brings 12 more innovators to the forefront of the national conversation with an in-depth profile on each one. 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is currently available on Netflix.
(Netflix)

This 2020 Netflix original tells the story of an up and coming singer named Ma Rainey who is commissioned by White producers to record an album in Chicago. However, tensions rise during the recording session as her bandmates, including an overly ambitious and temperamental trumpet player, begin to get ideas of their own about how the recording should happen. 

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In addition to being a tense, musical romp that explores the struggles of even the most talented Black people to make it in America, the film can also boast being one of the final films done by the late “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman. 

The star died in August of 2020 after a private battle with colon cancer.

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