15 Streaming Picks for Black History Month

Posted by Janet Nguyen on February 11, 2021

Student Life

Reading Week gives us a chance to catch up on schoolwork, but also, some rest and relaxation. For me, and frankly most of us while we are being asked to stay home, that includes watching movies on various streaming services. With February being Black History Month, we’ve done our best to curate a list of great movies and television shows that celebrate Black lives.

These streaming picks range from thought provoking documentaries to independent Canadian films to biopics that celebrate black icons of our time. We’ve featured films from Kanopy, a film streaming service that everyone at York has access to with Passport York. If you are a member of a public library you can also link your library card to gain access to their full library. 

Success Tip: Don’t forget to check out our post on Black History Month at York, there are a lot of events and workshops you can join!

Celebrating Black Icons

These films celebrate Black icons who can inspire us all to live a little better.

Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation

Bell Hooks with the title Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation
Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation

Bell Hooks is one of the leading intellectuals of our time. Her written work on the intersectionality of race, culture, capitalism, and gender is accessible and ground-breaking. This two-part series features Hooks discussing and disseminating cultural criticism from a progressive lens. Highly recommended for enhancing your critical and cultural thinking.
Available free on Kanopy with Passport York.

Becoming

Michelle Obama's face in the background with the title "Becoming" on top
Michelle Obama: Becoming: Your story is your power.

Join former First Lady Michelle Obama on this intimate documentary as she discusses her life and journey on the way to becoming the first Black First Lady of the U.S.A.

Available on Netflix

HIP HOP: The Songs That Shook America

Collage of boom boxes with the text "HIP HOP: The Songs That Shook America"
HIP HOP: The Songs That Shook America

Do you love hip-hop? This genre was made and defined by Black icons. For music lovers, this documentary series dives into ground-breaking hip-hop songs that were pivotal to American culture such as Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”.

Available free on CBC Gem

Selma

Edmund Pettus Bridge in the background with an African America actor playing Martin Luther King Jr. on the right and the title "Selma" on top
David Oyelowo’s Selma

This Oscar-nominated historical drama film follows Martin Luther King Jr. as he leads an epic protest march in Alabama following racist attacks.

Available on Netflix

Documentaries That Will Challenge You

The 13th

African American prisoner with the American flag on the left and the title 13th on the right
Ava DuVernay’s 13th

Ava DuVernay’s documentary is a must-watch for learning about racial injustice and the criminalization of Black people in America.

Available on Netflix

Seeds of Destruction

Scene from the historical documentary, Seeds of Destruction, with African American people harvesting cotton
Seeds of Destruction

This historical documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman focuses on the life of Harriet Jacobs, the first woman to write a slave narrative. Journey with Harriet and historical experts on the beginning of the North’s abolition of slavery. This is a one-hour segment from PBS’ longer series “Slavery and the Making of America”, the rest of which is available on Kanopy.

Available free on Kanopy with Passport York

Say Her Name

An African America woman on the left and the title of the HBO documentary called Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

This HBO documentary covers the life of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, who was arrested for a traffic violation in a small town in Texas and subsequently died while in her holding cell.

Available free on Kanopy with Passport York and streaming on Crave

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

The back of an African American school girl wearing a red t-shirt with pig tails from the documentary Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools
Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Inspired by the ground-breaking book of the same name by Monique W. Morris, Ed.D., this documentary takes a deep dive into the lives of Black girls and the practices, cultural beliefs and policies that disrupt one of the most important factors in their lives ¾ education. Alarmingly, African American girls are the fastest-growing population in the juvenile justice system and the only group of girls to disproportionately experience criminalization at every education level.

Available free on Kanopy with Passport York

When They See Us

An African American teenager in prison from the series When They See Us
When They See Us

This limited series is focused on the Central Park Five case. In 1989, a woman was brutally attacked and assaulted while jogging in Central Park, New York. Five Black teenagers were falsely accused and imprisoned. 

Available on Netflix

Feature Films

Across the Line (Cole Harbor)

A scene from the Canadian film Across the Line (Cole Harbor) showing a white man interacting with a Black hockey player
Across the Line (Cole Harbor)

This Canadian film is about a young, Black hockey player’s life playing in a racially divided Nova Scotian community. His career prospects are in jeopardy when tensions in his community come to a head.

Available free on CBC Gem

Selah & the Spades

An African American high school girl from Selah & The Spades
Selah & The Spades

We all love a good coming-of-age movie, and it’s even better when it’s got style. At a prestigious boarding school with a lively underground scene that has warring factions, Selah, the queen bee walks a fine line between being loved and feared. Celebrate this directorial debut by director Tayarisha Poe.

Available on Amazon Prime

Queen & Slim

A black man and woman standing in front of a automobile store from the feature film Queen
Queen

This feature film starts off with a first date that takes an unexpected turn when a policeman pulls Queen and Slim over for a minor traffic violation. A shooting occurs in self-defence but they are now labeled cop killers in the media and go on the run. When a video of the incident goes viral, the unwitting outlaws soon become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people all across the country.

Available on Amazon Prime

Sylvie’s Love

A Black man and woman dancing in a club in 1950's Harlem from the period piece Sylvie's Love
Sylvie’s Love

Fans of Breakfast at Tiffany’s will love this period piece set in 1950’s Harlem about a romance that transcends changing times, geography and professional success.

Available on Amazon Prime

Shows Featuring Black Excellence

Next Stop

A Black woman sitting on the kitchen counter top with a scarf over her head in the series "Next Stop"
Next Stop

Get local with this comedy, short-form anthology series featuring the lives of young black Torontonians as they confront the challenges of living in a competitive, expensive and rapidly changing city.

Available free on CBC Gem

Watchmen

An African American woman superhero standing in front of a yellow time piece in the TV show "Watchmen"
Watchmen

One of my personal favourite TV shows – ever, and it’s only one season so you can finish it fast! Watchmen takes place after the events of the film/graphic novel by Allen Moore. This series takes place in an alternate universe where superheroes are treated as outlaws. It takes racial discourse to a new level.

Available on Crave

Well, that’s a lot of streaming – and there’s so much more! I had to hold myself back a bit there. Hope you all have a good reading week and enjoy some of these recommendations.

Let us know what you’ll be watching from this list or recommend your favourite films featuring Black icons. Tweet us @YorkUStudents or comment below.

To stay up to date on campus life and events, connect with York on social media. You can follow us on Facebook @YorkUStudents, Twitter @YorkUStudents, Instagram @studentlifeyu and with our weekly This Week @ York emails.

Janet Nguyen
Janet Nguyen

Janet Nguyen is a third-year Creative Writing and Screenwriting double major at York University. She loves to spend time playing with her kitten, Bean; cook vegetarian food; read all kinds of books, play Animal Crossing, and of course, write. She hopes her blog posts can help students navigate their way through this school year!

See other posts by Janet Nguyen