Skip to main content

Film Finders: Exploring Special Topics: 28 Days, 28 Films

28 Films for Black History Month, compiled by the New York Times in 2018.

28 Days, 28 Films

Black Panther movie poster Get Out movie poster Wrinkle in Time movie poster Moonlight movie poster Mudbound movie poster

February 16th, 2018 sees the release of Black Panther, the first Marvel superhero movie with a black director, Black Panther. In March, Selma director Ava DuVernay's adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time becomes the first live-action, $100 million budget film directed by a woman of color. At 2018's Academy Awards, Get Out is nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.  Its director, Jordan Peele, became the fifth African-American to receive a Best Director nomination. The southern period drama Mudbound, written and directed by Dee Rees, also has garnered multiple nominations this awards season. We are nearly one year removed from Moonlight winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. In observance of Black History Month, top New York Times film critics have complied a list of films that highlight the overall history of black Americans in cinema. While looking to the future, 28 Days, 28 Films celebrates the journey so far.  Explore these celebrated films, available via the Film & Video Collection, below.

Within Our Gates, 1920

Within Our Gates cover artIn this early silent film from pioneering director Oscar Micheaux, kindly Sylvia Landry takes a fundraising trip to Boston in hopes of collecting 5,000 dollars to keep a Southern school for impoverished black children open to the public. She then meets the warmhearted Dr. Vivian, who falls in love with Sylvia and travels with her back to the South. There, Dr. Vivian learns about Sylvia's shocking, tragic past and realizes that racism has changed her life forever.

Available on DVD and streaming.

Show Boat, 1936

Show Boat movie posterA story of Magnolia, a showboat star, who falls for Gaylord, a riverboat gambler.

Available on DVD.

Stormy Weather, 1943

Stormy Weather movie posterBill, a struggling performer, meets a beautiful vocalist named Selina. Bill promises her that they will be together after he becomes a success. However, he and Selina both skyrocket to fame and lose contact. Fortunately, Bill just might get one more chance to woo Selina at a huge musical stage show. Popular entertainers of the 1940s, including Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, perform as themselves in the film.

Available on DVD.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, 1968

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm movie poster








In his one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, director William Greaves presides over a beleaguered film crew in New York's Central Park, leaving them to try to figure out what kind of movie they're making. A couple enacts a break-up scenario over and over, a documentary crew films a crew filming the crew, locals wander casually into the frame: the project defies easy description. Yet this wildly innovative sixties counterculture landmark remains one of the most tightly focused and insightful movies ever made about making movies.

Available via streaming and DVD.

Ganja & Hess, 1973

Ganja & Hess movie posterAn archeologist is stabbed with an ancient dagger that gives him immortality and an insatiable thirst for blood, which he then shares with his assistant's wife, and the two of them form a troubled partnership.

Available on DVD and streaming.

House Party, 1990

House Party cover artWritten and directed by Reginald Hudlin and based on his award-winning Harvard University student film, this cult classic features 80s hip-hop duo Kid 'N Play planning the house party to end all house parties.

Available on DVD.

Daughters of the Dust, 1991

Daughters of the Dust cover artAn African American Gullah family leaves their coastal island home in 1902 and risks losing their culture to start a new life on the U.S. mainland.

Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming.

Zora Neale Hurston: Footwork Footage, 1928

Still from Footwork FootageIn the 1920s, author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston began incorporating film into her ethnographic fieldwork, shooting more than a dozen reels in the South. 

Available on DVD and streaming.

Imitation of Life, 1934

Imitation of Life movie posterTwo single mothers join together to form a successful business, but find that material success does nothing to stabilize their personal lives.

Available on DVD.

Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA, 1946

Dirty Gertie from Harlem movie posterAfter cheating on her boyfriend, Gertie, a seductive dancer, leaves Harlem and finds works at a Caribbean resort -- but serious trouble is brewing in paradise.

Available on DVD and streaming.

Shadows, 1959

Shadows movie posterJohn Cassavetes' directorial debut revolves around a romance in New York City between Lelia, a light- skinned black woman, and Tony, a white man. The relationship is put in jeopardy when Tony meets Lelia's darker-skinned jazz singer brother, and discovers that her racial heritage is not what he thought it was. A penetrating work that is widely considered the forerunner of the American independent film movement.

Available on DVD and streaming.

The Defiant Ones, 1958

The Defiant Ones movie posterTwo convicts escaping from a Southern work gang discover that they are bound together by an unbreakable iron chain and separated by a hatred for each other. In order to elude capture they must overcome their hostility.

Available on DVD.

The Story of a Three Day-Pass, 1968

The Story of a Three Day Pass movie posterThe story of an African-American soldier stationed in Europe and the racism he encounters from his fellow soldiers following his idyllic three-day affair with a young white woman.

Available on DVD.

I Am Somebody, 1970

I Am Somebody cover artLive film coverage of a successful hospital workers' strike in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1969. Shows the crucial help of Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Coretta Scott King in organizing demonstrations in support of the workers, mostly black women. Includes interviews with city officials and strikers.

Available on DVD and streaming.

Stir Crazy, 1980

Stir Crazy movie posterTwo zany drifters are mistakenly sent to prison for a robbery they didn't commit. They must rely on their wits in order to survive a sadistic warden, a hulking mass-murderer and worst of all, the inter-prison rodeo.

Available on DVD.

Tongues Untied, 1989

Tongues Untied movie posterIn an experimental amalgam of rap music, street poetry, documentary film, and dance, a gay African-American man expresses what it is like to be gay and black in the United States.

Available on DVD.

Malcolm X, 1992

Malcolm X movie posterImagines the life of Malcolm X, who through his religious conversion to Islam, found the strength to rise up from a criminal past to become an influential civil rights leader.

Available on DVD.

The Watermelon Woman, 1996

The Watermelon Woman movie posterCheryl, a young black woman in a video store, is making a documentary about an obscure black actress from the 1930's. When she discovers that the actress (known as "the Watermelon Woman") had a white lesbian lover, Cheryl just happens to fall in love with a very cute white woman herself!

Available on DVD and Streaming.

Devil in a Blue Dress, 1995

Devil in a Blue Dress cover artEzekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a decorated war hero who returns home to work as a private eye. His job of finding a missing socialite puts him between the white power elite and the vibrant black community of Central Avenue. As soon as Easy and his trigger-happy friend Mouse find Daphne Monet, trouble follows.

Available on DVD.

Killer of Sheep, 1977

Killer of Sheep movie posterAn African-American slaughterhouse worker searches for tiny moments of beauty in his predominantly bleak life.

Available on DVD.

Black and Tan; St. Louis Blues, 1929

Black and Tan movie posterBlack and Tan (1929) -- Film debut of Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra performing as a jazz band.  
St. Louis Blues (1929) -- Features some of the only known footage of "Empress of the Blues" Bessie Smith.

Available on DVD and streaming.

Hell-Bound Train, 1930

Still image from title sequence of Hellbound TrainDivided into vignettes, this film turns on the Devil — a masked figure with horns and a cape — driving a train teeming with wickedness. Each train car reveals another sin. Nearly everyone here may be headed straight to hell, but most look as if they’re having a swell time getting there.

Available via streaming.

Intruder in the Dust, 1949

Intruder in the Dust movie posterIn a small Mississippi town, only a young boy and an old woman stand between an innocent black man and a lynch mob.

Available on DVD.

The Jackie Robinson Story, 1950

The Jackie Robinson Story movie posterIn 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play modern Major League Baseball.  Three years later, he played himself in this biographical drama. 

Available on DVD.

The Learning Tree, 1969

The Learning Tree movie posterSet in 1920s Kansas, the film traces one year in the life of young Newt, in which he learns about love, fear, racial injustice, and his own capacity for honor.

Available on DVD.

Cotton Comes to Harlem, 1970

Cotton Comes to Harlem movie posterSt. Jacques is Coffin Ed Johnson and Cambridge is Gravedigger Jones, black cops who suspect preacher Lockhart's back-to-Africa campaign is a swindle.

Available on DVD.

Losing Ground, 1982

Losing Ground cover artThe story of a marriage of two remarkable people, both at a crossroads in their lives. Sara, a black professor of philosophy, is embarking on an intellectual quest to understand 'ecstasy' just as her painter husband Victor sets off on a more earthly exploration of joy.

Available on DVD.

She's Gotta Have It, 1986

She's Gotta Have It cover artA statuesque and charismatic woman is trying to figure out what she wants in life. She has a good job as a commercial artist and designer, a spacious Brooklyn apartment, and three boyfriends. Each of them is far from her ideal man, but each fulfills a different need for her.

Available on DVD.