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Film Finders: Exploring Special Topics

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.

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

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

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

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

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. 

Available on DVD and eVideo

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

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 creating a troubled partnership.

Available on DVD

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 with each train car revealing another sin. 

Available on DVD

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

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 eVideo

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 and eVideo

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

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 and eVideo

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

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 and eVideo

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 and eVideo

Shadows (1959)

Shadows movie posterThe relationship between Leila, a light-skinned black woman, and Tony, a white man is put in jeopardy when Tony meets Lelia's darker-skinned brother, and discovers that her racial heritage is not what he thought it was. 

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

Show Boat (1936)

Show Boat movie posterBased on the 1927 Kern and Hammerstein musical, this is the story of Magnolia, a showboat star, who falls for Gaylord, a charming riverboat gambler.

Available on DVD

Stormy Weather (1943)

Stormy Weather movie posterBill, a struggling performer, meets a beautiful vocalist and promises her that they will be together after he becomes a success. After they both skyrocket to fame and lose contact, Bill gets one more chance to woo her 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

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

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

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (1968)

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm movie posterDirector 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. This wildly innovative sixties counterculture landmark remains one of the most tightly focused and insightful movies ever made about making movies.

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

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

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 to keep a Southern school for impoverished black children open to the public. When she returns to the South with her new beau, Sylvia's shocking, tragic past is exposed.

Available on DVD

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