9 Iconic Movies that Inspire Generations

Turn movie night into a celebration of the people who made history

a family watching a movie together during Black History Month.

(bbernard / Shutterstock.com)

February is Black History month and there is much to celebrate about the people and events who changed American history. From the legacy of the civil rights movement and its great leaders, the rise of African American leadership in politics, education, and the arts became a reality.

There is clearly a long way to go but in the aftermath of recent events, there has been an increase in the rise of black filmmakers and artists telling the stories of the struggles and the successes according to USA Today.

Here is a selection of nine movies to watch for Black History Month or anytime. Some are Oscar-winning movies, others documentaries, and include fiction and nonfiction, but all are worth sharing across the generations.


This 2014 historical drama is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) voting rights marches that were led by Martin Luther King, Jr, Hosea Williams and John Lewis. This was a major turning point of the civil rights movement as it was broadcast on television and brought the struggle into the living room of so many Americans. Selma was released just before the 50th anniversary of the historic march

Freedom Riders

This 2010 PBS American Experience film tells the story of the hundreds of civil rights activists called freedom riders who challenged racial segregation in American transportation. The activists traveled in interracial groups and sat together on buses and trains. Freedom Riders  based on the book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault.


This 2019 biographical film is about the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. It features the time of her escape from slavery and her work with the underground railroad according to Smithsonian Magazine. After Tubman escaped, her first thoughts were to free her family and she spent a decade of her life achieving the rescue of all but one of her family members; one sister died before she could be rescued. Harriet is a must see for families.

Just Mercy

This biographical legal drama from 2019, explores the work of defense attorney Bryan Stevenson as he represents poor inmates on death row in Alabama. Just Mercy, based on Stevenson’s book by the same name, features his work with a man who was falsely convicted in the 1986 murder of a white woman.

Malcolm X

This 1992 biographical drama is about the life of African-American activist Malcom X. The film that stars Denzel Washington and directed and co-written by Spike Lee, dramatizes key events in Malcolm x’s life including his criminal career, incarceration, conversion to Islam, and as a member of the Nation of Islam until his assassination on February 21, 1965. He was a strong vocal proponent of black empowerment.

The Rosa Parks Story

A made for television movie from 2002, The Rosa Parks Story is an account of the life of Parks and her actions in the civil rights movement. Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus for a white man. Her treatment prompted a bus boycott that lasted 381 days in 1955 and 1956. The film received awards from the NAACP and the Black Reel Awards.

Mississippi Burning

This 1988 crime thriller is historical fiction that is based on the 1964 FBI investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights workers. Mississippi Burning accurately displays the hostility of the local police, the town’s residents, and the Ku Klux Klan against the civil rights movement and the voter registration drive in the south.

John Lewis: Good Trouble

A 2020 documentary film about the life of social rights activist and US congressman John Lewis who died on July 15, 2020. The film uses historical clips to explore the Georgia representatives’ 60 years of activism in the civil rights movement, voting rights, gun control, health care reform, and advocating for immigrants. Produced by CNN films, Time Studios, and ACG Studios, John Lewis: Good Trouble was released to commemorate Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of slaves in the US.

One Night In Miami

This 2020 drama is a fictionalized account of a February 1964 meeting of Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), Malcom X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown that celebrates Ali’s title win over Sonny Liston.  But it wasn’t actually a party as the men discuss racism and Malcom X attacks Cooke for catering to white audiences. In the aftermath of the evening, Clay changes his name to Muhammad Ali and the film ends with the assassination of Malcom X just days later.