15 Juneteenth Movies That Gave Me Deeper Appreciation of Black History & Culture

These will inspire you to take action

juneteenth movies
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I heard the word "Juneteenth" for the first time when I was 28 years old.

The year was 2020, and the tragic death of George Floyd not only sparked outrage across the country, but it caused the Black Lives Matter movement to gain momentum and prompted the government to legally recognize Emancipation Day. After learning about the push to make Juneteenth an official holiday, I wasted no time in doing a deep dive on this overlooked event, which, I discovered, is meant to commemorate the true end of slavery in 1865. (For context, on June 19 of that year, thousands of slaves in Galveston Bay finally learned of their freedom, even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed two and a half years earlier.)

So now, more than a century later, I'm celebrating this historic day by supporting Black businesses, reading Black authors and—my personal favorite—watching Juneteenth movies that highlight Black history and culture.

Do the Right Thing and Mangrove are just a few examples that left me nearly speechless, thanks to their honest and raw portrayals of the Black experience. Meanwhile, eye-opening classics like How It Feels to Be Free still give me chills to this day. Scroll on for 15 of the best Juneteenth movies by Black filmmakers.

1. Malcolm X (1992)

  • Cast: Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Angela Bassett
  • Rating: PG-13

There are several informative documentaries about the legendary Civil Rights leader, but Lee's '90s biopic humanizes the activist by shedding light on his younger days and detailing his journey to becoming a famous revolutionary. It includes pivotal moments like his imprisonment in the '50s and his conversion to Islam—and Washington perfectly captures the icon's personality and values in different stages of his life. Yes, it's over three hours long, but with Lee's unique and thoughtful approach to themes like racial injustice and religious extremism, there's never a dull moment. (FYI, I still think about that scene where Washington tries to wash his chemically relaxed hair in a toilet bowl...)

2. How It Feels to Be Free (1986)

  • Cast: Halle Berry, Gail Lumet Buckley, Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne
  • Rating: TV-14

Director Yoruba Richen offers an intimate look at the lives and careers of six legendary Black entertainers, including Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, Nina Simone, Pam Grier, Abbey Lincoln and Diahann Carroll. Incredibly moving and inspiring, the PBS documentary explores how these trailblazing women challenged common stereotypes perpetuated by the entertainment industry by forging their own paths and paving the way for future generations. I'll admit, reflecting on their bravery and the challenges they endured moved me to tears. And I especially appreciated the personal memories and insightful thoughts shared by modern stars like Halle Berry, Alicia Keys and Lena Waithe.

3. Do the Right Thing (1989) 

  • Cast: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee
  • Rating: R

Gentrification, morality, police brutality, prejudice and systemic racism are just a few themes that Spike Lee tackles in this timeless masterpiece. staple on the list would be a crime. Set in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn during a heat wave, the comedy-drama depicts the rising racial tension between Black residents and the Italian-Americans who run a local pizzeria—and it all starts when one customer calls out the lack of diversity on the pizzeria's "Wall of Fame." Pino's eye-opening exchange with Mookie about his favorite athletes—all of whom happen to be Black, despite his racist views—is easily one of the best scenes.

4. Mudbound (2017)

  • Cast: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige
  • Rating: R

Word to the wise: Keep a giant box of tissues nearby when you watch this. Set during the aftermath of World War II, Dee Rees's Mudbound tells the story of two veterans who return home to Mississippi and struggle to adjust to the Jim Crow South while dealing with PTSD. Though it's set in the 1940s, watching this felt like looking into a giant mirror that accurately reflects America's racial divide. Since the film was released around the same time that women protested the election of Donald Trump, it served as a sobering reminder that inequality and racism are still prevalent today.

5. Set It Off (1996)

  • Cast: Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise
  • Rating: R

Directed by F. Gary Gray, Set It Off paints a clear picture of how a deeply flawed and racist system can push Black women to extremes. It revolves around four friends who struggle financially and find it nearly impossible to escape a life of poverty and hopelessness. Determined to find a way out, they agree to start robbing banks, but it takes a dangerous turn when a detective pursues them. I absolutely love the small moments of humor (like Cleo's insistence on tossing out CDs during her carjackings), but I especially appreciate how it tackled misogynoir and the power of close friendships. As screenwriter Takashi Bufford noted in her interview with Black Film, "It was the first of its kind in that it featured four women. I think it had a certain truth to it that rang out and resonated."

6. Boyz n the Hood (1991)

  • Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Regina King, Angela Bassett
  • Rating: R

I've always had a soft spot for this film, particularly because of Fishburne's iconic Furious Styles—a dedicated father who works hard to instill good values in his son, despite their crime-filled neighborhood. But I'm especially drawn by John Singleton's honest portrayal of the Black experience, particularly in poor neighborhoods. The film follows Tre Styles as he moves to South Central L.A. to live with his father. However, his friend Doughboy heads down a darker path as he gets involved in a life of crime.

7. One Night in Miami (2021)

  • Cast: Leslie Odom Jr., Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge
  • Rating: R

I'll rarely come across a film that exceeds my high expectations, but Regina King's directorial debut is definitely among those few. Set in 1963, the drama follows four real-life icons, including Malcolm X, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, who gather to celebrate Clay's boxing victory and new title as heavyweight champion. I felt immersed in this gripping story, especially as the men bonded over a tub of ice cream in their private hotel room. Seeing them get vulnerable and engage in intense debates about how to use their platforms for change made me feel like I was sitting right alongside them.

8. 13th (2016)

  • Cast: Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich
  • Rating: TV-MA

When I watched Ava DuVernay's eye-opening documentary, I learned so much about the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, like the fact that it still permits involuntary servitude as "punishment for conviction of a crime." I officially lost count of how many times I dropped my jaw throughout the film, because it sheds light on some truly devastating statistics about mass incarceration—like the fact that the U.S. has five percent of the world's population, but holds 25 percent of the world's prisoners. If you're curious to learn more about how race and mass incarceration intersect, give this a watch.

9. The Blackening (2022) 

  • Cast: Dewayne Perkins, Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg
  • Rating: R

I can't resist a nail-biting comedy horror that smartly tackles Black stereotypes. Featuring an all-black cast, Tim Story's film follows a group of Black friends who go away for the weekend to celebrate Juneteenth. However, when they arrive at the cabin, they come across a deadly (and racist) game, and they soon discover that they're trapped with a mysterious killer. It's worth noting that there's a bit of blood and gore, and it will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But the grittier moments are balanced with humor "I voted for Trump. Twice…", timely commentary and surprising twists.

10. Selma (2015)

  • Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi
  • Rating: PG-13

This must-watch historical drama boasts a dazzling cast and a powerful soundtrack. (If you haven't yet heard Common's Oscar-winning track, "Glory," do yourself a favor and listen here.) However, it also brilliantly portrays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s determination to secure equal voting rights in the U.S., despite facing opposition. I confess, I was initially skeptical of Oyelowo's casting, but I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to capture King's integrity and unwavering confidence.

11. The Hate U Give (2018)

  • Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, K.J. Apa
  • Rating: PG-13

Based on Angie Thomas's phenomenal YA novel of the same name, The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter, a teenager who witnesses the murder of her childhood best friend by a police officer and decides to take action. George Tillman Jr.'s film hits close to home because of the timely subject matter. It doesn't shy away from topics like white privilege, code-switching, police brutality, poverty and the Black Lives Matter movement. But I mostly appreciate how it also sheds light on the conflicts that happen within the Black community.

12. Black Panther (2018) 

  • Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira
  • Rating: PG-13

The late Boseman delivered one of his best performances yet in this Marvel installment, which focuses on King T'Challa's first days as the ruler of Wakanda. Before long, his authority is challenged by Killmonger—a dangerous new villain who intends to take over the nation and abandon the country's traditions. I could go on for days about the strong female presence, the nuanced characters, the heart-pumping action scenes and the gorgeous visuals. But I just love how it celebrates Black culture, while also tackling colonialism.

13. The Woman King (2022)

  • Cast: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim
  • Rating: PG-13

What do you get when you combine Viola Davis with a feminist, action-packed epic that explores slavery and colonization? A masterpiece. The movie centers around an all-female military team called Agojie, and they're tasked with protecting the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 1800s. When they learn that a new enemy is targeting their nation, the leader, General Nanisca, recruits new women to join the fight. I was so captivated by Davis's performance, and I still think about that surprise twist at the end!

14. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

  • Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders
  • Rating: R

In Shaka King's stirring biopic, Bill O'Neal, an FBI informant, infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party during the 1960s. Party Chairman Fred Hampton believes the movement has gained a valuable asset in their fight against racism and police brutality, but little does he know that O'Neal has ulterior motives. The Academy Award-winning film is definitely unsettling, but it's required viewing and it's brimming with top-notch performances.

15. Mangrove (2020)

  • Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall
  • Rating: PG-13

Mangrove tells the true story of Frank Crichlow, who ran a Caribbean restaurant in west London during the early '70s. After putting up with a number of destructive police raids, Frank teams up with his community to organize a peaceful march. But this backfires when they're falsely accused of inciting a riot. It was fascinating to learn about this often overlooked trial, but I like that there was balance between the drama and lighthearted scenes. As I mentioned in my rave review, "In addition to its heartbreaking moments, I savored the sweeter parts of this film, from the colorful block parties to the characters' impromptu performance of Mighty Sparrow's 'Jean And Dinah.'"

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...