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Stream these works from Black artists this February

February 9, 2021 by Jerald Raymond Pierce
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There’s never a bad time to celebrate Black artistry. Black History Month can sometimes feel like a rush to cram as much Black history, thoughts, and moments into the shortest month of the year, despite the work being just as impactful in September as it is in February. 

Especially after the last 12 months, cramming doesn’t quite feel appropriate. So as you look through the many offerings of Black History Month, both here and elsewhere, consider these an invitation to slow down, to pause, and to reflect. 

Reflect on the stories that have already been told and the new light they can be seen in. Reflect on the new stories from the unsung or undersung lives of Black history icons. Reflect on the conversations these films are asking you to have, be that through the content itself or the context in which it was created. 

Whether finding something new or returning to something previously seen, find something to consider below.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

If you haven’t seen it by now, let this be your reminder. Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson adapts while Tony winner George C. Wolfe directs, and the two take this opportunity to explore the ending of August Wilson’s 1982 play. If the chance to see Wilson’s work in a new light doesn’t grab you, perhaps performances from Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, and Chadwick Boseman, in a performance already garnering him posthumous awards talk, will draw you in. 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is available to stream on Netflix.

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Writer, director, and lead actor Radha Blank’s semi-autobiographical film follows a playwright who has gone from being a promising “under 30” to a struggling playwright turning 40 and desperate for a breakthrough. Radha’s journey, which takes her through the world of rap, is one of discovery as she wrestles with what “authenticity” means to the producers who aren’t producing her and what that word means for her work. 

The Forty-Year-Old Version is currently streaming on Netflix.

Judas and the Black Messiah

Well it is Black History Month, so for more on Black history, Daniel Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton in a historical drama about the assassination of Hampton after the FBI infiltrated the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Though perhaps best known for his roles in Black Panther and Get Out, Kaluuya has also performed with the Royal Court Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, and Young Vic in London.

Judas and the Black Messiah is streaming on HBO Max.

One Night in Miami 

In another recent movie highlighting titans of Black history, this film joins Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali, and Malcom X on Feb. 25, 1964, as they celebrate Ali’s title win as friends. If there was any question, yes, that’s Hamilton alum Leslie Odom Jr. singing multiple songs as Cooke, including an original song Odom wrote for the film. 

One Night in Miami is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

I Am Not Your Negro

James Baldwin likely needs no introduction, nor does his impact on the theatre, country, or world. This documentary, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and based on Baldwin’s unfinished Remember This House, takes a collection of notes and letters from Baldwin and examines race and racism in the United States. The film is perhaps just as poignant now as his word were when he wrote them in the 1970s.

I Am Not Your Negro is streaming on Netflix.

I May Destroy You

Considered one of the bigger snubs of the Golden Globes nomination announcements is this British drama created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by Michaela Coel, which follows Arabella (played by Coel) as she attempts to rebuild her life after being raped. While Coel’s career has taken her to television and film, she has roots in the theatre, including the movie adaptation of the musical Been So Long and productions with the Royal National Theatre. 

I May Destroy You is streaming on HBO Max.

Moonlight

Tarell Alvin McCraney added an Academy Award to his theatrical accolades, including a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, with this award-winning film. This coming-of-age drama about growing up Black and gay is still as powerful now as it was when it was released in 2016. 

Moonlight is streaming on Netflix.

ASH LAND

This new short film, available through Oregon Shakespeare Festival and included in the upcoming Pan African Film Festival, is a story of healing and the cultivation of joy. Directed by Shariffa Ali, this film offers a portrait of a Black woman who has turned her back on herself, and whose torment is only compounded by the pandemic. 

ASH LAND is streaming on OSF’s streaming service, O!.

Sit-In

A world premiere running through the end of the month, the Alliance Theatre is offering author, playwright, and activist Pearl Cleage’s play is streaming online as an animated short, a first for the Atlanta theatre company. Inspired by Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney, the short film celebrates the ability and power of youth to change history. 

Sit-in is streaming through the Alliance.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

The release of this Whitney Houston and Brandy-starring version of this musical to Disney+ comes as a nice addition to the rotation for anyone who may not be up for watching The Wiz or Dreamgirls again and who is looking for a fun movie musical that isn’t centered around a holiday feel (Jingle Jangle, anyone?). It’s not an overstatement to call this 1997 musical, which first aired on ABC, iconic, and that’s just based on the legendary performance of “Impossible.” 

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is streaming on Disney+ beginning Feb. 12.

Cabin in the Sky

Based on the 1940 Broadway musical of the same name, this movie features an all-Black cast, including legendary names like Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Louis Armstrong, and Lena Horne, not to mention Duke Ellington and his orchestra. The musical follows Little Joe Jackson after his death as he returns to earth for six months to prove that he deserves to be in heaven. Despite the all-Black cast, which cements its place in cinematic history, the movie musical was originally written and produced by white men, which has created conversation and controversy over the years as the musical has been revisited. 

Cabin in the Sky is available to rent from Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and YouTube.