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5 movies to watch during Black History Month
Darlene Love in "20 Feet From Stardom." - photo by Jeff Peterson
February might be more strongly associated by some with Valentines Day (aka Singles Awareness Day), but the entire month is also dedicated to celebrating black history. Luckily, there is no shortage of great cinema involving African-American culture, struggles and accomplishments. From classics such as Glory and Roots to less obvious fare like In the Heat of the Night, there is something for every taste.

While its impossible to list all of the movies worth checking out during the month of February, here are a few recommendations to get things started.

Gone with the Wind David O. Selznicks sweeping adaptation of Margaret Mitchells Gone with the Wind is historically significant for more than a few reasons, including being the highest-grossing film ever made after adjusting for inflation. More importantly, though, it made history when Hattie McDaniel, who plays Scarlett OHaras house slave Mammy, became the first African-American ever nominated for an Oscar, and then the first to ever win.

Due to existing Jim Crow laws, McDaniel was famously banned from attending the films premiere. She had to persuade Clark Gable to attend after he threatened to boycott it in protest.

The Jackie Robinson Story Chadwick Bosemans recent portrayal of Jackie Robinson in 42 might be fresher in peoples minds, but how about Jackie Robinson portraying himself? This 1950 biopic stars the legendary baseball player as it portrays the prejudice he faced in becoming the first African-American to play major league baseball in the 20th century.

Guess Whos Coming to Dinner Stanley Kramer (Judgment at Nuremberg) directed this 1967 classic about a socially progressive San Francisco couple (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) dealing with the revelation that their daughters new fianc (Sidney Poitier) is black.

Interracial marriage was still a very controversial subject in 1967. In many states, it had only been legalized a mere six months before Guess Whos Coming to Dinner premiered.

An Oscar-winning script by William Rose (The Ladykillers, Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) and top-tier acting, particularly in one tense scene between Poitiers John Prentice and his father (Roy Glenn), make this a must-watch film.

As a side note, this was also the last of nine onscreen collaborations between Tracy and Hepburn. Tracy died 17 days after filming wrapped.

The Tuskegee Airmen This 1995 made-for-TV movie tells the true story of the first all-black unit of fighter pilots during World War II, which, more recently, was also depicted in the George Lucas-produced Red Tails.

While the aerial dogfights might not be as flashy, this is, in most ways, still the better movie. Whichever version it is, though, its a story worth seeing.

One of the highlights of The Tuskegee Airmen is the strong ensemble cast, led by Laurence Fishburne and also featuring Andre Braugher (from Glory), Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Lithgow.

20 Feet from Stardom There are a lot of documentaries worth checking out in connection with Black History Month, including many dealing with central issues such as slavery, the civil rights movement, etc.

For a lighter kind of nonfiction film, though, try 20 Feet from Stardom, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last year. Directed by Morgan Neville, it takes an in-depth look at a very specific part of black history, namely how African-American backup singers have shaped the sound of modern music in ways that are often taken for granted.

Its an extremely well-made and engaging tour of pop music history and the role African-American artists, in particular, have played, featuring interviews with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Mick Jagger to Sting. The movie 20 Feet from Stardom is the kind of documentary that even non-documentary buffs will enjoy.
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