9 Movies for Black History Month
Here in North America, we dedicate the month of February to celebrating Black History.
Like the United States, Canada celebrates Black History Month during February. This month was chosen because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The roots of Black History Month began in the early 20th century, but it was in the 1970s when the observance picked up momentum. In Canada, it was in the mid-1990s when the month was officially recognized.
Black History Month has its critics. There are some who say black history is history; it shouldn’t be relegated to one month. Even so, it’s good to remember the contributions of people who often get overlooked in the history books. Not everyone can be remembered in one history text or class. In honor of Black History Month, here are some movies you should see:
Classic Movies About Black History
- “Gone With the Wind” (1939)Margaret Mitchell’s epic book that was made into a movie has its critics. However, what’s interesting to note is that Hattie McDonnell, the actress who played Mammy, was the first black person to receive an Oscar. The producer had to call in a special favor to get permission for McDaniel to be allowed into the no-blacks Ambassador Hotel to accept the prize.
- “Lilies of the Field” (1964)Sidney Poitier became the first black man to receive an Oscar, nearly 25 years following McDaniel’s win. This 1964 classic might seem tame compared to today’s blockbusters, but it’s a great lesson in humility and faith in accomplishing goals.
- “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)Poitier was a big name in Hollywood, and in 1967, he starred as a detective from the North who had to help a racist cop in the South track down a murderer. Through the course of the film, the two men begin to develop mutual understanding. The film represents the changing social-political climate actually occurring throughout the United States.
- “The Color Purple” (1985)This movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a highly acclaimed film of its time. It was Whoopi Goldberg’s breakout role, but more importantly, it focused on the plight of the African-American woman. See it in film, read the book or attend the theater version.
More Recent Movies About black History
- “Boyz N the Hood” (1991)John Singleton kicked off a decade that gave us many movies about black men just trying to survive in their own urban city under the veil of violence and discrimination. He was the first and youngest African-American to be nominated for Best Director.
- “Malcolm X” (1992)This film was placed on the National Film Registry because of its historic significance. Denzel Washington lost the Academy Award for Best Actor that year, but he still took many other awards for his role. The film is highly acclaimed and well received, and it’s a must-see for everyone to understand this man who changed history.
- “Hidden Figures” (2016)Released last year, this movie recognizes the contribution of black women to the United States’ space program. It’s based on the true story of three Virginia women who changed history by believing they could.
- “Ray” (2004)Ray Charles is one of the most acclaimed musicians in the world, but he came from very humble beginnings. At the age of seven, Charles went completely blind. Still, he overcame his disability and his heritage to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. This film is a story of his perseverance during a difficult time in history.
There are many other movies that give us glimpses into the history of African-Americans. Spike Lee has made many movies that did not fit on this list. Watch some of these great flicks during Black History Month.
Women to Know – Viola Desmond
Viola Desmond was one of many who have been fighting for equality of the races.
Chances are, you know that Viola Desmond is going to be the new face of the $10 bill, but you may not know who she is. She is the first Canadian-born woman who will appear on a Canadian banknote. The only other woman who does is Queen Elizabeth. Desmond is considered Canada’s Rosa Parks, but she hasn’t gotten near the recognition that Parks has received. Desmond is considered to have started the civil rights movement in Canada. Who is this woman who changed history?
Viola Desmond and Her Beginnings
Viola was born to James and Gwendolin Davis in 1914 in Halifax. She was one of fifteen children. Her parents were active in the black community and belonged to many organizations. Viola wanted to become a beautician because she noticed that professional skin and hair care products were not available for black women. She wasn’t allowed to train in her own town of Halifax. She went to Montreal, Atlantic City and New York to receive the training she needed to open her own hair salon.
Once she returned to Halifax, she did open a salon. She also set up a beauty school for black women to receive proper training. Desmond encouraged students to open their own businesses and then to hire other black women within the community. She marketed and sold her own line of beauty products for black women. It was on a business trip to sell these products when she made her stand.
Trouble in New Glasgow
Viola went to New Glasgow in November 1946 to promote her line. Her car broke down in the town. The parts would not become available until the next day. She went to the Roseland Film Theatre to pass the time. After purchasing her ticket, she took a seat on the main floor. The manager informed her that she could not sit there because she was black. She refused to sit in the balcony, which was designated exclusively for blacks. The police were called and had to forcibly remove her from the segregated theatre. She was injured in the process, kept in jail overnight and never informed that she had a right to a lawyer or bail.
There was a one-cent difference in tax between the price of the seats in the balcony and the seats on the main floor. Desmond was charged with tax evasion for not paying this difference. She was fined $20, which is about $270 in today’s costs, plus had to pay court costs of $6. She was able to pay the fine and return to her home town. Her husband suggested she let the matter go, but Desmond decided to fight the charge.
The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and her church helped her hire a lawyer. The first trials proved unsuccessful because she was not convicted out of racism or discrimination, but simply because she refused to pay the one-cent tax.
The case was dismissed. Justice William Lorimer Hall wrote, “One wonders if the manager of the theatre who laid the complaint was so zealous because of a bona fide belief that there had been an attempt to defraud the province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce a Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public statute.”
Desmond died in 1965 due to a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. She was just 50 years old. Most people forgot about her act until Viola’s sister published “Sister to Courage” in 2010. The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Mayann Francis, granted Desmond a free pardon, the first to be granted posthumously. Desmond would be honoured on a Canadian stamp in 2012. And now, in 2018, she will be the first Canadian woman to be portrayed on a Canadian note.