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IDA Staff Recommends: Docs to Watch During Black History Month

By Catalina Combs

Black background with green, yellow, and red waves on the left side. White IDA logo in top right corner. White text: IDA Staff Recommends: Documentaries to Watch During Black History Month 2024

Every February, people in the United States celebrate the achievements and history of African Americans as part of Black History Month. While we believe celebrating Black history should not be limited to just one month, we encourage you all to celebrate, honor, cherish, and uplift the voices and works of Black non-fiction makers, thinkers, scholars, and workers in our industry this month with a list of IDA staff recommendations. 

The radical work of Black filmmakers has paved the way for the liberation of the screen and our communities and continues to shape how we view Cinema. Here are suggested non-fiction works by Black filmmakers for this year’s Black History Month! These films illuminate history, radicalize our present, and show us a pathway to the future. We hope you enjoy these works and continue to celebrate the Black filmmakers and voices in your community this month and every day!


After Sherman (Jon Sesrie Goff)


Returning to the coastal South Carolina land that his family purchased after emancipation, filmmaker Jon-Sesrie Goff's desire to explore his Gullah/Geechee roots transforms into a poetic investigation of Black inheritance, trauma, and generational wisdom, amidst the violent tensions that define America's collective history.  

Where to Watch: PBS

Black Is...Black Ain't (Marlon Riggs)


The final film by filmmaker Marlon Riggs, Black Is...Black Ain't, jumps into the middle of explosive debates over Black identity. White Americans have always stereotyped African Americans. But the rigid definitions of "Blackness" that African Americans impose on each other, Riggs claims, have also been devastating. Is there an essential Black identity? Is there a litmus test defining the real Black man and true Black woman?

Where to Watch: Criterion         
Recommended By: Abby Sun

Rebirth is Necessary (Jenn Nkiru)


This film explores the magic and dynamism of Blackness in a realm where time and space are altered. The now, the past & the future are rethought and reordered to create something soulful and mind-bendingly visceral.       

Where to Watch: Nowness         
Recommended By: Maria Santos

Easter Snap (RaMell Ross)


With a baited handling of American symbolism, filmmaker RaMell Ross joins five men in the deep South, Alabama, who resurrect the homestead ritual of hog processing under the guidance of Johnny Blackmon.       

Where to Watch: Field of Vision         
Recommended By: Abby Sun

Eyes on the Prize (Henry Hampton)


Produced by Blackside, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today. Winner of numerous Emmy Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award, an International Documentary Award, and a Television Critics Association Award, Eyes on the Prize is the most critically acclaimed documentary on civil rights in America.  

Where to Watch: PBS         
Recommended By: Abby Sun

Handsworth Songs (John Akomfrah)


Handsworth Songs is a richly-layered documentary representing the hopes and dreams of post-war black British people in the light of the civil disturbances of the 1980s. It engages with Britain’s colonial past, public and private memories, and the struggles of race and class. The title refers to the riots in Handsworth, Birmingham during September 1985. The soundtrack is influenced by reggae, punk, and the post-industrial noise movement.       

Where to Watch: YouTube    
Recommended By: Dominic Willsdon

I am not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)

I Am Not Your Negro envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, a radical narration about race in America, using the writer’s original words, as read by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Alongside a flood of rich archival material, the film draws upon Baldwin’s notes on the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to explore and bring a fresh and radical perspective to the current racial narrative in America.       

Where to Watch: Tubi       
Recommended By: Zaferhan Yumru

Is That Black Enough for You?!? (Elvis Mitchell)


Culture critic and historian Elvis Mitchell traces the evolution — and revolution — of Black cinema from its origins to the impactful films of the 1970s.       

Where to Watch: Netflix

Midnight in Paris (James Blagden & Roni Moore)


Profiling the 2012 graduating class of the majority-black Flint Northern High School as they get ready for prom, Midnight in Paris captures the elaborate preparations for the big night with humor, vitality, and a subtle but powerful political conscience.       

Where to Watch: YouTube       
Recommended By: Abby Sun

OJ: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)


It is the defining cultural tale of modern America - a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system. Two decades after its unforgettable climax, it continues to fascinate, polarize, and even, develop new chapters. Now, the producers of ESPN's 30 for 30 have made it the subject of their most ambitious project yet.  

Where to Watch: Prime Video       
Recommended By: Abby Sun

Pariah, My Brother, I Follow You, Show Me the Route to the Springs (Esery Mondesir)


The holiday season is fast approaching in Tijuana, Mexico where Saül and his father-in-law, Mathieu are getting ready for a busy day at the street market selling recycled tennis shoes.       

Where to Watch: Mubi       
Recommended By: Abby Sun

Random Acts of Flyness (Terence Nance)


Artist, musician, and filmmaker Terence Nance returns for a long-awaited second season of the acclaimed series Random Acts of Flyness. Exploring the metaphysics of Black life through avant-garde storytelling, the second season follows Terence (Terence Nance) and Najja (Alicia Pilgrim), a couple working towards healing generational wounds and reintroducing themselves to the ways of their ancestors. Each of the six episodes explores a different dimension while presenting a rich tapestry of audio and visuals to illustrate the spiritual practice of Black liberation.       

Where to Watch: Max       
Recommended By: Maria Santos

Strong Island (Yance Ford)


Strong Island chronicles the arc of a family across history, geography, and tragedy - from the racial segregation of the Jim Crow South to the promise of New York City; from the presumed safety of middle-class suburbs to the maelstrom of an unexpected, violent death. It is the story of the Ford family: Barbara Dunmore, William Ford, and their three children and how their lives were shaped by the enduring shadow of race in America. A deeply intimate and meditative film, Strong Island asks what one can do when the grief of loss is entwined with historical injustice, and how one grapples with the complicity of silence, which can bind a family in an imitation of life, and a nation with a false sense of justice.       

Where to Watch: Netflix       
Recommended By: Maria Santos

Summer of Soul (Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson)


In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture, and fashion.

Where to Watch: Hulu       
Recommended By: Melissa D'Lando

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves)


In his one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, the pioneering William Greaves presides over a beleaguered film crew in New York’s Central Park, leaving them to try to figure out what kind of movie they’re making. A couple enacts a breakup scenario over and over, a documentary crew films a crew filming the crew, locals wander casually into the frame: the project defies easy description. Yet this wildly innovative sixties counterculture landmark remains one of the most tightly focused and insightful movies ever made about making movies, expanded thirty-five years later by its unconventional follow-up, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2½. The “sequel” sees Take One actors Audrey Henningham and Shannon Baker reunited in a more personal, metatheatrical exploration of the effects of the passage of time on technology, the artistic process, and relationships—real and fabricated.       

Where to Watch: Criterion       
Recommended By: Anisa Hosseinnezhad

The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili)


Pennsylvania-born filmmaker Ephraim Asili has been exploring different facets of the African diaspora - and his own place within it - for nearly a decade. The Inheritance is a vibrant, engaging ensemble work that takes place almost entirely within the walls of a West Philadelphia house where a community of young people have come together to form a collective of Black artists and activists.       

Where to Watch: Prime Video       
Recommended By: Abby Sun

The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye)


The wry, incisive debut feature by Cheryl Dunye gave cinema something bracingly new and groundbreaking: a vibrant representation of Black lesbian identity by a Black lesbian filmmaker. Dunye stars as Cheryl, a video store clerk and aspiring director whose interest in forgotten Black actresses leads her to investigate an obscure 1930s performer known as the Watermelon Woman, whose story proves to have surprising resonances with Cheryl’s own life as she navigates a new relationship with a white girlfriend (Guinevere Turner). Balancing breezy romantic comedy with a serious inquiry into the history of Black and queer women in Hollywood, The Watermelon Woman slyly rewrites long-standing constructions of race and sexuality on-screen, introducing an important voice in American cinema.  

Where to Watch: Apple TV       
Recommended By: Maria Santos

Thirteenth (Ava DuVernay)


In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists, and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.       

Where to Watch: Netflix       
Recommended By: Keisha Knight

Stamped From the Beginning (Roger Ross Williams)


Using innovative animation and expert insights, this documentary based on Ibram X. Kendi's bestseller explores the history of racist ideas in America.  

Where to Watch: Netflix  
Recommended By: Catalina Combs

A Most Beautiful Thing (Mary Mazzio)


Narrated by Common, filmmaker Mary Mazzio chronicles the first African American high-school rowing team from the West Side of Chicago. The team was made up of young men, many of whom were in rival gangs from the West Side of Chicago, who came together to row in the same boat. 

Where to watch: Prime Video 
Recommended By: Catalina Combs