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Toronto Film School Presents: 28 Days, 28 Films, Series & Documentaries to Watch This Black History Month

From poignant documentaries and historical dramas, to  sidesplitting comedies and blockbuster superhero flicks – in honour of Black History Month, Toronto Film School has put together a list of must-see films, documentaries and television series to watch this February.

 

Each of the following recommended projects was submitted by members of Toronto Film School’s community of students, alumni and faculty.

 

13th(2016)

Director: Ava DuVernay

Synopsis: An American documentary film exploring the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States. It is titled under the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery in the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“This is as important a documentary as there ever could be, as DuVernay contends that slavery has been perpetuated since the end of the American Civil War through criminalizing behaviour and enabling police to arrest poor freedmen and force them to work for the state under convict leasing. This documentary was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary. This film represents a milestone in the dissemination of information for the masses and is a must see!”

 

 

21 Bridges (2019)

Director: Brian Kirk

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Taylor Kitsch, Sienna Miller

Synopsis: After uncovering a massive conspiracy, an embattled NYPD detective joins a citywide manhunt for two young cop killers. As the night unfolds, he soon becomes unsure of who to pursue – and who’s in pursuit of him. When the search intensifies, authorities decide to take extreme measures by closing all of Manhattan’s 21 bridges to prevent the suspects from escaping.

Recommended by 2018 Graphic Design & Interactive Media graduate Dami Osoba:

“A celebration of Black Excellence! Chadwick Boseman gave an outstanding performance despite his health challenges which was only made known by his family after his unfortunate demise in 2020.”

 

 

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Director: Doug Atchison

Starring: Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Keke Palmer

Synopsis: Akeelah, an 11-year-old girl living in South Los Angeles, discovers she has a talent for spelling, which she hopes will take her to the National Spelling Bee. Despite her mother’s objections, Akeelah doesn’t give up on her goal. She finds help in the form of a mysterious teacher, and along with overwhelming support from her community, Akeelah might just have what it takes to make her dream come true.

Recommended by Jael Jones Cabey, Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre student

“This movie, in its own way, provided me with knowledge in regard to different facets of the black experience. As a young child having watched Akeelah and the Bee, I was deeply moved by the notion that a little black girl could go on to achieve anything!”

 

 

Ali (2001)

Director: Michael Mann

Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight

Synopsis: This biographical sports drama focuses on the life of boxer Muhammad Ami from 1964 to 1974, featuring his capture of the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islam, his criticism of the Vietnam war, banishment from boxing, his return to fight Joe Frazier in 1971, and, finally, his reclaiming the title from George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle fight of 1974. It also touches on the great social and political upheaval in the United States following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“Will Smith’s portrayal of one of the most significant figures of the 20th century is one for the books! My father was a boxer and so I’d watch boxing matches with him when I was a child. I grew to love the discipline of the sport and, of course, Muhammad Ali is my idol, too! My father was able to shake his hand years ago back in Jamaica, and I had the honour of attending a Toronto event where he was speaking! Ali forever!”

 

 

Amistad (1997)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey

Synopsis: Based on the true story of the events in 1839 aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen abducted for the slave trade managed to gain control of their captors’ ship off the coast of Cuba, and the international legal battle that followed their capture by the Washington, a US revenue cutter.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“This story is based on the 1987 book Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law and Diplomacy, by the historian Howard Jones. Amistad was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography. Debbie Allen tried for years to make this movie and I’m so glad she persevered because this was the first movie I had ever seen about enslaved Africans who fought their oppressors and won!”

 

 

Barbershop (2002)

Director: Tim Story

Starring: Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer, Eve

Synopsis: A smart comedy about a day in the life of a barbershop on the south side of Chicago. Calvin, who inherited the struggling business from his deceased father, views the shop as nothing but a burden and a waste of his time. After selling the shop to a local loan shark, Calvin slowly begins to see his father’s vision and legacy and struggles with the notion that he just sold it out.

Recommended by 2017 Film Production graduate Becky Yeboah:

“Barbershop is such an entertaining piece, and it really embodies what it means to be a part of a community (which is, by the way, a very common, prominent message in so many films about Black culture: community). Yes, it’s a comedy – and a rather silly one at that – but underneath all the shenanigans and all the absurdity, there’s just so much heart. It also has such a strong message of forgiveness – which is something I think should be at the forefront of all our heartsthis year. Not only that, but Barbershop also speaks about leaning on one another, and working together to build better character, and to be better examples for our youth. It’s all these things that make me happy to recommend Barbershop as a film to watch this Black History Month.”

 

 

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Guria, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya

Synopsis: After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king – and as Black Panther – gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people.

Recommended by 2017 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre graduate Robert Cooper, 2017 Fashion Design graduate Amaka Obodo, and Acting faculty member Ingrid Hart:

“This is a monumental achievement in cinema as it showcases positive images of the black community and strengthens cultural identity. This is a superhero movie for the black community and for every community.”

 

 

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)

Director: Stanley Nelson

Synopsis: This documentary combines archival footage from the 1960s, and interviews with surviving Panthers and FBI agents, to tell the story of the revolutionary black organization the Black Panther Party and its impact on civil rights and American culture.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“This is the first of a three-part series of documentary films about African American history. The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The Black Panther Party had a positive impact on the community and provided safety and security during a time when the black community was under siege.”

 

 

Blade (1998) 

Director: Stephen Norrington

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson

Synopsis: A half-mortal, half-immortal is out to avenge his mother’s death and rid the world of vampires. The modern-day technologically advanced vampires he is going after are in search of his special blood type needed to summon an evil god who plays a key role in their plan to execute the human race.

Recommended by 2017 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre graduate Robert Cooper

 

 

Blood Diamond (2006)

Director: Edward Zwick

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, David Harewood

Synopsis: As civil war rages through 1990s Sierra Leone, two men – a white South African mercenary and a black Mende fisherman – become joined in a common quest to recover a rare gem that has the power to transform their lives. With the help of an American journalist, the men embark on a hazardous trek through rebel territory to achieve their goal.

Recommended by 2017 Fashion Design graduate Amaka Obodo

 

 

Boyz n’ the Hood (2012)

Director: John Singleton

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut

Synopsis: Tre is sent to live with his father, Furious Styles, in tough South Central Los Angeles. Although his hard-nosed father instills proper values and respect in him, and his devout girlfriend Brandi teaches him about faith, Tre’s friends Doughboy and Ricky don’t have the same kind of support and are drawn into the neighborhood’s booming drug and gang culture, with increasingly tragic results.

Recommended by 2017 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre graduate Robert Cooper

 

 

The Color Purple (1985)

Director: Stephen Spielberg

Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey

Synopsis: Based on the novel by Alice Walker, this is an epic tale spanning forty years in the life of Celie, an African-American woman living in the South who survives incredible abuse and bigotry. After Celie’s abusive father marries her off to the equally debasing “Mister” Albert Johnson, things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister in Africa.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“This is an American coming-of-age period drama based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The film tells the story of a young African American girl and the problems African American women faced in the early 20th century. This film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress as well as four Golden Globe Award nominations. I remember finding this book on my mom’s bookshelf when I was 10 years old. The pages were worn and tattered as though she had read it several times. I knew it wasn’t a book for children and so I would sneak to read it and then put it back on the shelf! It continues to have a lasting impression on me and has got to be one of my favourite movies of all time!”

 

 

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Director: Craig Brewer

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock

Synopsis: Performer Rudy Ray Moore develops an outrageous character named Dolemite, who becomes an underground sensation and star of a kung-fu, anti-establishment film that could make or break Moore.

Recommended by 2017 Film Production graduate Becky Yeboah:

“Dolemite is My Name is actually one of my favourite ‘Black’ films of all time. It’s not only silly, and raunchy, and just exceptionally hilarious, Dolemite is My Name is also a surprisingly inspiring story – specifically for filmmakers! As someone who’s done, and has been doing the whole ‘film-student-turned-low-budget-independent-passion-project-producing-filmmaker’ thing, I found Dolemite is My Name so encouraging and powerful. It reminds dreamers like us that we can do this. One of my favourite lines from the film comes when Eddie Murphy’s character, Rudy Ray Moore,realizes the “big shot” director they brought on board thinks their whole production is a joke, so he stands up for himself, his crew, and his movie and says the following: “I know you Mr. Big Time, but the rest of us ain’t never done no [expletive] like this before. I’m paying for this whole goddamn thing, and I ain’t got no [expletive] ego about it. If a box need to get moved, I will move the box, and if the crew get hungry, I go downstairs and start making sandwiches. Because we are here to work together to make a movie!” It sums up the mentality I aim to carry into every project I’m a part of. It spoke directly to me as a producer, and it made me look at Eddie Murphy’s character – this determined, foolhardy, crazy man who was insane enough to want to make a movie – and say: “that’s the kind of filmmaker I want to be.”

 

 

Do The Right Thing (1989)

Director: Spike Lee

Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Giancarlo Esposito, Ruby Dee, John Turturro

Synopsis: Salvatore “Sal” Fragione is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin’ Out, becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria’s Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin’ Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin’ Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty

 

 

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener, Lakeith Stanfield

Synopsis: Now that Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.

 Recommended by 2019 Film Production graduate Cheyenne Lynn

 

 

Guns (2008)

Director: Sudz Sutherland

Starring: Colm Feore, Elisha Cuthbert, Stephen McHattie, K.C. Collins, Shawn Doyle and Lyriq Bent

Synopsis: Guns is a gritty and dramatic mini-series that tells the story of four families caught up in illegal gun trafficking and the ripple effect this has on their lives. This is the story of those who traffic guns, the cops who try to catch them and the innocent people who get caught in the crossfire.

Recommended by Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty member Andrew Moodie

 

 

Harlem Nights (1989)

Director: Eddie Murphy

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Danny Aiello, Michael Lerner, Della Reese

Synopsis: In the waning days of Prohibition, Sugar Ray and his adopted son, Quick, run a speakeasy called Club Sugar Ray. When gangster Bugsy Calhoune learns that Sugar Ray’s place is pulling in more money than his own establishment, he pays corrupt cop Phil Cantone to close Club Sugar Ray down.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“This is an American crime comedy-drama film about gorgeous nightclubs and fearless gangsters in late 1930s Harlem, New York City. I love the music and costume design and overall feel of this film. Richard Pryor is one of the greatest influencers of stand-up comedy and it’s great to watch him and the rest of the beautiful cast re-ignite such a fantastic time known as the Harlem Renaissance. I went to theatre school in New York City and I remember visiting Harlem and thinking of what an amazingly creative and intriguing time it must have been in its prime.”

 

 

Harriet (2019)

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monáe

Synopsis: From her escape from slavery, through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad – the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman is told.

Recommended by 2019 Film Production graduate Cheyenne Lynn

 

 

Hidden Figures (2016) 

Director: Theodore Melfi

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

Synopsis: Three brilliant African-American women at NASA – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.

Recommended by 2019 Film Production graduate Cheyenne Lynn

 

 

Home Again (2016)

Director: Sudz Sutherland

Starring: Tatyana Ali, CCH Pounder, Lyriq Bent, Dewshane Williams

Synopsis: Canadian drama set in Kingston, Jamaica about three people who have been deported back to Jamaica, despite having lived in Canada, United States and United Kingdom for most of their lives.

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“As a descendant of Jamaican parents who arrived in Canada in the early 70’s, I can relate to these stories of struggle and cultural identity. All of these performances are outstanding and it’s always a thrill to watch brilliant Canadian talent on the screen!”

 

 

Malcolm X (1992)

Director: Spike Lee

Starring: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo

Synopsis: A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his imprisonment in the ’50s, he became a Black Muslim and then a leader in the Nation of Islam. His assassination in 1965 left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride. 

Recommended by Ingrid Hart, a member of the Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty:

“This is an American epic biographical drama that tells the story of key events in the life of human rights activist, Malcom X. In this film, Denzel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor as well, this film is preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The performances in this movie are spectacular and truly memorable! In fact, I remember the feeling I felt when I saw this movie for the first time. I had never seen visuals of black people presented in this way and it opened my eyes to a greater truth. This movie is a must see!”

 

 

Percy (2020)

Director: Clark Johnson

Starring: Christopher Walken, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff

Synopsis: This American-Canadian-Indian biographical follows 70-year-old Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, who is sued by a giant corporation after he knowingly commits patent infringement using their GMO canola.

Recommended by Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty member Andrew Moodie

 

 

Poor Boy’s Game (2019)

Director: Clement Virgo

Starring: Rossif Sutherland, Danny Glover, Flex Alexander

Synopsis: Boxer Donnie jailed for nine years after causing brain damage to a boy he assaulted, is finally released. Donnie is regretful and wishes to move on, but the community is still tense with racial division. The impaired boy’s black family wants revenge, and Donnie’s white relatives are eager for a fight, so a boxing match with a powerful young black man is scheduled. Amid the conflict, Donnie forms an unlikely friendship with his victim’s father.

Recommended by Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre faculty member Andrew Moodie

 

 

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Director: Ron Clements and John Musker

Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David

Synopsis: Hardworking and ambitious, Tiana dreams of one day opening the finest restaurant in New Orleans. Her dream takes a slight detour when she meets Prince Naveen, who has been turned into an amphibian by evil Dr. Facilier. Mistaking her for a princess and hoping to break the spell, Naveen plants a kiss on poor Tiana – thereby turning her into a frog as well. The pair hop along on an adventure through the bayous to seek the help of a powerful voodoo priestess.

Recommended by 2019 Film Production graduate Cheyenne Lynn

 

 

Rafiki (2018)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

Starring: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva, Neville Misati, Nice Githinji, Charlie Karumi

Synopsis: Kena and Ziki live very different lives in Nairobi. Kena works in her father’s shop and awaits the start of nursing school, while Ziki passes the days hanging out with her friends and making up dance routines. Their paths cross when their fathers run against each other for seats in the County Assembly, and they find themselves drawn to each other. Soon their interest grows to affection and the girls find ways to love each other despite the ever-watching gaze of the neighborhood.

Recommended by 2019 Film Production graduate Cheyenne Lynn

 

 

Remember the Titans (2000)

Director: Boaz Yakin

Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst

Synopsis: In Virginia, high school football is a way of life, an institution revered, each game celebrated more lavishly than Christmas, each playoff distinguished more grandly than any national holiday. And with such recognition, comes powerful emotions. In 1971, high school football was everything to the people of Alexandria. But when the local school board was forced to integrate an all-black school with an all-white school, the very foundation of football’s great tradition was put to the test. Based on the true story of Black coach Herman Boone and attempt to integrate the T.C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971.

Recommended by 2017 Film Production graduate Becky Yeboah:

“I don’t think there’s much I could say that would properly illustrate just how important this film is to me and to so many others. Remember the Titans takes us through the tumultuous times of segregation, and challenges Black people faced when schools and restaurants – well, society really – started to integrate. It’s an incredibly inspiring film, and it shows us what it means to have each other’s backs; to fight for your fellow man; to be an ally. It shows us what it means to stand up for what you believe in, and some of the resistance you might meet when you do just that. It’sfunny – there are a million different quotes I could’ve pulled from this film that would be so much more than sufficient, but I’m going with one from the equally Oscar-worthy Captain America: Civil War because this quote precisely summarizes the message I take from Remember the Titans and why I want to recommend it this Black History Month. The quote goes: “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move’.”

 

 

Star Wars: The Mandalorian (2019)

Creator: Jon Favreau

Starring: Pedro Pascal

Synopsis: The first live-action series in the Star Wars franchise, this American space Western begins five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and follows a lone bounty hunter who goes on the run after being hired to retrieve ‘The Child.’

Recommended by 2018 Graphic Design & Interactive Media graduate Dami Osoba:

“A celebration of Black Excellence as Rick Famuyiwa, a Nigerian-American directed three chapters of this huge TV show (Chapter 2, 6 & 15).”

 

 

When They See Us (2019)

Director: Ava DuVernay

Starring: Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk, Jovan Adepo, Michael K. Williams, Logan Marshall-Green, Joshua Jackson, Blair Underwood, Vera Farminga, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, Niecy Nash.

Synopsis: Miniseries based on events of the1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects who were falsely accused, then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a woman in New York City.

Recommended by 2018 Graphic Design & Interactive Media graduate Dami Osoba:

“Producer Ava DuVernay found a way to bring the story of the ‘Exonerated Five’ to life with a cast of young actors. The show takes you on an emotional and dramatic journey as it highlights the inadequacies of the justice system and its impact on Black people at the time. The show won multiple awards including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie by Jharrel Jerome.”