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Black History Month: 10 dramas to watch on Netflix

When They See Us (Central Park Five)
When They See Us (Central Park Five) Pic credit: Netflix

Around the world, the month of February is recognized as Black History Month. It is a time to celebrate diversity and honor the great achievements of Black individuals everywhere, from artists to historical figures.

In celebration of the occasion, below is a list of 10 dramas to watch on Netflix. Hollywood is diversifying more and more every day, and in the last few years, movies and shows have been released featuring Black actors and creators across the drama genre. 

This list contains a variety of movies and shows, ones that are based on real-life events and ones that take more creative liberties. However, what they all have in common is that they are solid dramas. 

Fruitvale Station

Written by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler is Fruitvale Station. The movie came out in 2013 and stars Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz (Charmed), and Octavia Spencer. 

This biographical drama is based on the real-life events that occurred before the death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a transit police officer. 

This emotional movie is well-acclaimed with a 94% critic review on Rotten Tomatoes and a Google audience rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. Many reviewers shared that Fruitvale Station is a socially relevant must-watch that left them feeling angry and upset.

In addition to high ratings, the movie won numerous awards. It received recognition from the Sundance Film Festival and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture. 

AJ the Queen

In this series, RuPaul stars in AJ the Queen as the traveling drag queen Ruby Red. While traveling as a performer, she befriends a young child named AJ who demands to be taken to Texas. 

While AJ the Queen addresses numerous heavy topics, it is a clever comedy-drama. The series balances issues of drug abuse and stigma with corny jokes and meaningful conversations. 

Starring alongside RuPaul in this 10-episode series is newcomer Izzy G (B Positive), voice actor Michael-Leon Wooley, and Tia Carrere (General Hospital). If you’re a RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, there are also many cameos from the reality show’s past contestants. 

Moonlight 

This Academy-Award-winning movie is often described as being a masterpiece. Moonlight follows its main protagonist Chiron through his childhood to adulthood.

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The movie addresses toxic masculinity, sexual and racial identity, and situations of abuse throughout Chiron’s coming-of-age journey and beyond. It manages to be harrowing and refreshing at the same time. 

Netflix describes the movie as:

In this acclaimed coming-of-age drama, a young man who grows up poor, Black and gay in a rough Miami neighborhood tries to find his place in the world. 

Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins who is also known for his movie adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk.

Starring in Moonlight is Trevante Rhodes (Bird Box), Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us), Mahershala Ali, and Janelle Monae.

Saturday Church

Saturday Church is a standout on this list as it is the only fantasy musical. The movie tells the story of 14-year-old teenage Ulysses (Luka Kain) who is bullied at home and school while he is coming to terms with his sexuality. 

After Ulysses befriends a group of LGBT+ individuals, he begins to grow into his own skin despite the disapproval from his aunt whom he lives with. This presents him with a major issue: Stay oppressed and abused at home or venture out and fend for himself. 

Saturday Church is set to a beautiful aesthetic and a calming soundtrack. It comes well-reviewed and with a glowing cast. This movie features jazz artist Margot Bingham, famed playwright Regina Taylor, and actor MJ Rodriquez (Pose). 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The 2021 Golden Globe nominee movie Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom stars beloved actors Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman as the titular character and trumpeter Levee Green.

Produced by Denzel Washington, it tells the story of the real-life blues singer Ma Rainey and her experience in the recording studio.

Movie critic Odie Henderson praises Boseman’s performance in the movie, which happened to be his final performance before his passing.

He wrote on Roger Ebert, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom saves its most emotional moments for Levee, however, and Boseman devours them with a ferocity that sears the screen.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a tragic story that uncovers a great amount of knowledge about African-American music history and the experience of being a Black artist in the 1920s. 

When They See Us

Directed by Ava DuVernay, When They See Us tells the real-life story of the Central Park jogger case in 1989 that was responsible for wrongfully imprisoning five young Black men.

Netflix describes the series as: 

Based on a true story that gripped the country, When They See Us will chronicle the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit. The four part limited series will focus on the five teenagers from Harlem — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. Beginning in the spring of 1989, when the teenagers were first questioned about the incident, the series will span 25 years, highlighting their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.

This limited series is incredibly raw and highlights the deadly outcomes of racial discrimination. It stars Asante Blackk (This Is Us), Caleel Harris (Castle Rock), Ethan Herisse (Miss Virginia), Marquis Rodriguez (Iron Fist), and Jharrel Jerome.

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Adding another dramedy to the list comes The Forty-Year-Old Version, a semi-autobiographical story directed by and starring Radha Blank. The movie follows Radha, a writer and educator who decides to kickstart a rapping career moments before turning 40 years old.

The movie is widely well-received and it has a high rating across the board on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and Google audience reviews. 

Going beyond offering insightful commentary on aging and discovering one’s self as an artist, The Forty-Year-Old Version is a unique and personal exploration of the ups and downs that come with being alive.

Lupin

Lupin is a French mystery drama that has everybody talking. Just premiering a few weeks ago, the series has already been renewed for a second season by Netflix. 

Headlining Lupin is Omar Sy, an actor well-known for his popularity in French films as well as X-Men Days of Future Past and Jurassic World.

The series as described by Netflix:

As a teenager, Assane Diop’s life was turned upside down when his father died after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. 25 years later, Assane will use “Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar” as his inspiration to avenge his father. 

It is a quick viewing, with only 5-episodes, each under an hour. While the series is hard to explain without dropping spoilers, it explores topics of racism and classism as it dives into the crimes of its main anti-hero.

One Last Thing

Headlining Birds of Prey actor Jurnee Smollett stars in One Last Thing, a story about reconciliation between an estranged father and his daughter who is suffering from a life-threatening medical condition.

It is an undemanding movie that is perfect for someone who is craving a casual and familiar watch. 

Critic Jamie Broadnax who writes for Black Girl Nerd reviewed the movie. She summarized it greatly with, “It’s definitely a Lifetime movie-of-the-week kind of story but with solid performances.”

This movie is an urgent must-watch as it is being removed from Netflix on February 24. 

All Day and A Night

Last on this list is All Day and A Night, a drama movie following the character Jahkor Lincoln, a young rapper.

The movie opens with Jahkor being admitted to prison for committing a violent crime and then travels back to his childhood, documenting all of the moments that led him to where he is now. 

All Day and A Night stars Moonlight actor Ashton Sanders as well as Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Us, Watchmen), and Saturday Church’s Regina Taylor.

The movie has mixed critic and audience reviews. However, those who praise it have shown their appreciation for the movie’s “realness” and uncensored depiction of Black poverty. 

All shows and movies on the list are available for streaming on Netflix.


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