Black History Month

Don't Recognize These Black History Icons? You Will After Watching These 7 Documentaries.

Get to know their stories.

With Black History Month upon us, we're here to make sure you're paying it the attention it deserves. Though we should all year long, February is always the time when we focus on Black culture and history, highlighting those who have made a difference along the way.


Some of the same Black icons always get the attention — from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks. That said, there are many Black people from history you should know but probably don't. That's why we've put together a list of documentaries about these people for you to (hopefully) watch during this 28-day period.

These folks come from various backgrounds — those of entertainment, sports, civil rights, literature, and business — with each leaving a massive impact on Black history. Check out the list complete with trailers, descriptions, and (hopefully) where you can stream them right now:

"Carmen and Geoffrey" (2005)

Carmen and Geoffrey follows Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, two legendary performers who met while working on Truman Capote's 1954 play House of Flowers — getting engaged on the spot and staying together until death separated them in 2014. Holder is famous for winning a Tony for directing The Wiz on Broadway, and de Lavallade is perhaps best known for being a major force in Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater. Over the course of three years, this documentary features new interviews and archival footage of these memorable talents, charting their personal and professional lives.

Get Carmen and Geoffrey on Amazon.

"Celia: The Queen" (2008)

Get to know "The Queen of Salsa" and "The Queen of Latin Music" herself Celia Cruz in Celia: The Queen. Cruz was a Cuban-American singer who rose to fame in the 1950s and sadly passed away in 2003. Winning six competitive Grammys as well as receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization posthumously in 2016, Cruz showed everyone what it means to be Afro-Latina while rising to the top of what was (and still is) a male-dominated genre. While we're sticking to documentaries on this list, there is also a Netflix original series dedicated to Cruz's life you can watch here.

Get Celia: The Queen on Amazon.

"The Death And Life of Marsha P. Johnson" (2017)

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is a Netflix documentary that introduces viewers to Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender activist and veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising who died mysteriously in 1992 at the age of 46. A beacon of strength for the LGBTQ community, Johnson is remembered for being an advocate for gay rights, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, a self-identified drag queen, a model for Andy Warhol, and an AIDS ally — just to name a few.

Watch The Death And Life of Marsha P. Johnson on Netflix.

"Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football" (2014)

With the Super Bowl officially behind us for another year, why not take a moment to learn about an important point in sports history by watching Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football? This documentary focuses on four athletes — Marion Motley, Woody Strode, Kenny Washington, and Bill Willis — who, in 1946, famously helped smash barriers for Black athletes in professional football. It follows their lives, the highs, and lows while highlighting their cultural impact on the sports world.

Watch Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football on Epix.

"I Am Not Your Negro" (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary which is based on Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript from novelist James Baldwin which contains a collection of notes and letters written in the mid-1970s. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, this Oscar-nominated doc looks at the history of racism in the U.S. through Baldwin's point of view as he recalls the lives of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — and makes personal observations.

Watch I Am Not Your Negro on Amazon.

"Mama Africa" (2011)

Mama Africa is all about Zenzile Miriam Makeba — whose nickname inspired the documentary's title — a South African singer who rose to international fame in the world of music. Singing in several African dialects as well as English, Makeba lit up the stage while also making a difference in the world by speaking out against apartheid — which led to her exile there and relocation to New York City in 1959. Upon apartheid's abolishment and Nelson Mandela's ascension to becoming president of South Africa, Makeba returned home. This documentary follows this woman's life and legacy.

An international version of Mama Africa is available on Amazon.

"Reginald F. Lewis and the Making of a Billion Dollar Empire" (2018)

Reginald F. Lewis and the Making of a Billion Dollar Empire is a documentary that follows Reginald F. Lewis, a Harvard Law School graduate who succeeded to become the first Black person to build a billion-dollar business with Beatrice Foods. Though he passed away at the age of 50, Lewis left behind an empire, but — and perhaps more importantly — inspired future entrepreneurs of color to go out there and make a name for themselves by achieving their dreams.

Reginald F. Lewis and the Making of a Billion Dollar Empire airs February 15 on PBS.


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