Experiencing joy is a form of radical self-care.

Whether characters are falling in love or forging everlasting friendships or simply gathering together for Sunday dinner, the depiction of Black joy can be found in some of cinema’s most endearing, hilarious, action-packed, and poignant films. Even among loss, there is joy to be found. In honor of Black History Month, here's a list of films that spark joy within the viewer regardless of the overall plot.

'Soul Food' (1997)

Sunday dinners are a time to connect with loved ones and to feast. Soul Food follows the story of a tight-knit Chicago family as seen through the eye of an 11-year-old member of the Joseph bunch. The plot centers around Big Mama (Irma P. Hall), the family matriarch, whose family struggles to adjust to her absence and keep those Sunday dinners on schedule after she falls ill. The film, directed by George Tillman Jr. and executive produced by Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, stars Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Beach and Brandon Hammond.

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Barbershop' (2002)

A lot goes down in the Barbershop. Directed by Tim Story, this 2002 comedy-drama starring Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and Michael Ealy takes place in a Philadelphia barbershop where there are plenty of laughs to go around. Cube plays shop owner Calvin, who inherited the shop from his late father. Calvin sees the shop as a waste of time and money rather than a place for members of the community to converge in the name of self-help and personal care. Naturally, he sells the shop – but attempts to get it back once the regret sets in. This year marks the film’s 20 year anniversary.

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Girls Trip' (2017)

Girls Trip was a breakout hit that grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office and helped make Tiffany Haddish into a household name. Haddish stars alongside Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall. The four play lifelong friends who have grown distant and intend on rekindling their sisterhood on a trip to the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. Kenya Barris (Black-ish) and Tracy Oliver (Harlem) wrote the 2017 film, which was produced by Will Packer and Malcolm D. Lee – who also directed.

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Dope' (2015)

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, this coming-of-age comedy-drama stars Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons and Zoe Kravitz. The film follows Malcolm and his best friends, Jib and Diggy, who are considered high school "geeks" living in "The Bottoms," a high-crime neighborhood in Inglewood, California. Malcolm has high hopes of being accepted into his dream school, Harvard University. When a drug dealer takes a liking to Malcolm and invites him to his birthday party, Malcolm and his friends are swept up into a hilarious Los Angeles adventure featuring offbeat characters and bad choices. Dope was produced by Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi. Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs served as executive producers.

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Dolemite is My Name' (2019)

Comedy icon Eddie Murphy stars as Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer, entrepreneur, actor and film producer. The 1975 action film Dolemite, produced by Moore and Theodore Toney, features Moore in the lead role as Dolemite, the larger-than-life character that he created. In the film, Dolemite is a pimp, who, upon his release from prison, takes on the criminals and corrupt police officers who framed him. In Craig Brewer’s biographical comedy-drama, Moore is depicted as relentless and hopeful. Seemingly surrounded by doubters and obstacles, he struggles to get the film made. Upon its release, the blaxploitation film proves to be a huge success! Dolemite is My Name co-stars Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Mike Epps, and Craig Robinson. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

'Sister Act' (1992)

Whoopi Goldberg stars Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer in Reno, Nevada. When she witnesses a murder, she is forced to go into hiding for her protection in a convent in Los Angeles. Going by Sister Mary Clarence, she joins the choir and upends the previously quiet lives of the sisters. The musical comedy, directed by Emile Ardolino, co-stars Kathy Najimy, Maggie Smith, Bill Nunn and Harvey Keitel. This year marks the film’s 30 year anniversary. 

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Bad Boys' (1995) 

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence play two police detectives in Miami in the 1990s. Although the two are partners, they definitely do not have everything in common; Mike Lowrey (Smith) is a bachelor while Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) is married with kids. When $100 million worth of heroin is stolen, they must investigate the case while protecting a witness. The hit action comedy, directed by Michael Bay, co-stars Theresa Randle, Téa Leoni and Joe Pantoliano. 

Where to Watch: Amazon 

'Rush Hour' (1998)

When the daughter of a Chinese diplomat is kidnapped in Los Angeles, the diplomat asks Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) to assist the FBI with the case. The FBI, though, doesn't want Lee’s help. They pass him off to the LAPD, who then assign Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) to watch over Lee. Although Carter and Lee cannot stand one another initially, they work together in hopes of getting the young girl back safely. The martial arts buddy cop action comedy was an enormous hit worldwide and even got two sequels.    

Where to Watch: Amazon 

'The Wiz' (1978)

Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne and Ted Ross star in the all-Black adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.  Ross takes over the role of Dorothy, but the details are slightly different from the original. For starters, Dorothy works as a schoolteacher in Harlem (instead of being a young orphan from Kansas). While trying to save her dog in a snow blizzard, she gets trapped in a fantasy land and accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to get to the Wizard and return home – but the task is much easier said than done. Luckily, there are plenty of joyous moments to be found throughout The Wiz, especially in the extravagant musical numbers.

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Baadasssss!' (2003)

In the 2003 crowd-pleaser Baadasssss!, Mario Van Peebles chronicles the grueling and ultimately triumphant production of his father Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 action-packed crime drama Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a top-grossing indie that is regarded as the very first blaxploitation film ever made. Mario, who co-wrote, produced and directed Baadasssss!, stars as his father, Melvin. Mario’s film, which depicts Melvin managing to pull off something truly incredible – writing, producing, directing, starring in, and editing an incendiary and gritty crime film in which a Black man is portrayed as an uncompromising rebel during an era which did not feature such a character on film – is a joy to behold. 

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman' (2005)

Helen (Kimberly Elise) retreats to the house of her grandmother, Madea (Tyler Perry), when her husband, Charles (Steve Harris), announces that he wants a divorce. Madea helps Helen destroy much of Charles' property, which leads to a judge sentencing Madea to house arrest. The comedy, now one of ten official Madea movies, is the one that started it all. Perry, besides starring as the sassy Madea, executive produced and wrote the screenplay – which was based on his stage play. Although he did not direct Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Darren Grant directed), Perry has directed all of the Madea movies ever since. 

Where to Watch: HBO Max, Amazon and Hulu

'Love & Basketball' (2000)

All's fair in Love and Basketball. This beloved classic stars Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps as Monica and Quincy, respectively, two aspiring basketball players who share a passion for the game of basketball on the court, and eventually a love for each other. From childhood to adulthood, the film follows the pair through life's ups and downs -- and how they come together when their shared dreams threaten to tear them apart.

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Sylvie’s Love' (2020)

There’s always time for love, even if it doesn’t last very long. Sylvie’s Love, starring Tessa Thompson and Namdi Asomugha, takes place in Harlem in the 1950s. Sylvie (Thompson) and Robert (Asomugha) meet when Robert, a budding saxophonist, walks into Sylvie’s father’s record store in hopes of landing a job. The two eventually fall madly in love, but the moments of joy aren’t just found in the scenes that portray their new love. In this sweeping romantic drama, beauty and joy are everywhere. It’s in the locations, the sets, the dialogue, the glitzy New York City lighting, and the beautiful costumes seen throughout the film. The film co-stars Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Regé-Jean Page, Tone Bell, and Jemima Kirk. 

Where to Watch: Amazon

'Crooklyn' (1994)

Spike Lee’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age drama about a family living in 1973 Brooklyn centers around Troy (Zelda Harris), the only girl in the family, living with her parents and four brothers. The Carmichael family is led by Woody, a financially strapped musician, and Carolyn, a stern but loving high school teacher. Carolyn tragically dies after a battle with cancer; however, despite the film’s sad moments, Crooklyn has uplifting plot points that remind the viewer to search for triumph in tragedy. The film was dedicated to Lee’s mother, who passed away from cancer when he was in college. Alfre Woodard, Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, David Patrick Kelly and RuPaul are among the cast.

Where to Watch: Amazon


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