Last year’s racial justice protests reignited long-needed conversations about the importance of amplifying Black voices. In the world of entertainment, companies began more and more to spotlight content by Black creators in front of and behind the camera. But now that it’s Black History Month 2021, how is their follow-through? Which platforms are taking the time to curate the right kind of content?
The streamers below are encouraging viewers to discover new stories and remember older ones that may have missed the spotlight.
Apple TV+: With only six films released to date, there’s not too much to say about the presence of Black voices as part of Apple TV+’s slate of original content. But what the year-old streamer lacks in a library, it more than makes up for as a curator. For this year’s Black History Month, Apple looked beyond its own library and surveyed movies and TV on all platforms. The sweeping, inspired collection, Essential: Stories That Honor Black Families, links out to meaningful content on Prime, Hulu, Starz, everywhere really—content that explores Black family life, that tells true stories of heroes and activists, and that traces a timeline of historic firsts in Black representation. It doesn’t hurt that everything on the platform looks so good too, thanks to a colorful collaboration with artist Jon Key.
Get started with: Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991) or The Way I See It (Dawn Porter, 2020)
Netflix: The platform has been intentional about diversifying its content for a while, launching in 2018 the Strong Black Lead initiative (led by a group of Black executives at Netflix). The ongoing, year-round campaign is dedicated to reaching a Black audience and amplifies the talented voices behind Netflix’s stacked slate of original content. In 2021, its offerings vary in theme (from “Black Behind the Camera” to “Stories From the African Diaspora”) and format (from dynamic documentaries like 13th to contemporary contenders like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). With a robust catalog of Black stories that could never be watched in 28 days alone, Netflix and the Strong Black Lead brand make it clear that every month is Black History Month.
Get started with: 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013) or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe, 2020)
Criterion: If you’re feeling scholarly this Black History Month, Criterion has you covered. The cinephile-friendly platform has done its homework, offering up some astonishing, edifying collections in its Black Lives library: selections from directors old and new, from Gordon Parks to Mati Diop; experimental Afrofuturist films; and pioneering picks from the beginning of cinema, like Within Our Gates, the oldest surviving movie by a Black director. Plus, almost every piece in the collection is accompanied by filmmaker interviews or historian commentary that unpack what you’re watching (and why it matters). After spending even just a couple of days on Criterion, you’ll have an education that gives film school a run for its money.
Get started with: Within Our Gates (Oscar Micheaux, 1920) or Atlantiques (Mati Diop, 2009)
Brown Sugar: Filled to the brim with iconic ’70s Blaxploitation movies, under-the-radar streaming service Brown Sugar is not lying when it says it has the biggest collection of badass cinema. There’s no better place than this ultra-niche platform to acquaint yourself with the often controversial and always invigorating Blaxploitation genre. Shaft, Super Fly, Penitentiary and Cleopatra Jones are some of the staples available, just to name a few.
Get started with: Uptown Saturday Night (Sidney Poitier, 1974)
Hulu: The Black Stories tab on Hulu boasts quite a TV lineup (nostalgic sitcoms and even some popular reality shows), but we’re loving it for the mound of modern movie classics it offers. The hub is easy-to-find, easy-to-browse, and features some Barry Jenkins, some Kasi Lemmons, some Steve McQueen, some Gina Prince-Bythewood—that’s enough for us.
Get started with: Luce (Julius Onah, 2019) or Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018)
BONUS PICKS: While not as wide-spanning as the curations above, a few more Black History Month celebrations cannot be ignored. HBO Max clearly put some love into its celebration: Heartfelt themes (like “Our Joy,” “Our Legacy” and “Our Present Struggles”) fill the Black History Is Our History collection, and the streamer has even made a few of its titles available for free without a subscription this month. Amazon Prime went timely and contemporary with its picks, flaunting lists that honor the late Cicely Tyson as well as relevant new releases (One Night in Miami, Small Axe, Time, All In: The Fight for Democracy and more). ESPN also has its head in the game: The channel’s The Undefeated website (which explores the intersections of race, sports and culture) proclaims “Black History Always” as it reviews new releases like Judas and the Black Messiah and Malcolm & Marie.
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The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25th at 8 pm EST. Watch it live on ABC or go to ABC.com and log in with your TV provider.