Four movies to watch during Black History Month

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Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is threatened at knife-point by his cruel master (Michael Fassbender) in “12 Years a Slave.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

As Black History Month draws to a close, The Daily Texan compiled a list of notable films that commemorate black history from a variety of perspectives — and offer important lessons for the future.

The Color Purple

“The Color Purple,” directed by Steven Spielberg, is an emotional drama that features an incredible debut performance from Whoopi Goldberg. Goldberg plays Celie, an African-American woman abused by her cruel and much older husband (Danny Glover). Following the course of Celie’s life, “The Color Purple” explores the intersection of oppression of women and black people in the early 1900s.  

“The Color Purple” provides a compelling view of African-American hardship from a female perspective and affirms that familial bonds transcend both distance and time. 

12 Years a Slave

“12 Years a Slave” tells the harrowing true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. 

“12 Years” benefits from Ejiofor’s soulful performance and Michael Fassbender’s ruthless portrayal as Solomon’s tyrannical master. Directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years” doesn’t shy away from discomforting images of violence, forcing the audience to confront the
slaves’ suffering. 

“12 Years” is not only a fantastic historical film, but also a resonant, emotional masterpiece.

42

“42” is a well-made tribute to legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), who broke the baseball color barrier in 1947 by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African- American in Major League Baseball. The charismatic Boseman grasps audiences’ attention from the get-go and effortlessly carries the rest of the film. Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie also appear in memorable supporting roles. 

Director Brian Helgeland recreates Robinson’s struggles against racist baseball players and fans with scenes where Robinson endures racial slurs and physical assaults. Robinson learns that playing well is the most effective method of silencing his attackers.

“42” teaches lessons in resilience and grace under fire.

The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington directs and stars in “The Great Debaters,” a film about black college debate students in the 1930s Jim Crow South. Washington plays the team’s coach, poet Melvin B. Tolson, who leads them to become some of the best debaters in the nation. 

While the film is geared toward a younger audience, it does not shy away from dark moments. In one scene, Tolson and his students stumble upon the lynching of a black man. The debaters’ journey is fraught with peril, which makes their success all the more inspiring.

“The Great Debaters” imparts that educating future generations is one critical element in the fight eradicate racism.

Malcolm X

Director Spike Lee does Malcolm X’s life justice in this moving biopic. Denzel Washington’s performance as a titular character is natural and honest. The film focuses on how Malcolm X dealt with family, friends and his Muslim faith, while illustrating how these forces transformed him from a misguided criminal into a forceful civil rights activist. 

Lee works hard to place the audience in Malcolm X’s shoes and helps the audience understand X’s mind-set.