The best films in Netflix’s Black Lives Matter collection

Seeking self-education through the engagement of the arts is one of the most immersive ways to connect with cultures the world over. Literature, paintings, photographs, theater, music, and cinema are just a few of the tools at our disposal. For those seeking to educate themselves on the global Black experience, Netflix is home to an amazing curation of Black cinema for immersing and understanding. Harnessing fiction and non-fiction approaches to deliver messages both micro and macro, notable works from renowned directors like Spike Lee and Ava DuVarney speak volumes, while indie offerings from early-careerists like Ryan Coogler burn just as brightly. We’ve put together this roundup to help you find the best films in Netflix’s Black Lives Matter collection, featuring films both modern and historical with stories and messages that continue to resonate.

Looking for more films and shows that illustrate the Black experience? Check out our roundups of the best Black shows and movies to stream (across all platforms).

The Black Godfather (2019)

The Black Godfather is a riveting documentary about Black music legend Clarence Avant. A record label founder, concert curator, political activist, and a cherished mentor to several other executives that were inspired by his quiet but esteemed reign over the arts, Clarence truly did it all. A raw and honest portrait of an essential entertainment figurehead, buckle up for this profanity-laced tell-all. Don’t let the F-bomb drops deter you though — this is a top-notch documentary with an ensemble of noteworthy talking heads and a mighty arcing narrative to seal the deal.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Clarence Avant
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
118 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

Director Adam Carolla’s Uppity … is an exciting and inspiring documentary about Willy T. Ribbs, the first Black race car driver to compete in the Indy 500. An outspoken sportsman and defiant driver, the film explores the many boundaries that Willy would overcome as part of a lifelong effort for success and perseverance. Featuring weigh-ins from racing pros, drivers, and other Ribbs familiars, Carolla’s documentary paints an all-encompassing portrait of Willy’s legacy.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Stars: Willy T. Ribbs
Directors: Nate Adams, Adam Carolla
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
105 minutes

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Grass is Greener (2019)

In Grass is Greener, hip-hop pioneer and filmmaker Fab Five Freddy delivers an immersive documentary on marijuana’s historical influence over American rap, R&B, and jazz communities. More a critical commentary on the infamous “War on Drugs” than a weed chronicling, Freddy’s film explores the disproportionate incarceration of Black artists for drug possession. A revelatory film with weigh-ins from notable entertainment figures like Snoop Dogg and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Grass is Greener is documentary filmmaking at its finest.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Snoop Dogg, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Fab Five Freddy
Director: Fab Five Freddy
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
97 minutes

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Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (2017)

Much-needed cinema for those looking to gain historical context about the Black experience in America, director John Ridley’s Let It Fall takes a magnifying glass to the racially charged streets of LA in the decade preceding the Rodney King beating and the consequential riots that brought an entire city to its knees. Through archival footage, exclusive interviews with law enforcement, eyewitnesses, victims, and perpetrators, Ridley weaves together an intricate and intense documentary experience that sheds a hard light on injustice while urging us to reconsider and reframe our own perceptions of the many catastrophic events the film touches on. Rich, deeply personal, and unabashed in its delivery, Let It Fall is quintessential documentary filmmaking at its finest.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: John Ridley, Jeanmarie Condon
Director: John Ridley
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
144 minutes

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Miss Virginia (2019)

In Miss Virginia, Orange Is the New Black‘s Emmy-winning Uzo Aduba stars as the titular character. A working-class mother living in Washington, D.C., Virginia finds it difficult to make ends meet. Worse is that her 15-year-old son, James (Niles Fitch), is taking to a life on the streets. Unable to accept the status quo, Virginia makes it her mission to get James out of public school and into a worthy private institution. With a backbone of activism and an undying purpose, Virginia faces down hurdle after hurdle as her singular dream for her child becomes a bigger phenomenon for the Black community. Directed by R.J. Daniel Hana, from a script by Erin O’ Connor, Miss Virginia features a spellbinding performance from Uzo Aduba as tough-loving Virginia. It’s one you don’t want to miss.

Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Stars: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Samantha Sloyan
Director: R.J. Daniel Hana
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
102 minutes

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Quincy (2018)

It’s hard to encapsulate the life of a legend, especially one as prolific and regarded as musician extraordinaire, Quincy Jones. But co-directors Rashida Jones (Quincy’s daughter) and Alan Hicks do a remarkable job of wrangling the life of the icon. Chronicling Quincy’s early life and eventual rise to stardom in both the professional film and music communities he would come to dominate, Quincy paints an immense portrait of the artist, activist, husband, and father, featuring interviews and recollections from those closest to him. An immersive and incredibly human film, Quincy went on to win a Grammy for Best Music Film at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks
Director: Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
124 minutes

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) is a young boy with humongous dreams and an incredible knack for electrical engineering. When his parents can’t keep up with his school’s tuition, the wunderkind blackmails his science teacher into letting William continue his studies. As famine sets into his village, tearing families apart, William devises a genius plan to construct a windmill to power an electric water pump. The odds against him and lacking resources, William builds his machine without ever looking back. As director Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful feature debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a beautifully constructed film about the struggles of humanity and what we do to overcome hardship even under the most hopeless of conditions.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rating:
R
Runtime:
113 minutes

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ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019)

Influential soul singer, entrepreneur, and activist Sam Cooke gave a lot to the world. In this emotionally-stirring Netflix doc, we revisit the legacy and impact of the artist by way of those he loved most and that loved him in return. Featuring a talking-head ensemble of family, friends, journalists, academics, and other cultural movers and shakers, director Kelly Duane’s provocative film shines new light on Sam’s murder by way of Bertha Franklin in 1964, exploring the crime from multiple vantages. A chronicling of a profound artist and the mark he left on Black culture, this is one you don’t want to miss.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Sam Cooke, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson
Director: Kelly Duane
Rating:
TV-MA
Runtime:
74 minutes

Watch on Netflix

See You Yesterday (2019)

Based on writer-director Stefon Bristol’s 2017 short film of the same name, See You Yesterday stars Eden Duncan-Smi

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