If the last few months in Hollywood have taught us anything, it's that the entertainment industry has a serious sexism problem. In 2016—after the Academy Awards nominated only white people for lead and supporting actor categories for the second year in a row—Hollywood's diversity problem also garnered attention, inspiring the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. To anyone who's been paying attention, however, Hollywood has always shown its biases: In 2016, white people had 70.8 percent of speaking roles while Black people only had 13.2 percent. In the Academy Awards' 90 year history, Black women have only been nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role under a dozen times, and only one—Halle Berry in 2001—has ever won.
This Black History Month, we're highlighting movies with Black women leads. And because we want to make this as easy as possible to binge watch, we've limited our list to movies available to stream on Netflix or HBO.
Daughters of the Dust
Directed, written, and produced by Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust was the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to be shown in theaters in the United States. The movie, which follows the lives of three generations of Gullah women, was met with widespread acclaim and later served as inspiration for Beyoncé's Lemonade.
This French film follows the story of Marieme, a 16-year-old girl living on the outskirts of Paris, as she is recruited into a tough girl gang and eventually finds her independence. Along the way we see Merieme struggle to find her identity as a young woman while she navigates an abusive family situation and a relationship with an older man.
The movie was also well received by critics. "Girlhood is more than just a political statement about straitened opportunities or a moving female-centric relationship drama," read a review from The Guardian, "...it is a work of cinematic art."
Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe follows the story of a young Ugandan girl (Madina Nalwanga) and her family (her mother is played by Lupita Nyong'o) as her life is transformed by her newfound passion for the game of chess. The Disney movie has a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won the Women Film Critics Circle award for Best Family Film in 2016.
Written and directed by Dee Rees, the same woman who directed this year's Oscar-nominated Mudbound, Pariah tells the story of 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she confronts her identity as a lesbian. Despite her mother's strong disapproval, her father and best friend help Alike on her journey to self-acceptance, supporting her life choices and masculine sense of style.
Middle of Nowhere
Written and directed by the one and only Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere is about a brilliant woman named Ruby who puts her medical studies on hold when her husband is incarcerated in order to earn money for his legal fees. While her husband serves his time, Ruby meets another man who she takes a liking to, and has to navigate her feelings and the prospects of her future.
Confirmation tells the historic, pointedly relevant, true story of Anita Hill, a pioneer in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace and within our government. During Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Hill, played by Kerry Washington, infamously told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Thomas sexually harassed her when the two worked together at the Department of Education. The movie chronicles the subsequent defamation campaign against Hill.
Hidden Figures tells the true story of the Black women mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1960s with a focus on Katherine Goble, the woman who eventually helped calculate trajectories for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. The film highlights the ways in which these women faced racism and sexism daily as they worked harder than their white, male coworkers to prove themselves.
This infamous musical stars Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer. After her mobster boyfriend Vince tries to have her killed, Deloris finds herself in witness protection where she is asked to adopt the identity and persona of a nun. She soon becomes the director of the church choir and finds that her nun sisters really do have her back when Vince finds her and again tries to kill her.
In Bessie, Queen Latifah plays legendary blues singer Bessie Smith as her life is chronicled from childhood through her rise to fame at Columbia Records, and her experience during the Great Depression. The film highlights Smith's struggled with racism, from her fight for a place on the stage to her literal fight against the KKK after they attacked one of her shows. The film won four Emmys.
Loving is based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple whose 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs Virginia made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States. While technically, this movie has two leads, one of whom is a man, we figure it's worth a revisit for Black History Month. Ruth Negga, who plays Mildred, received both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her performance in the film.