For Black History Month (2021 edition), every day I will be reading books and watching movies contributing to Black history in America.
I don’t wait until Black history month to do these things. For example, I read Go Tell It On the Mountain back when it wasn’t February. Pretty impressive, no?
But I thought it would be fun to devote myself to the task this year. In preparation, I created two lists. The first, included below, is the greatest hits of my reading, watching, and listening pertinent to Black history and culture. The second is a list of books and movies that I haven’t consumed that I feel an obligation to reckon with, sooner or later.
Some of the poems, books, albums, and films pertinent to Black history that I’ve consumed that have influenced me the most include:
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
1992: Read for a literature course that I loved. Really struggled to write an essay about it—a good, rewarding struggle.
Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back:
At a loss to describe how much this album has meant to be, all of what it taught me and what emotions it tapped into.
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, Frederick Douglas
Catherine Carmier, Ernest J. Gaines
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
Twelve Years a Slave (2013)
Malcolm X (1992)
Seen in the Ohio Valley Mall’s provincial cinema.
Spike Lee, passim
Between the World and Me, Te-Nihisi Coates
2017: Included it in a liberal arts course I taught, so that I could read and think about it. Fascinated by the concept of the “black body.”
Dear White People (2014)
Still haven’t yet seen Medicine for Melancholy
Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
Wish that I had read this earlier, that I had known of Baldwin earlier. Profound, emotional novel.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
An emotional experience to watch in high school, only a year before the L.A. riots after Rodney King. Laurence Fishburne’s line: “It’s just too bad you don’t know what it is.”
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Early 1990s, college: Remember being astounded by the idea of a town in which only Blacks lived.
Car Wash (1976)
Brilliant movie, underrated. Richard Pryor, Bill Duke,
Kindred, Octavia Butler
2010s: Science fiction? Maybe. Probably the most meaningful book I’ve read about the history and legacy of slavery in America. Cannot say enough about it.
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
Met Melvin Van Peebles when I was in college, I think I even went to a Christmas party at his house. His genuine interest in me has kept him in my mind all these years.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
A generation doesn’t know about this.
Digable Planets, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Richie Havens, Electric Havens
Loved this album.
Jackie Brown (1997)
Have always really been impressed the honesty of Tarantino’s eponymous character.
Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes.
Django Unchained (2012)
Where does this film fit? Does this film fit? Honestly I’m not sure.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B DuBois
Included it in a liberal arts survey course I taught so that I could read and think about it. The debate with Booker Washington is thought-worthy.
Miles Davis, passim.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley
When he learns to read in prison—that’s gold.