the role Black women play in our society should be undeniable. From former First Lady Michelle Obama to director extraordinaire Ava DuVernay, Black women have contributed so much to the world we live in. Don't even get me started on Beyoncé. Even the unsung heroes — our mothers, aunts, daughters, teachers, and caretakers, for example — have extraordinary stories of resilience and pride that more people need to hear.
Black women's perspectives are so valuable, even when they aren't reflected by pop culture at large. Luckily, stories that Black women have been able to
bring to life on screen have been just as impactful, tackling everything from friendship and careers to motherhood and social justice.
I've taken the liberty of rounding up some of the quintessential films, across genres, centering on Black women and femmes. Each of these titles explores the complexity of Black womanhood. How Black women see the world, ourselves, and each other is central to each of these stories. Collectively, they offer a creative take on our experiences. These are 22 movies that every Black woman absolutely needs to see.
Photo: Third World Prods / 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Claudine (1974) Welfare was just as stigmatized for Black women in the '70s as it is today, perhaps even more so. Still, that didn't stop writers Lester and Tina Pine and director John Berry from breaking the blaxploitation mold popular at the time to make a movie about a poor, Black woman in love. Claudine (Diahann Carroll) is a mother of six who is forced to hide her new lover in order to keep her welfare benefits in tact. Things get complicated when her children don't like her new boo, her oldest daughter gets pregnant, and she is faced with a proposal of marriage. Billed as a comedy, Claudine still takes on some pretty serious stuff.
Mahogany (1975) A tale of ambition, love, and the tough decisions we have to make to get there, Mahogany is one of Diana Ross's most iconic roles. It's about a woman torn between following the dreams she's had for most of her life and supporting the man she's fallen for. Her choices lead to heavy consequences. Fun fact: Solange and her husband Alan Ferguson hosted a viewing of Mahogany for their wedding guests before their ceremony.#BlackLoveGoals
The Wiz (1978) I'll let you finish, but The Wiz is one of the best Black fantasy films ever made. Seriously, The Wiz is the only Wizard of Oz remake you need to see. It includes an all-star cast — in addition to Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson plays the Scarecrow, and the late Lena Horne is Glenda the Good Witch — there are a host of female characters, both good and bad, that carry the movie along. My favorite are the Poison Poppies, refashioned in this Motown remix as sexy sirens ready to lure hot-blooded men to their doom.
Photo: Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
The Color Purple (1985) Despited being directed by a white dude (Steven Spielberg), the film adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple is still one of the most important Black movies to date. Set in Georgia's rural south in the 1940s, Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) undergoes a personal evolution in the midst of dealing with a tyrannical husband, racism, and the loss of her children. With the help of several other Black women, she blossoms into a stronger person as a result.
She's Gotta Have It (1986) Now that Spike Lee's debut film has been rebooted into an original series for Netflix, I don't need to explain why it was so important to see a Black woman unapologetically balance three lovers before the '90s. Nola Darling is the blueprint for defining yourself, for yourself.
Photo: Off White Prod./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Paris Is Burning (1990) Most of this iconic documentary focuses on the experience of queer men on the gay ballroom scene in the '80s. However, Paris is Burning also shed a necessary light on the experiences of Black and brown trans women during that era as well.
Photot: American Playhouse/Wmg/Geechee/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Daughters of the Dust (1991) Julie Dash is the first Black female director to have a theatrical release of a film. That movie was Daughters of the Dust, a story of three generations of Gullah women who are forced to make a new life for themselves and their family. It's a story of the African diaspora and the role women play in it.
Just Another Girl On The I.R.T. (1992) Chantel is a regular-degular girl from Brooklyn with dreams of achieving social mobility and making it out of the projects, but an unplanned pregnancy throws a serious wrench in her plans. This movie is drenched in Black girlhood, from Chantel's style to her unapologetic insistence on speaking the truth, even when others don't want to hear it. She is a woke bae, around the way chick, and it girl all in one package.
Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock.
What's Love Got Got To Do With It (1993) You can't actually appreciate the legend that is Tina Turner if you haven't seen Angela Bassett play her in What's Love Got To Do With It. In what may be one of the best biopics ever made, Bassett plays Turner through the early years of her career — including an extremely abusive relationship with Ike Turner, drug usage, and ultimately redemption.
Crooklyn (1994) Spike Lee doesn't always get it right when it comes to women in his projects, but Crooklyn is the coming-of-age story, also based in Brooklyn, that I look forward to passing down to my nieces and daughters.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) Yes, that's Wesley Snipes in drag. Yes, it's important. To Wong Foo was one of the first films to seriously portray drag queens, this time on a road trip across the country and temporarily stranded in a small town. As such, it offered another version of Black femmeness in popular culture.
Photo: New Line/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Set It Off (1996) Four friends, trapped in a cycle of racist poverty in L.A. decide to rob several banks. It was a fresh take on the heist genre that showed that Black women could carry an action film. But it also served as a critique of the racism, police brutality, and sexism that impacts Black communities, especially Black women.
Cinderella (1997) In 1997, Brandy was 18 years old and at the height of her career. It was a huge deal that she was playing the titular role that had previously been reserved for white women. It was only overshadowed by the fact that her fairy godmother was played by the incomparable Whitney Houston. The soundtrack was amazing as a result. Whoopi Goldberg played the royal queen alongside Victor Garber as the king.
Photo: New Line/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
B*A*P*S (1997) Before Cardi B. sold everyone on the idea of a Black girl making it out of the hood to live the good life, Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle-Reid did it first. With long nails and bold colors that also rival Cardi's, these two women aspired to open a salon/restaurant and got the chance to make it happen when they became heiresses to a rich old man's fortune.
Photo: Ken Regan/Touchstone/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Beloved (1998) The brutality of slavery and its effects are darkly explored in Beloved, the film adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel. Oprah Winfrey plays Sethe, a former slave haunted by decisions she made to save her children from the same fate.
Photo: Lion'S Gate/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006) Only Black women can make a movie about a spelling bee so damn lit. Doug Atchinson was inspired to make the movie after he noticed that most of the contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee were from wealthy families. Casting young Keke Palmer to play Akeelah, he created a story about a Black girl from a working class background who is just as good, if not better than those with more training than her.
Photo: Lee Daniels/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Mo'Nique delivered an
Oscar winning performance
, the film adaptation of the novel
by Sapphire. Despite focusing on the very intense struggles of an illiterate teenaged mom,
extends empathy to the most vulnerable Black girls among us.
Photo: Times Newspapers/REX/Shutterstock.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) The Netflix documentary about Nina Simone is so important because it opens the curtains on the mental health and self-esteem issues that plagued the singer throughout her life. Some of Simone's most iconic work came from a place of pain, and it's so important to normalize those issues. This documentary is a pass to hang up the superwoman boots.
Lemonade (2016) With poetry from Warsan Shire, music by Beyoncé, cameos by some of the most amazing Black women in their fields, and stunning imagery, there is nothing not to like about the visual film that made the world stop in 2016. It is basically a visual ode to Black womanhood.
Hidden Figures (2016) Our history will not be erased thanks to flicks like Hidden Figures. It tells the story of the three Black mathematicians/engineers who helped NASA successfully launch their first trip into space in the '60s.
Photo: Michele K. Short/Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Girls Trip (2017) The summer movie of 2017 was about four Black women going to Essence Fest, one of the Blackest festivals in the country. They get into all kind of shenanigans during their trip and also bond as friends. Girls Trip is vital because we need more examples of Black women behaving badly. Respectability will not save us.
Black Panther (2018)
Obviously, Marvel's newest addition has mass appeal, despite having an almost exclusively Black cast. However, anyone who has seen
knows that it was the women who carried the film. In different capacities, women proved themselves to be
the backbone of Wakanda
, not much different than the role Black women play in the real world.