All The Black-Led Films That Did It For The Culture In 2019 (So Far)

Culture & Entertainment

We're officially halfway through 2019, and while plenty of great movies are still scheduled to premiere--like Disney's Lion King or the highly anticipated Luce--the year has delivered an array of great, black-led movies. Many of which can be an instant fave for any movie-goer. From superhero stories and teen thrillers to movies about basketball players and eye-opening documentaries, films this year have shown that not only are they capable of having captivating black leads, but they are capable of telling some groundbreaking stories, too.

What's also groundbreaking is the fact that rather than in your local theater, most of these films can be found on streaming platforms in the comfort of your own home. And while all of them might not be your cup of tea, the top black led-movies of 2019 so far all have one thing in common: they're pioneering, original, and worth every second of your time.

Here are the top nine black-led movies of 2019, where you can find them, and reasons why you should.

See You Yesterday, Netflix

Tribeca Film Institute

What can be said about See You Yesterday that already hasn't been said? The movie's cinematography is enough to entice you, but the story is more than enough to make you stay. Following sixteen-year-old Claudette "CJ" Walker, the story of See You Yesterday tells of two science prodigies who travel back in time to save CJ's older brother from dying at the hands of police. Along the way CJ and friends encounter problem after problem, discovering the truth of the police brutality that we are all afraid to say. Despite teaching our black brothers and sisters what to do and what not to do at the hands of cops, it isn't them who really need to change. It's society itself. And until that happens, we will all be seeing each other, in some way or form, continuously living the problems of yesterday. With outstanding performances by Stro, Eden Duncan-Smith, and Dante Crichlow, this movie is certainly a must watch for 2019.

High Flying Bird, Netflix

Peter Andrews/Netflix

Three years ago, EuropaCorp released a film titled Miss Sloane about a lobbyist who has been called to appear at a congressional hearing, to answer questions about possible violations of Senate ethic rules. The movie was written to have sharp dialogue, even sharper characters, and it was meant to tell a story of a world unfamiliar to us. But when it premiered, it fell flat. The characters weren't real. The dialogue and characters were so sharp that it completely severed the audience from the story; and although the political world of lobbyist was unfamiliar, we couldn't care less about it or the people in it. High Flying Bird is really similar to Miss Sloane. The only difference: High Flying Bird gets it right.

Following sports agent Ray Burke, High Flying Bird takes us into the world of the NBA during the lock-down. It tells about the importance of an NBA player's talent, their charisma, their public image, and how difficult it can be to manage the three harmoniously. The characters are razor sharp, revealing the concerns that define the modern athlete while also remaining wickedly entertaining at the same time. The dialogue welcomes you into the world but doesn't seclude you. And the story gets more and more interesting as the minutes add up to the final one. With appearances from actual NBA players and top-notch performances from their all-star cast, High Flying Bird, shows that there are innumerable ways to be witty, innovative, and entertaining. Plus, the whole damn film was shot entirely on an iPhone 8. What could be better than that?

Us, Amazon and YouTube

Industrial Light & Magic/Universal Pictures

Anytime someone establishes an "us" there is a "them." And the "them" in this movie…well, they're "us," and that's truly something to be terrified of. Starring Black Panther and Yale alums, Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke, the story of Us follows Adelaide Wilson (Nyong'o), who returns to the beachfront home where she grew up as a child. Nevertheless, things spiral quickly—as they always do—when the family returns home and are acquainted with their very violent, very malicious doppelgängers. With Jeremiah's bible scripture, "Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them," continuously rearing its ugly head, Peele tells a petrifying story of one of the biggest problems we face as a society: ourselves. And it's hard to escape a problem when we are unwilling to faithfully and diligently look in the mirror.

The Black Godfather, Netflix


Netflix's The Black Godfather accounts the exceptional and unlikely rise of Clarence Avant, a music executive whose cutting-edge behind-the-scenes accomplishments impacted the legacies of icons such as Bill Withers, Quincy Jones, Muhammad Ali, and Hank Aaron.

Driven by a sense of equality, loyalty, and justice, Avant left the Jim Crow south behind to emerge as a powerhouse negotiator at a time when deep-seated racism penetrated every corner of America. Avant defied notions of what a black executive could do, redefining the industry for entertainers and executives of color, and leaving a legacy of altruism for others to emulate.

Black Mother, Netflix


New York photographer Khalik Allah's Black Mother is littered with lyricism, spirituality, culture and history in this "vivid pictorial and philosophical journal" dedicated to Jamaica and its tough yet burdened women. Black Mother is a fresh piece of work in both how it progresses from shocking and gentle to chaotic and serene extremes, and how it's assembled like a scrapbook of remembrances.

​Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé, Netflix

Parkwood Entertainment/Parkwood Entertainment

I have no words.

I have absolutely no words.

The title alone should entice you enough to watch the documentary. However, if you're one of those people who need a little more before you select "play," here it goes: It's Beyoncé, doing Beyoncé, the only way Beyoncé can—pretty damn well.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Netflix

Ilze Kitshoff/Netflix

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the true story of William Kamkwamba, a young Malawian genius who built a windmill to save his family and village from drought and famine. Written and directed by Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, the story of William Kamkwamba is an unforgettable child prodigy film that is much-needed for black children in 2019. The film is charming and ambitious and there's something disconcerting about rooting for a character to invent something that should have been easy to access in the first place—but Kamkwamba has will have your unshakable support the entire time.

Guava Island, Amazon

Amazon Studios

Filmed secretly in Cuba and released with little fanfare on Amazon, Guava Island is a musical-romance-thriller from the team behind FX's Atlanta, director Hiro Murai and Donald Glover. Cast as the man of the people, Glover plays Deni—a musician on Guava Island who wants to liberate his people and inevitably faces the consequences for such a life. With the supporting cast of musician and actress Rihanna, who plays his girlfriend Kofi, Guava Island showcases what it is like to have a dream and what happens when you face you do the right thing.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Select Movie Theaters

Peter Prato/A24

Awarded Best Director and the Special Jury Award from Sundance Film Festival, The Last Black Man in San Francisco tells the story of best friends, Jimmie and Mont, who are trying to reclaim the house built by Jimmie's grandfather. While trying to reclaim the house the duo revisit their past, test their friendship, and find a sense of belonging in the place they call home. Based on the life of star Jimmie Fails and the friendship of Fails and screenwriter Joe Talbot, Fails describes the movies as a "love story about [himself] and a house." Critically acclaimed for its cinematography and story, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is surely a movie to add to your must-watch list this year.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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Everything We Learned From Beyonce's 'Homecoming'

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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