Celebrate Black History Month with These Books, Films, Albums, and Podcasts
African American & Black Diaspora Studies faculty’s suggestions for what to watch, read, and listen to
Celebrate Black History Month with These Books, Films, Albums, and Podcasts
Suggestions from African American & Black Diaspora Studies faculty for what to watch, read, and listen to
Each year since 1976, the United States has designated February as Black History Month, an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans and Black history. Originally launched in 1926 as a weeklong event timed to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14), it was expanded to a monthlong observance during the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. In making the announcement, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Today, Black History Month is observed not only in the United States, but in Canada, and more recently, in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which oversees an annual festival, chose “Black Resistance” as this year’s theme.
To help kick off our coverage of Black History Month, BU Today reached out to faculty in, or affiliated with, the African American & Black Diaspora Studies (AFAMBDS) program and asked them to put together a list of books, podcasts, films, and TV shows that “represent our interests, tastes, and concerns at this particular moment, or at the very least, what’s on our minds as we approach February,” in the words of Louis Chude-Sokei, George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American & Black Diaspora Studies and a professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Do the Right Thing
Recommended by Rachel Edwards (CAS’19), African American & Black Diaspora Studies administrator and AFAMBDS alum
Spike Lee’s classic 1989 film Do the Right Thing presents a powerful human depiction of how summer heat can catalyze already boiling racial tension to run over. Solidifying the film as a must-watch even years later, DTRT simultaneously calls to mind past race riots (1919 Red Summer and the “Long, Hot Summer” of 1967) while unknowingly previewing a future one. More than 30 years after DTRT‘s debut, Spike Lee’s 2020 short film 3 Brothers juxtaposes a scene from the earlier film with footage of the murders of Eric Garner and George Floyd, asking the question: Will history stop repeating itself?
Batea by the Colombian band Bejuco
Recommended by Michael Birenbaum-Quintero, College of Fine Arts associate professor of music and chair of musicology and ethnomusicology, and an AFAMBDS affiliate
The album Batea by the Colombian band Bejuco is a vital contribution to this list. They play a modern, Afrobeat-infused version of traditional Afro-Colombian music from their hometown of Tumaco on the Pacific coast. Here’s the album on Spotify. To whet your appetite, here’s the video for their song “Batea.”
South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation
Recommended by Joyce Hope Scott (Wheelock’80), College of Arts & Sciences clinical professor of African American and Black Diaspora studies
Imani Perry’s South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation (HarperCollins, 2023) is a must-read narrative of a southern woman’s profound reexamination of her place of origin, the South. The book offers a tapestry of stories that give voice to her own family as well as those who laid the foundation of Black resistance and courage despite the brutality of their experiences in the only place they could call home. Giving insights into an array of locations, historical events, and personal testimonies of self and family, Perry pays homage to the everyday Black heroes and others who left their footprints on the “soul” of America.
The Woman King and African Queens
Recommended by John Thornton and Linda Heywood, CAS professors of history and of African American and Black Diaspora studies
Two recent film projects purport to show precolonial Africa and its engagement with the slave trade. First is The Woman King, which did well in the box office this fall, and has been subject to considerable commentary on the accuracy of the representation of the African Kingdom of Dahomey’s relationship with the slave trade. It is a great action-adventure piece with good acting and a lot of excitement and managed to make a less exotic Africa that we are accustomed to seeing in film.
The second recent film project would be the Netflix miniseries African Queens (four episodes), which features the life of Queen Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba in Angola in the 17th century. This film, which we served as advisors for, is based literally chapter by chapter on Linda’s book Njinga of Angola (Harvard University Press) and will drop in February. It is the first attempt to create an actual event-based story of a precolonial African political figure. The Woman King has a fictional adventure in a historical setting, the Queen Njinga episode of African Queens is a retelling, in film, of actual events.
Festival of Afrofuturism
Recommended by Louis Chude-Sokei, George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American & Black Diaspora Studies and director of African American & Black Diaspora Studies
One of the highlights of my recent career is my work as a curator for Carnegie Hall’s recent (2022) Festival of Afrofuturism. Though a cultural and intellectual movement that seems rooted in the present and future (particularly in its obsession with science fiction), Afrofuturism is actually routed through a remarkable, quirky, and unconventional past. We curators produced podcasts in the wake of the Festival, each geared towards educating the wider public on the various concerns, issues, and figures in and around the movement, from music to Diaspora, the fate of Democracy to possibilities of the Black imagination. Check them all out here.
Recommended by Mary Ann Boelcskevy, CAS senior lecturer in African American and Black Diaspora studies
My suggestion is the 2019 HBO series Watchmen, Damon Lindelof’s reenvisioning of the 1986 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, set in Tulsa, Okla., with layers of history laid bare. Regina King stars as Angela Abar (aka Sister Knight), and the series includes a guest appearance by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as the digital director of the Reparations DNA project. It’s available on HBO Max.
The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!
Recommended by Takeo Rivera, CAS assistant professor of English and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and an AFAMBDS affiliate
Spoken word artist Saul Williams’ third studio album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! is an intense, dark, aesthetically experimental tour de force that provides a psychological excavation of what Frantz Fanon loosely called “the fact of Blackness.” Williams begins aptly with driving verse in “Black History Month” and continues with Public Enemy samples, U2 covers, and original compositions, pleading: “What do you teach your little children about me?” It is as musically unsettling and as essential as its subject matter.
Recommended by Paula Austin, CAS assistant professor of history and of African American and Black Diaspora studies
Seizing Freedom is a podcast hosted by historian Kidada E. Williams, author of They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War (NYU Press, 2012) and more recently, I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction (Bloomsbury, 2022). In its two seasons, the engaging podcast takes us from Reconstruction into the 21st century, centering narratives of Black people of all ages in the United States as they seized and defined their freedom and joy, against, in some cases, monumental oppressive forces. It features interviews with scholars, artists, and activists, including Rhiannon Giddens, Mariame Kaba, and Deborah Willis.
gossypiin by Ra Malika Imhotep
Recommended by Ianna Hawkins Owen, CAS assistant professor of English and of African American and Black Diaspora studies
In this debut poetry collection, published by Red Hen Press, Atlanta-based poet and PhD Ra Malika Imhotep plays with the layered meanings of gossypiin (as plant [gossypium], as “abortifacient,” cultivated by the enslaved, and as shared secrets essential to women’s communal memory work). The book offers meditations on the visceral, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of agender black femme subjectivity and inheritance. The reader witnesses this in relayed resemblances, inclinations, and desires, but also in stories of sexual trauma, silence-breaking, and healing and ongoing forms of pain. Arranged in five parts (Sow, Seedling, Flower, Fruit, and Harvest), the collection is best unfolded slowly and tended to bit by bit.
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