This Year, Black History Month Celebrates African Americans and the Arts
To mark the occasion, we’ve put together a list of 14 books, films, TV shows, podcasts, and albums from and about Black artists
This year is the 48th Black History Month since its federal recognition in 1976 by President Gerald Ford. The monthlong celebration evolved from “Negro History Week,” created by Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 50 years before. According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, this year’s festivities are dedicated to “highlighting the ‘art of resistance’ and the artists who used their crafts to uplift the race, speak truth to power and inspire a nation.” BU Today has put together a list of books, films, albums, podcasts, and more that celebrate the creative output of some of these visionary artists. Take a look.
This fresh take (adapted from the 2005 Broadway musical) on Alice Walker’s beloved 1982 novel gets a dose of star power from executive producer Oprah Winfrey, who starred in the original film. Featuring command performances from Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, and Colman Domingo, and directed by Blitz Bazawule (who also helmed Beyoncé’s Black Is King), the film delivers an emotional tour de force.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, When They See Us) has done it again with Origin, bringing to the big screen another impactful story of the Black experience in America. Starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, the biopic follows Isabel Wilkerson, the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, as she researches her groundbreaking book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020).
From director Cord Jefferson comes this dark satire about a Black author, who, fed up with the publishing industry, decides to pen an anonymous book full of horrendously offensive Black clichés and stereotypes. However, his plan backfires, and he winds up becoming wildly successful. Jeffrey Wright, Erika Alexander, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, and Sterling K. Brown star in this adaptation of Percival Everett’s Erasure (UPNE, 2001). The film is up for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
This Netflix original biopic highlights civil rights activist Bayard Rustin’s efforts to organize the historic 1963 March on Washington, where his colleague, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The film stars Colman Domingo, who recently made history for becoming the first Afro-Latino man to earn an Oscar nod for Best Actor. Domingo is also only the second openly gay actor to earn a nomination for playing a gay character. The film was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground.
A collaboration between presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman and Caldecott Medal and Coretta Scott King Award honoree Christian Robinson, this children’s book explores how one action can truly make a lasting and meaningful change. Preschool and young elementary readers will be inspired by Gorman’s message of empowerment and hope (You’re told that this won’t work/But how will you know if you never try?/You’re told to sit and wait/But you know that people have already waited too long) and charmed by Robinson’s illustrations.
As an experiment, award-winning journalist and All Things Considered cohost Michele Norris created the Race Card Project, which asks people to summarize their thoughts and experiences about race in six words and submit them via postcards, emails, or tweets. The half million responses she got over the span of 12 years form the basis for this poignant book about how Americans view their own identities and the identities of those around them.
Historian Judith Tick’s biography of the legendary jazz vocalist includes family interviews, archival research, and rare feature stories from contemporaneous Black publications that illustrate the obstacles she overcame to become one of the most important interpreters of the Great American Songbook. This biography was named an NPR 2023 Books We Love pick, and was listed among Kirkus Reviews’ Best Biographies of 2023.
Theater critic Patti Hartigan has penned the first authoritative biography of playwright August Wilson (Hon.’96) (Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson), whose works chronicle Black life in 20th century America. Hartigan’s book—complete with interviews with Wilson and recollections of close friends, family members, and theater colleagues—brings the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner’s expansive story vividly to life.
This fun mockumentary-style show, about a group of inner-city elementary school teachers in Philadelphia, also serves as a timely reminder of the struggles public schoolteachers face in fighting for the resources necessary to give their students the best education possible. Created by, and starring, Quinta Brunson, the show is a perennial favorite at the Emmys, including two for Brunson, who last month became the first Black woman in 42 years to win for best lead actress in a comedy.
This inventive new series borrows its format from the early-20th-century salon conversations of the Harlem Renaissance, where Black artists, intellectuals, and celebrities would exchange ideas with one another in a free-flowing, casual environment. The Conversations Project brings together influential Black guests, such as astronaut Leland D. Melvin, actor/comedian Wyatt Cenac, model/actor/transgender activist Leyna Bloom, and many more, for unscripted discussions that range from spirituality to parenting to mental health to hairstyles.
With Noname, you can always expect a self-conscious sense of humor to run through her spoken-word poetry/rap—and 2023’s Sundial is no exception. What is new to her work is a more built-out sense of production—complete with backing vocals, big rhythms, and warm synth—that supplants her former affinity for dreamy minimalism. The album’s most instrumentally complex track, “Namesake,” is also its most politically conscious, where Noname’s mask of cool detachment slips a little, revealing a force underneath.
A longtime session whiz, composer, collaborator, and multi-instrumentalist, Jon Batiste became a household name as the former bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. With World Music Radio, the Grammy-, Oscar-, and Emmy-winning wunderkind has concocted an eclectic musical gumbo, featuring collaborations with Lana Del Rey, Lil Wayne, K-pop girl group NewJeans, and others. Listeners will find plenty of tracks to groove to.
What happens when a lawyer, a political analyst, and a former mayor come together in a creative collaboration? They bring a fresh wind to the podcasting world with a brand-new show that talks frankly about politics while firmly centering the lived experiences of Black Americans and other marginalized communities. Hosts Tiffany Cross, Angela Rye, and Andrew Gillum not only provide insight, but also empower their listeners to use their voices and votes for the positive changes they wish to see.