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10 Disney+ Movies & Shows to Watch This Black History Month

It’s October, which isn’t just spooky season, but it is also Black History Month in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom!

Black History Month has been an officially recognised month in the UK since 1987 and in Ireland since 2010. It is usually when many schools in the UK learn about historical Black figures like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and other Black icons.

I’ve compiled a list of ten Black movies and shows, which I personally recommend everyone should watch this Black History Month. All of which can be found on Disney+ UK/IRE, specifically in the “Celebrate Black Stories” Collection.

Each title includes a synopsis that is short to avoid spoilers.

Notes:

  • Black British history goes as far back as the Roman era. Still, as you may have noticed above, British schools rarely explore their own Black history (except for the Atlantic Slave Trade) prefering to focus on aspects of US Black History. So for that reason, I will include links to Irish and UK educational sites.
  • Disney is an American company (as you know); therefore, 99% of the Black movies and shows they’ve made centre on African-American characters and experiences, which may not be 100% relatable to Black British or Irish Black people, but I’ve done my best in gathering shows and movies that contain messages, themes and characters that do/may relate to Black British and Irish Black people.
  • Not all movies/shows listed focus on history per se. Due to the lack of Black historical content on Disney+ UK/IRE I’ve simply listed movies that I think people will enjoy.
  • I’ve also excluded The Princess and the Frog and Soul from the list on the basis that their main characters spend the majority of their screentime as animals/souls. BUT they are both fantastic movies and are still worth a watch!

Black-ish

Black-ish follows the day-to-day life of the Johnsons, an upper-class African-American family led by parents Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross).

In a sense, Black-ish is similar to its network sister show Modern Family (excluding the documentary-style), but creator Keyna Barris has taken the opportunity to make Black-ish more than a family sitcom. It’s a teaching tool with episodes focusing on racism, classism, homosexuality and homophobia, and Black and Biracial identity.

Black-ish debuted in 2014 to critical acclaim and has found itself nominated for 25 Primetime Emmy Awards. It has also spawned a whole franchise with Grownish and Mixed-ish, both of which received mostly mixed reviews, so maybe stick with Black-ish.

Unfortunately, Black-ish will end on its upcoming eighth season, which will air later this year.

Black Panther

Black Panther is not only one of the most popular movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but one of their best!

First introduced in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Black Panther follows T’Challa as he returns to his isolated home of Wakanda to be crowned king, but the throne is threatened when his estranged cousin, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), returns to the African nation.

The long-awaited adaptation of Black Panther was met with rave reviews and found itself nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture! Making it the first superhero movie to achieve a nomination in that category.

The movie went on to win three OSCARS (Best Original Score, Best Costume Design and Best Production Design) and gross $1.3 billion.

You can read our review of the film here.

Hidden Figures

Loosely based upon Margo Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction book of the same name, Hidden Figures tells the story of three female African-American mathematicians who worked for NASA during the Space Race.

Despite being a major part of US history, Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson’s contributions to the Space Race were ignored for decades. The film was a huge hit, earning three OSCAR nominations, including Best Picture. Its success also led to a wider acknowledgement of how Black women played an important role in landing men on the moon, thus making Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson household names for new generations.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

This adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1957 TV special starring Dame Julie Andrews was the first mainstream version of the fairytale to star a Black woman (Brandy) as Cinderella. It is also unique for blind casting almost every role, no matter the characters’ relation to each other.

With iconic songs such as “Impossible” and “The Stepsister’s Lament,” and a cast that includes Whitney Housten, Whoopi Goldberg, Natalie Desselle-Reid, and Bernadette Peters, this is a must-watch for all fairytale fans!

You can read our full review of the movie here.

Black is King

Black is King isn’t technically a movie but a visual companion to Beyonce’s The Lion King: The Gift, an album created for 2019’s CGI remake of The Lion King.

Telling the story of a young African prince who is exiled from his kingdom following his father’s death. Black is King takes us on a journey as he tries to reclaim his throne.

The special was filmed across six countries, spanning three continents, featuring a diverse cast of Black talent.

Black is King is a fantastic showcase of Black art from across the Diaspora, and you can read our full review of the special here.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges reenacts the story of 10-year-old Ruby, one of four Black first-grade students selected to attend a previously all-white school in New Orleans. She is arguably the most famous student as she was the only one to be sent to William Frantz Public School while the other three students were sent to another.

Subjugated to racist abuse from adults and students, Bridges had to be escorted to school by federal marshals.

Disney’s retelling of these famous events originally aired on ABC in 1998 as part of The Wonderful World of Disney. Disney’s TV movies are often hit or miss, but fortunately, Ruby Bridges is one of their hits!

Cool Runnings

If you have Caribbean ancestry then the chances that you’ve seen Cool Runnings are high. This classic comedy is loosely based upon the Jamaican national bobsleigh teams debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Upon its release in 1993, Cool Runnings received positive reviews and was regarded as a wholesome and inspirational film about sportsmanship and the human spirit. But as the times have changed, many have pointed out its racist tropes and white saviour narrative.

I decided to include this film on the list as many may want to watch the movie for themselves and discuss its possible problematic themes, such discussions could prove good teaching points during a month where Black history and education is the focus. There are more articles on this online, but I included two links (above) that I thought were particularly interesting.

The Proud Family

The Proud Family may have lasted only two seasons, ending in 2005. But it stands out as one of the few animated shows that centre around an African-American family and one of the best animated series to come out of Disney Channel.

With fantastic characters, voice acting and even a theme song by Solange Knowles and Destiny’s Child, plus with a sequel series arriving on Disney+ in 2022, there’s no better time than now to catch up on the original series.

Belle

Inspired by the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray at Kenwood House. Belle brings to life a fictionised story of Dido, a mixed-race woman born to Maria Belle, an enslaved woman originally from Western Africa*, and naval officer Sir John Lindsay. Dido (also known as Belle) was brought to England as a young child by her father and subsequently raised by her paternal family upon Lindsay’s death.

The film sees Belle live amongst Britain’s elite as a mixed Black woman in 1700’s England during the height of the abolitionist movement. It’s also (possibly) the only Black British story on Disney+ UK/IRE at writing, so it’s definitely worth a watch.

*I could not find a definitive location on which West African country Maria Belle was originally but some reports state it was Senegal.

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