Movies about civil rights have always been interesting to both public and critics, due to their strong message and involvement in one of the most delicate topics in the USA. Civil rights movements and heroes who fought for what they believed in and sometimes even lost their lives are a topic that is never going to get old, especially since some things still haven’t changed. This is the list of the 20 best movies about segregation and civil rights.
One of the best movies dealing with this topic in the last decade is this biographical drama based on one of the most important events in the history of the civil rights movement. It follows three story chronicles throughout the period of three months in 1965.
It was the year when Martin Luther King, Jr. led his campaign to secure equal voting rights. It is the story of the epic march from Selma to Montgomery which culminated with President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which is one of the greatest achievements of the civil rights movement.
One more biographical tale is this interesting and exciting drama based on the thrilling life of Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous and iconic American freedom fighters. It is the story of her escape from slavery after which she became one of America’s greatest heroes.
She was extremely courageous and tenacious and her strong will and stubbornness freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
The Butler (2013)
This interesting biographical drama, The Butler, tells the story of Cecil Gaines who served eight presidents as a butler at the White House. This story is about his life and all the things that made an impact on it, such as the civil rights movement, The Vietnam War, and other important events.
Cecil grew up in the 1920s and used to work as a domestic servant for a white family who destroyed his after this event, Cecil decided to make it on his own, without having to depend on anyone ever in his life. While working for all the presidents he would witness different moments related to the civil rights movement as well. When the situation in his family climaxes, he realizes that he should take action in his own way.
Viola Davis won an Oscar for her supporting role in this brilliant drama directed by Denzel Washington where she plays his wife. Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson and his family who are trying to get by in 1950s Pittsburgh.
Troy is a sanitation worker who was one of the best baseball players when he was younger and dreamed of a big career but unfortunately was too old when the major leagues began admitting black athletes. Tensions in his family are growing stronger when Troy forbids his son to meet a college football recruiter.
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
Rob Reiner directed Ghosts of Mississippi an interesting real-life drama about the final trial of Byron De La Beckwith who killed the civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The movie begins with the murder on June 12, 1963, and is dealing with the trials that ended in hung juries.
After the trial’s outcome, we follow the district attorney Bobby De Laughter’s transformation when he forms an alliance with Evers’ widow and decides to bring Beckwith to trial for the third time 30 years later. He was finally convicted in 1994 after spending 30 years outside of prison as a free man.
Green Book (2018)
Green Book is an unforgettable biographical humorous drama directed by Peter Farrelly that gives us a detailed insight into the life of a working-class Italian American bouncer who becomes the driver of an Afro-American pianist. It is 1962 and Frank Vallelonga needs to find a new job during the renovation of the nightclub where he works as a bouncer.
He accepts the job as a driver for the Afro-American pianist Don Shirley who is having a concert tour in the Deep South states. Skeptical at first, Tony embarks on a journey with The Negro Motorist Green Book in his hand, a guide for safe travel through America’s racial segregation slowly, this simple bouncer and the snobbish pianist learn to appreciate each other and form a friendship that would change their lives.
The Help (2011)
Based on a brilliant book of the same name by Katherine Stockett, The Help is a drama set in the deep South, in Mississippi during the 1960s where we follow the story of a brave and stubborn young Skeeter who returns from college determined to become a writer.
She decides to interview black women who live in her town and who devoted their lives to taking care of the prominent southern families, especially their children. She will turn her friends’ lives and this Mississippi town upside down when the stories of these women start getting out, revealing all the hideous things they have to listen to and experience from the people they work for.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical historical drama that tells the story of Fred Hampton, a young activist who becomes Chairman of the Black Panther Party set in Illinois. He is put directly in the middle of the government, the FBI, and the Chicago Police crosshairs.
In order to silence the revolution, all of them are going to have to have someone on the inside so they offer William O’Neill a plea deal. He will enter the Black Panther and gather information about Fred Hampton.
The Long Walk Home (1990)
This remarkable history drama relives the events from 1955/1956 in Montgomery, Alabama when Afro-Americans started boycotting public transport because they got tired of having to sit at the back of the bus.
Odessa is well-treated in the household she works in and together with her employer, Miriam Thompson she has to decide how to react to the protests that are beginning to take place in their hometown. Odessa feels it is her duty to walk to work, even if that implies getting to work late.
Malcolm X (1992)
Spike Lee’s movies will always be on these kinds of lists due to his involvement in the issue which somehow finds a place in most of his movies. This is one of his best achievements, a biographical drama about Malcolm X, one of the most influential but also very controversial Black Nationalist leaders.
His father was killed by Ku Klux Klan which formed Malcolm’s future decisions and path. He became a gangster and during his time in prison, he discovers the Islamic religion and culture and begins preaching its teaching when he gets out.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Gene Hackman, Frances McDormand, and Willem Dafoe star in this excellent Alan Parker crime drama about two FBI agents who arrive in a small Southern town in the middle of the 1960s to investigate the murder of a civil rights worker.
They are seeking to breach the conspiracy of silence in this town where segregation divides black and white. And as if this weren’t enough, the two agents have completely opposite views of the issue but will have to work together in order to solve the crime.
Mudbound is a war drama set in the aftermath of WWII where two families are forced to share the same patch of land. While one family is white and the other is black and they live in rural Mississippi they will have to deal with more issues than maybe expected.
They themselves have to keep a peaceful relationship and at the same time struggle with poverty and hardship. But since it is still a time of segregation and hatred, their situation will soon become a problem for many around them and they will realize that no one can be safe.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Based on Harper Lee’s famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is an unforgettable movie with Gregory Peck in the leading role and one of the first movies about segregation and civil rights. It is set in Depression-era Alabama and it tells the story of a widower Atticus Finch and his children.
Atticus is a successful lawyer who accepts to defend a black man against a charge of a rape he didn’t commit. He will encounter all different types of prejudice but will try with all his strength to teach his children that all people are equal and that there shouldn’t be any difference between races.
This beautiful and heartwarming biographical love drama tells the story of Richard Loving and the love of his life, a black woman named Mildred Jeter. They both live in Caroline County, Virginia where Richard works as a construction worker.
When they find out that Mildred is pregnant they decide to marry but due to laws that forbid interracial marriage in Virginia, they travel to Washington, D.C., and get married in 1958. But in 1960 they get arrested in Virginia for their interracial marriage and begin a legal battle that would end in 1967 with the Supreme Court’s historic decision.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Hidden Figures is a brilliant biographical drama featuring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P.Henson, and Janelle Monae Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary, three gifted African-American mathematicians who managed to get their place among some of the greatest minds in the field of astronomy.
They have never given up and have crossed all race, professional, and gender lines to prove their brilliance and talent and make room for future female scientists in these and similar fields of research.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee is the absolute king of neighborhood movies dealing with hip-hop music and problems in the street, but also a great advocate of civil rights and his topics are always closely related to the discrimination of minorities. This is one of his greatest titles and one of the best and most influential rap movies ever. It is a comedy-drama about Sal Fragione who lives in a Brooklyn district that has significantly changed in the time he’s been living there.
It is primarily inhabited by Afro-Americans and Hispanics but Sal has adapted to this variety and multiculturalism. He has owned his pizzeria for 25 years and doesn’t want to leave the neighborhood even though his son hates it there. But when a situation in his restaurant escalates from a remark to a violent act, it will become obvious that everyone is frustrated and needs to solve their mutual issues.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
In this 12 Years a Slave, we follow Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who is solved into slavery. Not used to the cruelty he has to face from his evil and malevolent slave owner, Solomon will have to struggle to stay alive but also retain his dignity.
In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, he will meet a Canadian abolitionist who will change his life forever. Solomon’s fight for freedom is truly a remarkable and unforgettable story full of adventure, unexpected kindness, and unimaginable cruelty.
Boyz N the Hood (1991)
One of the most famous movies set in the hood, with the very young Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, and Ice Cube who we later saw in many excellent and successful performances. It is a crime drama that follows the lives of three young men who reside and spend their days in the Los Angeles ghetto.
Ricky and Doughboy are half-brothers who deal with their tough destinies in completely different manners. Ricky is an athlete who sees his future in sports and hopes to get out of the ghetto with its help and Doughboy succumbs to the environment surrounding him. And Tre Styles is their friend who is always somewhere in the middle, but also happy to have a father who is always there to help him when he needs to decide what’s right or wrong.
The Color Purple (1985)
Steven Spielberg directed this unforgettable and heartbreaking drama about Celie, a young black girl growing up in the early 1990s. We meet her when he is 14 years old and pregnant by her father. We will follow her for the next 30 years of her tough life.
We will witness all kinds of cruelty towards this poor girl and then woman, from the abuse she suffered from her father and many others to find her identity after more than four decades of pain and sadness.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
One of the best movies from the last decade dealing with the topic of hip-hop music, neighborhood rivals, and gangs, but also the overall view on the issue of civil rights is this biographical drama about the mean streets of Compton, Los Angeles. It is a true story about the 1980s rap scene and all the problems and obstacles they had to go through to make their voice heard.
It was America’s most notorious and dangerous place in the late 1980s and these boys decided to put all their frustrations and negativity into their hardcore lyrics and beats. They spoke the truth and exposed many hidden things and managed to stoop up to the authorities who wanted to shut them up.