When I need a moment to breathe in the midst of it all, there are two acts of protest I find still significant but relaxing: First, divorcing Blackness from the monolithic and fetishized images of suffering that pop culture proliferates when it tells our stories (looking at you, The Help, amongst countless others). Second, learning and accepting that it’s okay to rest; it’s difficult to keep your energy up and spirits high in the long term if you’re constantly anxious and have no source of even momentary relief.
Finding joy in hard times is what we, as a people, do best. Whether you’re a fellow Black person in dire need of a mental getaway or a non-Black person seeking to enjoy just some of the work that our community writes, produces, and stars in, this international list of Black films is a good place to start for a bit of escapism in hard times.
Girls Trip (2017)
An estranged group of lifelong best friends (played by Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett Smith, my personal dream best friends) travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, for the annual Essence Festival after one member gets hired as a keynote speaker. Alcohol is consumed; romance, drama, and other laugh-out-loud antics ensue as the four rekindle their love for one another and bring the wild times of the past to the present. Watch it now on Amazon or Youtube.
Coming to America (1988)
In this romantic comedy, the wealthy Prince Akeem Joffer of the fictional African nation of Zamunda travels to New York City in hopes of finding a wife after his parents face him with the possibility of an arranged marriage. As Akeem attempts to blend in with average civilians (much to the chagrin of his friend, Semmi), he meets Lisa, who he believes to be the love of his life. That this classic stars three kings of Black media—Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and James Earl Jones—only sweetens the deal. Watch it now on Amazon or Youtube.
This hit horror film from Get Out director Jordan Peele made the case for Peele as one of the greatest of our time. A seemingly mundane family vacation turns dark when one night, a family of mute doppelgangers dressed in all red and brandishing scissors as weapons appears in their home. As the story unfolds, the family is forced to question the truth of the world around them—and how well they truly know each other. Watch it on HBO, Amazon, Hulu, or Youtube.
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
The film that launched Spike Lee’s career, black and white film She’s Gotta Have It follows beautiful Brooklynite Nola Darling as she juggles her relationships with three men—a sweetheart, a model, and bad boy—and enjoying her sexual freedom, a luxury afforded to men but rarely extended to women. When all three lovers eventually meet, the group is forced to figure out what to do about Nola—and risk losing her love completely. Watch the film (and the series adapted from the original!) now on Netflix.
Watching the moment Moonlight won the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture alone was an Oscar-worthy moment—but the film itself is a masterpiece that earned every accolade it’s received. Set in Miami, the movie follows character Chiron through three phases of his life (childhood, teendom, and adulthood) as he grapples with family, maturity, masculinity, and sexuality. The film’s classical score is especially beautiful, giving a softness and depth to its stars that Black characters often aren’t afforded in cinema. Watch it now on Amazon, Youtube, or Netflix.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
With Sorry to Bother You, it’s best to go in with no expectations—because no matter what you think the film is about, it will be completely upended. (We cannot emphasize this enough.) To start, the movie takes place in a call center in Oakland, California, where in-the-know Black telemarketers develop a “white voice” to curry the favor of their prejudiced clientele. As lead character Cassius Green’s career starts to develop and protestors take to the street to fight corporate oppression, the strange circumstances Cassius finds himself in only get stranger, and stranger, and stranger. Watch it now on Amazon, Youtube, or Hulu.
Poetic Justice (2018)
What better way to spend an afternoon than watching Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur, and Regina King being beautiful (with a special appearance by Maya Angelou)? After the death of her boyfriend, talented poet and hairdresser Justice agrees to a road trip from Los Angeles to Oakland with her friend Iesha, Iesha’s boyfriend, and (unbeknownst to her), local postal worker Lucky. As the road trip progresses, Justice and Lucky’s initially-icy relationship slowly begins to melt —and a glorious on-screen romance between two of music’s biggest stars ensues. Watch it now on Amazon or Hulu.
Cool Runnings (1993)
In this 90s cult classic, four friends from Jamaica travel to Canada to compete in the Winter Olympics as the first-ever Jamaican bobsled team—a venture that, unsurprisingly, raises some eyebrows both at home and overseas. The scene of the team experiencing snow for the first time alone makes the movie worth a watch, but this feel-good film about friendship, taking risks, and proving people wrong is hilarious and heartwarming from start to finish. Watch it now on Amazon or Disney Plus.
TV Shows to Watch
This award-winning show will transport you into the underground ballroom culture of 1980s New York and follows the successes and struggles faced by members of the Black and Latinx LGBTQ community—both within their own circles and in a society often bent on discriminating against them. If the stellar fashion and dynamic storylines don’t draw you in, the show’s landmark cast should: Pose features the largest leading cast of Black trans women in television history. Watch it now on Netflix, Youtube, or Amazon.
Blood + Water
Set in Cape Town, this series opens on South African teen Puleng as her family celebrates the birthday of her sister, Phumele, who was stolen from the hospital shortly after birth. But at a party later that same night, she notices Fikile—a popular student and star athlete who Puleng believes might also be her long lost sibling. Watch it now on Netflix.
Actor, writer, and director Issa Rae has come a long way since her Awkward Black Girl days on Youtube. In Los Angeles, we see the everyday life of Issa, she tries to figure out what she wants from life and navigates her complicated relationships with best friend Molly, long-term boyfriend Lawrence, and a host of problematic coworkers, lovers, and more. With its fourth season recently wrapped (and a fifth season on the way post-pandemic), this show is smart, funny, and everything the modern Black woman could ask for in a television show. Watch it now on HBO.
For a healthy dose of laughter (and painful amounts of secondhand embarrassment), look no further than this British sitcom written by and starring breakout act Michaela Coel. It follows 24-year-old Tracey as she seeks independence from her overprotective religious mother and sister—and tries to figure out how to have sex for the first time. Watch it now on Netflix.