The Best Films in Netflix’s Black Lives Matter Collection

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Seeking self-education through the engagement of the arts is one of the most immersive ways to connect with cultures the world over. Literature, paintings, photographs, theater, music, and cinema are just a few of the tools at our disposal. For those seeking to educate themselves on the global Black experience, Netflix is home to an amazing curation of Black cinema for immersing and understanding. Harnessing fiction and non-fiction approaches to deliver messages both micro and macro, notable works from renowned directors like Spike Lee and Ava DuVarney speak volumes, while indie offerings from early-careerists like Ryan Coogler burn just as brightly. We’ve put together this roundup to help you find the best films in Netflix’s Black Lives Matter collection, featuring films both modern and historical with stories and messages that continue to resonate.
Looking for more films and shows that illustrate the Black experience? Check out our roundups of the best Black shows and movies to stream (across all platforms).

The Black Godfather (2019)
The Black Godfather is a riveting documentary about Black music legend Clarence Avant. A record label founder, concert curator, political activist, and a cherished mentor to several other executives that were inspired by his quiet but esteemed reign over the arts, Clarence truly did it all. A raw and honest portrait of an essential entertainment figurehead, buckle up for this profanity-laced tell-all. Don’t let the F-bomb drops deter you though — this is a top-notch documentary with an ensemble of noteworthy talking heads and a mighty arcing narrative to seal the deal.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: Clarence AvantDirector: Reginald HudlinRating: TV-MARuntime: 118 minutes
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Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)
Director Adam Carolla’s Uppity … is an exciting and inspiring documentary about Willy T. Ribbs, the first Black race car driver to compete in the Indy 500. An outspoken sportsman and defiant driver, the film explores the many boundaries that Willy would overcome as part of a lifelong effort for success and perseverance. Featuring weigh-ins from racing pros, drivers, and other Ribbs familiars, Carolla’s documentary paints an all-encompassing portrait of Willy’s legacy.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%Stars: Willy T. RibbsDirectors: Nate Adams, Adam CarollaRating: TV-MARuntime: 105 minutes
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Grass is Greener (2019)
In Grass is Greener, hip-hop pioneer and filmmaker Fab Five Freddy delivers an immersive documentary on marijuana’s historical influence over American rap, R&B, and jazz communities. More a critical commentary on the infamous “War on Drugs” than a weed chronicling, Freddy’s film explores the disproportionate incarceration of Black artists for drug possession. A revelatory film with weigh-ins from notable entertainment figures like Snoop Dogg and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Grass is Greener is documentary filmmaking at its finest.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: Snoop Dogg, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Fab Five FreddyDirector: Fab Five FreddyRating: TV-MARuntime: 97 minutes
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Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (2017)
Much-needed cinema for those looking to gain historical context about the Black experience in America, director John Ridley’s Let It Fall takes a magnifying glass to the racially charged streets of LA in the decade preceding the Rodney King beating and the consequential riots that brought an entire city to its knees. Through archival footage, exclusive interviews with law enforcement, eyewitnesses, victims, and perpetrators, Ridley weaves together an intricate and intense documentary experience that sheds a hard light on injustice while urging us to reconsider and reframe our own perceptions of the many catastrophic events the film touches on. Rich, deeply personal, and unabashed in its delivery, Let It Fall is quintessential documentary filmmaking at its finest.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: John Ridley, Jeanmarie CondonDirector: John RidleyRating: TV-MARuntime: 144 minutes
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Miss Virginia (2019)
In Miss Virginia, Orange Is the New Black‘s Emmy-winning Uzo Aduba stars as the titular character. A working-class mother living in Washington, D.C., Virginia finds it difficult to make ends meet. Worse is that her 15-year-old son, James (Niles Fitch), is taking to a life on the streets. Unable to accept the status quo, Virginia makes it her mission to get James out of public school and into a worthy private institution. With a backbone of activism and an undying purpose, Virginia faces down hurdle after hurdle as her singular dream for her child becomes a bigger phenomenon for the Black community. Directed by R.J. Daniel Hana, from a script by Erin O’ Connor, Miss Virginia features a spellbinding performance from Uzo Aduba as tough-loving Virginia. It’s one you don’t want to miss.
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%Stars: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Samantha SloyanDirector: R.J. Daniel HanaRating: TV-MARuntime: 102 minutes
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Quincy (2018)
It’s hard to encapsulate the life of a legend, especially one as prolific and regarded as musician extraordinaire, Quincy Jones. But co-directors Rashida Jones (Quincy’s daughter) and Alan Hicks do a remarkable job of wrangling the life of the icon. Chronicling Quincy’s early life and eventual rise to stardom in both the professional film and music communities he would come to dominate, Quincy paints an immense portrait of the artist, activist, husband, and father, featuring interviews and recollections from those closest to him. An immersive and incredibly human film, Quincy went on to win a Grammy for Best Music Film at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%Stars: Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones, Alan HicksDirector: Rashida Jones, Alan HicksRating: TV-MARuntime: 124 minutes
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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) is a young boy with humongous dreams and an incredible knack for electrical engineering. When his parents can’t keep up with his school’s tuition, the wunderkind blackmails his science teacher into letting William continue his studies. As famine sets into his village, tearing families apart, William devises a genius plan to construct a windmill to power an electric water pump. The odds against him and lacking resources, William builds his machine without ever looking back. As director Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful feature debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a beautifully constructed film about the struggles of humanity and what we do to overcome hardship even under the most hopeless of conditions.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily BandaDirector: Chiwetel EjioforRating: RRuntime: 113 minutes
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ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019)
Influential soul singer, entrepreneur, and activist Sam Cooke gave a lot to the world. In this emotionally-stirring Netflix doc, we revisit the legacy and impact of the artist by way of those he loved most and that loved him in return. Featuring a talking-head ensemble of family, friends, journalists, academics, and other cultural movers and shakers, director Kelly Duane’s provocative film shines new light on Sam’s murder by way of Bertha Franklin in 1964, exploring the crime from multiple vantages. A chronicling of a profound artist and the mark he left on Black culture, this is one you don’t want to miss.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: Sam Cooke, Quincy Jones, Smokey RobinsonDirector: Kelly DuaneRating: TV-MARuntime: 74 minutes
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See You Yesterday (2019)
Based on writer-director Stefon Bristol’s 2017 short film of the same name, See You Yesterday stars Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow as CJ and Sebastian, two science nerds who spend their time inventing — specifically, time machine backpacks that will blast the youths across the space-time continuum. When a tragedy befalls CJ, she and Sebastian will do whatever it takes to turn back time to save someone they love (and have lost). Seamlessly blending science fiction and social drama, See You Yesterday is led by powerful and endearing performances from its leads while never straying from its racial undertones.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%Stars: Eden Duncan-Smith, Dante Crichlow, Astro Director: Stefon BristolRating: TV-MARuntime: 86 minutes
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I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Director Raoul Peck’s invigorating documentary film is a chronicling of author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. A front-row seat to a history of American racial conflict, Peck (supported by a powerful voiceover from Samuel L. Jackson) seamlessly weaves a portrait of Baldwin’s interactions with such prominent Black leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. The beating heart of the picture is Baldwin’s call-to-arms prose, just as relevant and needed today as it was nearly 50 years ago. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%Stars: Samual L. Jackson, Raoul Peck, James BaldwinDirector: Raoul PeckRating: PG-13Runtime: 95 minutes
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Fruitvale Station (2013)
The feature debut of director Ryan Coogler (who would go on to direct Marvel’s Black Panther), Fruitvale Station chronicles a single day-in-the-life odyssey of one Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan), a young Black man that was murdered in 2009 by BART police officers in Oakland, California. Based on true events, we’re granted an eyewitness vantage of the tragic events through Oscar’s eyes, but not before meeting and interacting with all of those that Grant held near and dear in his life. A story of racial disparity, fatherhood, masculinity, friendship, love, and loss, Fruitvale Station won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2013.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie DiazDirector: Ryan CooglerRating: RRuntime: 85 minutes
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Loving (2016)
Based in part on the 2012 HBO documentary The Loving Story, writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) goes for a more streamlined and air-brushed approach to the Richard and Mildred Loving civil rights debacle. Native Virginians, the interracial couple was arrested for trying to marry outside of their segregated state, sparking a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. What we get in Nichols’ vision of their hardship is a story about a family that just wants to be a family. Earnest performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga really sell the heartfelt script, making this an integral and emotional entry in our roundup.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%Stars: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael ShannonDirector: Jeff NicholsRating: PG-13Runtime: 123 minutes
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Becoming (2020)
If you find that you’re missing the grace, compassion, and normalcy of the Obama administration, Becoming is a refreshing watch. A companion to Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming sheds light on her journey to become America’s first African American First Lady. While it’s not quite as personal as some might like, Becoming is nonetheless an endearing, often provocative discussion of race, hope, and connecting with those of different backgrounds and beliefs. It’s a keen reminder that leaders can inspire by positive example.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%Stars: Michelle Obama, Barack Obama,Director: Nadia HallgrenRating: TV-MARuntime: 100 minutes
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13th (2016)
“If you’re in the prison business, you don’t want reform. You may say you do. But you don’t.” Ava DuVernay’s eye-opening, at times harrowing, 13th is a pivotal documentary that explores the centuries-old criminalization of disenfranchised African American communities, but by way of tracing the steps of American racism to its very roots. Over the course of the film, DuVernay and many activists, lawmakers, and academics unfold decade after decade of politically motivated legislation, and the lobbyists often behind these laws, that have led not only to the privatization of the American prison system but also to the staggeringly disproportionate incarceration of millions of African American men and women. The film can be difficult to watch, but DuVernay’s grim realizations are made to be blatant. What is also apparent is that there is still hope for fundamental change, a message echoed by the film’s ensemble of progressively minded confiders, figures both left- and right-leaning.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%Stars: Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker, Melina AbdullahDirector: Ava DuVernayRating: TV-MARuntime: 100 minutes
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All Day and a Night (2020)
In All Day and a Night, Ashton Sanders plays Jahkor Lincoln, a once-aspiring rapper serving a life sentence for murder. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of Lincoln’s troubled upbringing. An adolescence riddled with abuse and dire straits leads to petty crime, which evolves into something far more sinister when Lincoln begins offering his services to a gangster named Big Stunna. As present-day Jahkor looks back on his dark past from behind bars, an old accomplice is admitted to the same prison. This time around, though, the man is a foe, not a friend. Praised for its performances and meditative qualities, All Day and a Night is indeed a richly-textured drama. Ashton Sanders is particularly impressive as Jahkor.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%Stars: Ashton Sanders, Jeffrey Wright, Isaiah JohnDirector: Joe Robert ColeRating: RRuntime: 120 minutes
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American Son (2019)
Kerry Washington is electric in Kenny Leon’s racially charged drama about a mother, father, and the police officers that serve as the gatekeepers to their son’s safety (or lack thereof). The film is minimalist in terms of set pieces, but the true gravitas of this 90-minute, escalating panic is in the claustrophobia of the police station, a bunker clinging to its segregated past by way of demarcated water fountains and a quiet regional disparity covered with a law book and a grin. The true joy of the film is in watching Washington claw her way through the narrative, channeling a polarity of emotions that are all backed by the all-too-relatable fear of a mother worried because her child didn’t come home. Sparse editing and an emotional score are the backbones of these three acts, each of which plays out like a theater piece, sans intermission.
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%Stars: Kerry Washington, Jeremy Jordan, Steven PasqualeDirector: Kenny LeonRating: TV-MARuntime: 90 minutes
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HOMECOMING: A Film By Beyonce (2019)
A concert film for a new generation, HOMECOMING won a Grammy for Best Musical Film. Beyoncé has become something of a musical film savant, with Lemonade, Black Is King, and HOMECOMING all earning rave reviews. It’s HOMECOMING, however, that stands uniquely as a concert film. The film takes an in-depth look at Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance, revealing the incredible creative depth and cultural significance of the show.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%Stars: Beyoncé KnowlesDirector: Beyoncé, Ed BurkeRating: TV-MARuntime: 137 minutes
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Imperial Dreams (2014)
In co-writer/director Malik Vitthal’s Imperial Dreams, John Boyega plays Bambi, a gangster looking to put his violent past behind him. But as Bambi makes steps to leave Imperial Courts, the projects rope him right back in, against his will. Vitthal actually shoots the film at the real Imperial Courts housing projects in Watts, Los Angeles, creating a true-to-life arena for all of the film’s powerhouse performers. Every role in the ensemble is richly lived in by the respective actor, creating an honest and nuanced depiction of everyday life in the community. Visually, cinematographer Monika Lenczewska’s camera keeps everything in widescreen, with a majority of our focus on Bambi as he hovers in and out of scenes. At its heart, Imperial Dreams is a film about the redemption of a man, a sprawling odyssey that keeps two feet in reality throughout the entire film. The film has plenty to say about disparity, and it says it all quite naturally. In Dreams, the story feels just as real as the projects it’s set and shot in.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%Stars: John Boyega, Rotimi, Glenn PlummerDirector: Malik VitthalRating: TV-MARuntime: 87 minutes
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She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Black-cinema savant and activist Spike Lee’s version of a rom-com is a whole lot more provocative than the standard Hollywood romantic drivel. Famously shot in 15 days on a budget of $175,000, She’s Gotta Have It became Lee’s coming out party, introducing him to the world as a fearless filmmaker with a unique voice and a profoundly different perspective. The film follows Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) on a familiar quest of trying to figure out what kind of man she wants to date. Indecisive, she decides to date three at once: Greer Childs, the rich, handsome narcissist; Jamie Overstreet, the stable, overprotective alpha male; and Mars Blackmon, the timid geek with a heart of gold. While she can’t make up her mind, it is very clear that Nola has gotta have it all.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%Stars: Tracy Camilla, Tommy Redmond Hicks, Raye DowellDirector: Spike LeeRating: RRuntime: 84 minutes
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Barry (2016)
You might think Barack Obama is still too recently out of office to have his own biopic, but the circumstances surrounding the nation’s first Black president’s rise to power are worthy of this 2016 film. The story follows a young Barack Obama as he arrives in New York City in the fall of 1981 for his junior year at Columbia University. Echoing many of the themes expressed in his autobiography, Dreams of My Father, Obama struggles to stay connected to his mother and his estranged father and build new connections with his classmates. Simultaneously, he battles an identity crisis and becomes critical of the injustices he sees in his day-to-day life, ultimately motivating him toward a career in organizing and, eventually, politics.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%Stars: Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ashley JuddDirector: Vikram GandhiRating: TV-MARuntime: 104 minutes
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Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Spike Lee’s first movie under his new Netflix deal is a modern masterpiece. Simultaneously about the stasis of the movement for Black justice and the enduring villainy of the Vietnam War, Da 5 Bloods bounces between eras to illuminate how little has changed in 40 years. The film follows four Black vets as they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and a buried treasure they vowed to one day return for. What they discover is their own “Heart of Darkness” as they battle the forces of man and nature, confronting the lasting legacy of the war and its impact on Vietnam and one another.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%Stars: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke PetersDirector: Spike LeeRating: RRuntime: 135 minutes
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Moonlight (2016)
Writer/director Barry Jenkins’ richly layered opus is a mesmerizing coming-of-age tale that delicately yet defiantly balances issues of racial and sexual discrimination. Based on Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Jenkins’ adaptation traces the tribulations of African American youth, Chiron, from adolescence to early manhood. Part of the genius in Jenkins’ and McCraney’s vision is their choice to separate Chiron’s ascension and awakening through three distinct acts, each benchmarked by a different actor portraying the character (Alex Hibbert for Chiron’s adolescence, Ashton Sanders for his teenage years, and Trevante Rhodes as the adult Chiron).
Each performance builds upon the last, adding new levels of nuance and maturity to Chiron’s experience and the narrative at large. With a cast rounded out by towering performances from Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, and Janelle Monáe, Moonlight‘s countless laurels speak for themselves. But what’s most paramount is the grand sense of timelessness Jenkins imbues the film with. It feels like Chiron’s journey has been in the canon of great African American cinema for decades. And, in a way, it has.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%Stars: Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Shariff EarpDirector: Barry JenkinsRating: RRuntime: 111 minutes
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Mudbound (2017)
The expertly lensed Mudbound — written and directed by Dee Rees and photographed by Rachel Morrison — explores the personal, economic, and racial tensions of two rural families living by way of the land in World War II-era Mississippi. A respective son from each family goes off to war. These are Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), two boys who leave a world of racism and other struggles behind.
The battle ends. They return home, Jamie with newfound trauma, and Ronsel to a country that looks down at him for the color of his skin, regardless of his valor. What’s to truly savor in Rees’ masterful period drama is Morrison’s language of framing. Rees and Morrison were after a kind of camera work that reflected the feeling of the American Dream, and so we get beauty in shades. But under the flora is loud and vibrant cinematography that enhances our connection with both families, one white and one black. Mudbound is illuminating in more ways than one, an epic racial drama led by a master class of actors that all own their roles.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%Stars: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason MitchellDirector: Dee ReesRating: RRuntime: 144 minutes
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Strong Island (2017)
Director Yance Ford’s investigation into the 1992 murder of her brother, 24-year-old William Ford Jr., is an examination of judicial prejudice like no other, and an incredible film experiment. Courageously, Ford toes the line between essay film, personal memoir, and true crime exposé, seamlessly blending each type of documentary form in an effort to best capture her 22-year story of pain and loss. Ford spends time with the friends, family, and willing judicial entities that were involved in her brother’s life and in the courtroom for his killer’s trial, 19-year-old Mark P. Reilly. These many emotional recollections weave a rich tapestry of William Ford Jr.’s life, ambitions, fears, and frustrations. Underneath the records, talking heads, and scrapbook photos is a story about a family that lost their son, and his little sister’s lifelong quest for familial and personal closure.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: Yance Ford, Harvey Walker, Kevin MyersDirector: Yance FordRating: TV-MARuntime: 107 minutes
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What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
What Happened, Miss Simone? explores the life of prolific singer-songwriter and pianist, Nina Simone, through recollections composed of archived interviews, photographs, commentaries, musical performances, and journal entries. Plagued by racism from an early age, Simone’s rise to stardom served as a platform for the activism that would define much of her career. Liz Garbus’ film is an introspective journey into the always racing mind of an artistic genius, and a black woman who desperately wanted for black voices to be heard and understood the world over. Conversations with friends, family, and those that worked with Simone professionally round out the documentary, each contributor adding a new layer of Nina, a complicated but enduring individual with a calling that never ceased, and a talent like no other.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%Stars: Lisa Simone Kelly, Roger Nupie, Dick GregoryDirector: Liz GarbusRating: RRuntime: 101 minutes
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