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The Ultimate Guide to What to Watch for Black History Month

​Our critic rounds up the finest specials, collections and films from network TV to streaming platform​s

Ilyasah Shabazz stands in front of a mural of Malcolm X and other figures

Michael Le Brecht/ABC

En español

Television networks and streamers have gotten wise to the fact that the stories of Black life in America require a year-round commitment — on screen, on set and in executive offices. Even so, they continue to pay homage to Black History Month with business initiatives and with content. And February 2022 looks to be one of the most programmed Black History Months ever, with beloved movies, original offerings, fresh shorts and other content airing and streaming. Since the social justice protests of 2020, there is no turning back on amplifying, celebrating, honoring — just some of the verbs you’ll find on company websites — the Black American experience. Here are a few of the highlights in a month full of stories that matter. ​​

Mark your calendars for these special programs​​​​​​

Actress and director Halle Berry sitting for an interview on Soul of a Nation Presents Screen Queens Rising

Matt Petit/ABC

Actress and director Halle Berry

Soul of a Nation: Screen Queens Rising

Thursday, Feb. 3

ABC News presents the Soul of a Nation special Screen Queens Rising, about the history of Black actresses in Hollywood. Among the talents who reflect — and reflect on — the challenges and changes in the industry: Regina Hall, Tessa Thompson, Halle Berry, Debbie Allen and Marla Gibbs. Directly following Screen QueensSoul of a Nation will air X/onerated, a look at the wrongful conviction of Muhammad Abdul Aziz, who was arrested, tried and convicted for the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. Aziz was exonerated in November 2021. It also streams on Hulu.​

Watch it: Soul of a Nation, on ABC, streaming on Hulu

Eyes on the Prize

Sunday, Feb. 6 

PBS will show the six episodes of canonical series Eyes on the Prize, which begins showing on the PBS Passport service Feb. 6 and then throughout the month. Henry Hampton and Blackside Productions’ powerful portrait of America’s civil rights movement remains a gold standard in coming to understand the years of resistance and insistence on voting rights and human rights. It also streams on PBS’ World Channel.​

Watch it: Eyes on the Prize, on PBS PassportPBS World Channel​​

One Thousand Years of Slavery

Monday, Feb. 7 

Executive producers Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance’s four-part documentary series engages the saga of slavery in intimate and global ways. Interviewees — among them Sen. Cory Booker, actress Lorraine Toussaint and journalist Soledad O’Brien — share insights about the personal and familial impact of slavery. Now that’s how a power couple empowers.

Watch it: One Thousand Years of Slavery, on the Smithsonian Channel

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​​The Loyola Project

Monday, Feb. 7

Sixty years after Chicago’s Loyola University men’s basketball team took the NCAA tourney by storm, Loyola player Lucas Williamson looks at the legacy of that storied team and how the players and their coach challenged racial barriers and changed the face(s) of college basketball.

Watch it: The Loyola Project, on CBS Sports​​​

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America: An America ReFramed Special

Tuesdays, Feb. 15 and Feb. 22

We never tire of the lessons in compassion and activism civil rights legend Fannie Lou Hamer offered. First, join historian Keisha Blain, Hamer’s great-niece Monica Land and moderator and documentary maven Erika Dilday on Feb. 15 for an online, virtual conversation, Finding Your Voice Through Fannie Lou Hamer (go here for more). Plan to head afterward to your PBS station (Feb. 22) or the World Channel (Feb. 24) to watch the portrait of the Mississippi sharecropper turned human rights defender.​

Watch it: Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, on PBS

The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder

Wednesday, Feb. 23

To tease the James Brown anthem: Say it loud, they’re back and they’re Prouds. Yes, Disney Channel’s groundbreaking, much-celebrated series about Penny Proud, her fam and her posse of friends is getting a revival with The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. ​

Watch it: The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, on Disney+

A view of a Trayvon Martin mural in New York City

Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Paramount Network

A view of the Trayvon Martin mural in New York City.

Trayvon Martin: 10 Years Later

Saturday, Feb. 26, and Monday, Feb. 28

Gayle King anchors CBS Reports’ hour-long special about the ongoing reverberations of the 2012 killing of the 17-year-old. For many, Martin’s death marked the beginning of the social justice movement known as Black Lives Matter. There are fresh interviews with Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, who founded Mothers of the Movement, an organization for mothers who have lost children to gun violence or at the hands of police. ​

Watch it: Trayvon Martin: 10 Years Later, on CBS News Streaming Network, BET, the Smithsonian Channel​​​​​

And catch these special programs streaming throughout Black History Month​​

HBO and HBO Max: Free content for BHM, plus a new documentary

​HBO is amplifying Black stories with select free content. Opportunities abound to test out lauded HBO original series like WatchmenI May Destroy You and Insecure. Take note, too, of the three movies featuring fierce female leads: Bessie, about Queen of the Blues Bessie Smith, starring hip-hop monarch Queen Latifah; the medical ethics drama The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks with Oprah Winfrey; and in the adaptation of her one-woman show Notes From the Field, playwright-performer-exquisite listener Anna Deavere Smith embodies people who know firsthand the woes and wounds of the prison industrial complex. ​

Watch it: Get HBO and HBO Max’s guide to Black History Month programming here

Don’t miss: Between the World and Me

Not part of the free content, Between the World and Me should be high on your list. The HBO Original documentary is based on the 2018 adaptation and staging at the Apollo Theater of the searing, affirming and culture-expanding book of the same name. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the book as a letter to his then-15-year-old son. Among the luminaries illuminating those words: Coates, Susan Kelechi Watson, Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Mahershala Ali, Yara Shahidi, Janet Mock and Alicia Garza.​

Watch it: Between the World and Me, on HBO

Netflix: Black History Is American History collection

​​The streamer’s Black History Is American History collection has a slew of great documentaries, not to mention its must-see Oscar-season hopeful Passing, based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel set in Harlem. Among the documentaries providing context and pleasure often in equal measure: the Sundance Audience Award-winning Giving Voice, about the annual August Wilson monologue competition, in which thousands of high school students plunge into the great playwright’s work. Look also for Naomi Osaka, a documentary series that follows the tennis star as she navigates her multifaceted identity; and Homecoming, Beyoncé’s documentary about her groundbreaking performance at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that celebrated the HBCU experience. ​​

Watch it: Get Netflix's Black History Is American History collection here

Don’t miss: Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Not only do we get a thrilling look into (and listen to) the legend’s art and meaning, we’re gifted a rich example of the kind of ace historical excavating documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson (see Attica on Showtime) has been doing for decades.​

Watch it: Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, on Netflix

Amazon Prime: Celebrate Black Voices collection

The streamer’s Prime Insider does a nice job of pointing out a few high points from its Celebrate Black Voices collection, among them: director Barry Jenkins’s Best Picture winner Moonlight, as well as Underground Railroad, his agonizing limited series adaptation of novelist Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Continuing the prize theme, the streamer has also gathered the works of Sidney Poitier in a rich salute. Watch his history-making, Oscar-winning turn in Lilies of the Field, but also consider 1957’s Edge of the City, a film noir lauded for its depiction of the friendship between Poitier’s and John Cassavetes’ characters. ​

Watch it: Get Amazon Prime’s Celebrate Black Voices collection guide here

Don’t miss: I Am Not Your Negro

​Raoul Peck has crafted an elegant and unique documentary about cultural titan James Baldwin and his unfinished book on Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Each was a friend; each was assassinated. Although he died in 1987, Baldwin remains a vivid, droll and frighteningly prescient observer of America’s bright ideals and too-often-dark practices.

Watch it: I Am Not Your Negro, on Amazon Prime​​

ESPN+: A monumental documentary about O.J. Simpson

Director Ezra Edelman won a Peabody for his monumental — and monumentally roiling and insightful — documentary O.J.: Made in America. The five-part, nearly eight-hour series makes persuasive use of the rise and fall of Orenthal James Simpson to tell the story of race in the U.S. There’s an abundance of nuanced context about the people riven and nation riveted by an American tragedy worthy of the author Theodore Dreiser.

Watch it: O.J.: Made in America, on ESPN+​​

Hulu: A mind-opening documentary about the Summer of Soul

Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) is a not-to-be missed act of archival discovery and cultural recovery. In his knockout debut documentary, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots spins the tale of a thrilling musical gathering in Harlem that few but its musical guests and thousands of attendees remember. That the story of the six-weekend Harlem Cultural Festival in 1968 was nearly lost to neglect and disinterest on the part of gatekeepers is part of the story.

Watch it: Summer of Soul, on Hulu​​

​​​Black Film Archive: A must stop

Last month, the National Society of Film Critics recognized the Black Film Archive’s creator and curator, Maya Cade, with a Heritage Award for the archive, which introduces visitors to films made between 1915 and 1979 and where to find them. When you’re ready for a deeper dive, Cade’s ready for you. After you’ve watched Netflix’s August Wilson doc, Giving Voice, the Black Film Archive will hook you up with a link for theater maverick Woodie King Jr.’s 1978 documentary Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement. The archive will also reprise its 28 Films in 28 Days feast and has a Sidney Poitier tribute and collection in honor of the film — and justice — titan, who died Jan. 6. ​

Watch it: Head to Black Film Archive, here

Lisa Kennedy, a regular AARP film critic, is a former Village Voice editor (1986-96) and Denver Post film critic (2003-15) who writes on popular culture, race and gender for Variety, The New York Times, Essence, American Theatre, the Denver Post, and others.