Black people weren’t always in movies. Although the Lumiere Brothers released the first motion picture in 1895, it took at least 30 years for the first black person, Stepin Fetchit, to earn screen credit. Later, Hattie McDaniel would become the first African-American person to win an Academy Award. Then, 24 years after that, Sidney Poitier would win his, becoming the first African-American man to win.
But decades after that, there were still few roles for people of color, proving one thing to be true: if black people wanted to make it to the big screen, they would have to start making films themselves. This notion led to the blaxploitation era in the ‘70s, with Super Fly, Carmen Jones, and others, and into the ‘80s with Prince’s Purple Rain and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Eddie Murphy was one of the few exceptions, making it in Hollywood through traditional pathways. But he also began producing in the ‘90s, alongside Robert Townsend, Reginald Hudlin, The Hughes Brothers, John Singleton, Ice Cube, Rick Famuyiwa, F. Gary Gray, Tim Story, Malcolm D. Lee, The Wayans Family, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and more. As creators, they sought to bring black people and their stories to the screen and succeeded in doing so, later gaining critical acclaim and awards.
The tradition isn’t gone with them, either. In the past few years, we’ve seen black creators push the boundaries of black cinema into superhero and horror genres, while also expanding on romantic comedies. Tessa Thompson, Viola Davis, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Queen Latifah have continued to add to the rich history of black film, especially in the past few years. To celebrate that, here are the best black movies of the last 30 years.