5 minute read

"Watch any good documentaries lately?"

Without fail, this is usually my favorite dinner conversation subject — a fact that I'm sure surprises none of you. If you happen to tune into my Stories on a semi regular basis, you know I love playing a documentary in the background while I work. Perhaps I'll be editing photos and videos. Perhaps I'll be writing and catching up on admin work. Perhaps I'll be shooting a few self-portraits in our living room. I just find it to be a relaxing way to focus on my tasks for the day with a current of something interesting, educational or thought-provoking buzzing in the room. 

I suppose you could ask why don't I just tune in for podcasts — a valid question, but I think I prefer the format of a documentary more. There's something about the music accompaniment, the breath allowed in a film that feels easier to digest in passing. When I listen to a podcast, I feel like I have to pay attention the whole time or I'm completely lost.

As such, I'm happy to be kicking off a new monthly series where I recap all the documentaries I watched the previous month. And perhaps quite fittingly, our first installment happens to be for February, where I committed to watching a new documentary each day about a different Black historical figure, in honor of Black History Month. In case you're looking for something new and substantive in nature, I have 16 films waiting for you here! 

  • Hitsville: The Making of Motown: A look at the birth of Motown in Detroit in 1958 until its relocation to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Featuring rare performances, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage offer insight into the history and cultural impact of Motown Records. Available on Hulu, 7.4/10 IMDb rating
  • Miles Davis: Birth of Cool: Unpack the mythology of Miles Davis and learn the true story of a jazz legend with never-before-seen footage and celebrity interviews. Available on Netflix, 7.4/10 IMDb rating
  • All By Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story The Eartha Kitt Story is a deeply moving and personal account of the iconic star's life and career. Her strong, independent manner portrays a woman who has lived and loved for herself, her music and her child.Available on Amazon, 7.6/10 IMDb rating
  • August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand Explore the life and legacy of August Wilson, the playwright some call America's Shakespeare, who chronicled the 20th-century black experience. Available on Amazon, 7.8/10 IMDb rating
  • Count Basie: Through His Own Eyes This revealing biography, told in Count Basie's own words, uncovers for the first time the private passions and ambitions that inspired the world-famous bandleader and pianist. Available on Amazon, 6.8/10 IMDb rating
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things Canvassing six decades of Ella Fitzgerald's astonishing trajectory from a teenager living on the streets of Harlem to her life changing appearance at the Apollo Theatre, Just One Of Those Things illustrates her sublime transformation, reconstructing the stale stock narrative into a well-rounded examination of her mixed fortunes. Available on Amazon, 6.8/10 IMDb rating
  • John Lewis: Good Trouble Using interviews and rare archival footage, John Lewis: Good Trouble chronicles Lewis' 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health-care reform and immigration. Available on Amazon, 7.2/10 IMDb rating
  • How It Feels To Be Free The inspiring story of how six iconic Black female entertainers – Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier – challenged an entertainment industry deeply complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes, and transformed themselves and their audiences in the process. Part of the PBS series American Masters. Available on Amazon, 8.1/10 IMDb
  • Nina Simone: What Happened Miss Simone? On stage, Nina Simone was known for her utterly free, uninhibited musical expression, which enthralled audiences and attracted life-long fans. But amid the violent, haunting, and senseless day-to-day of the civil rights era in 1960s America, Simone struggled to reconcile her artistic identity and ambition with her devotion to a movement. Culled from hours of autobiographical tapes, this new film unveils the unmitigated ego of a brilliant artist and the absurdities of her time. Available on Netflix, 7.6/10 IMDb rating
  • The Gospel According to André Leon Talley From the segregated American South to the fashion capitals of the world, operatic fashion editor André Leon Talley's life and career are on full display, in a poignant portrait that includes appearances by Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Bethann Hardison, Valentino, and Manolo Blahnik. Available on Hulu, 6.5 IMDb rating
  • A Ballerina's Tale A feature documentary on Black ballerina Misty Copeland that examines her prodigious rise, her potentially career ending injury alongside themes of race and body image in the elite ballet world. Available on Amazon, 6.4/10 IMDb rating
  • Being Serena Being Serena is a documentary series chronicling tennis icon Serena Williams at a pivotal moment in her personal and professional life. Provides viewers unprecedented access to Williams during her pregnancy, new motherhood and marriage, while documenting her journey back to supremacy on the court. The intimate first-person show delves into her landmark career, family life and expanding role as a businesswoman and investor in the worlds of tech, fashion, fitness and philanthropy. Available on HBO Max, 5.8/10 IMDb rating
  • My Brother Jesus After an unorthodox painting of Jesus goes viral, the artist and his muse discuss its significance in the wake of BLM protests in Richmond, Virginia. Available on YouTube via the Netflix film club, no IMDb rating yet
  • Charley Pride: I'm Just Me Traces the journey of Charley Pride, from his humble beginnings as a sharecropper's son on a cotton farm in segregated Sledge, Mississippi to his career as a baseball player and his meteoric rise as a trailblazing country music superstar. Available on Amazon, 8.6/10 IMDb rating
  • Gil Scott-Heron: Black Wax Black Wax is a musical-political entertainment film produced and directed by Robert Mugge. It centers on the late Black poet-singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron - the man Melody Maker called "the most dangerous musician alive" and many dubbed the forefather of rap music - and his Midnight Band. HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored. Available on Amazon, 8/10 IMDb rating
  • The Case of the Three Sided Dream Exploring the phenomenal life of multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who went from blind infant, to child prodigy, to adult visionary, to political activist, and finally to paralyzed showman. Available on Amazon, 7.4/10 IMDb rating

Now tell me, what documentaries have you recently watched? Any favorites?