June 19, or Juneteenth, marks the day in 1865 when U.S. Army Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans that they were free. This is a day to reflect on how far we’ve come from the shackles of slavery. We keep rising despite white supremacy and systemic racism.
We’ve compiled a short list of movies to stream on Juneteenth that honor our heroes and remind us of the fight for freedom and equality, lest we forget our history.
12 Years a Slave
Hollywood helped to perpetuate the myth that slavery was innocuous and childlike slaves were cared for by their white masters. But 12 Years a Slave dismantles that depiction.
Director Steve McQueen adapts the autobiographical narrative by Solomon Northup to shatter misrepresentations about slavery that emerged after Juneteenth. Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was a free Black man living in New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. The film gives a realistic depiction of the brutality of slavery, as Northup spends several years trying to reclaim his freedom while maintaining his dignity.
Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery. But filmmaker Ava DuVernay reminds us that involuntary servitude didn’t end completely.
DuVernay’s documentary 13th examines the U.S. Constitution’s 13th amendment, which formally abolished slavery. The film shows how a loophole in the amendment allows the contemporary prison labor system to pick up where formal chattel slavery ended. Louisiana is one of the states that has similar language in its state constitution, leaving little surprise that Black inmates are disproportionately impacted.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson shattered the color barrier in America’s national pastime, a significant milestone in the journey toward equality since Emancipation.
Chadwick Boseman delivers a memorable performance as Robinson in the 2013 film 42, Robinson’s icon number that Major League Baseball retired. Boseman captures Robinson’s dignity and restraint in the face of racial slurs and hatred from fans in the stands and fellow ballplayers. Robinson suppresses his anger because much is at stake.
He triumphs in the end, knocking down the wall of segregation that prevented amazing Black athletes from playing in the major sports leagues.
A Raisin in the Sun
Since Reconstruction, many Black families envisioned a time when their descendants could achieve the American dream. Few films capture the desire for upward mobility against the realities of racism like Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun does.
The original film, a 1961 classic, includes Black Hollywood royalty Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, tells the story of a Black family living in a cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. After a windfall, they make plans to permanently escape poverty and move to the white suburbs.
A PBS teleplay in 1989, starring Danny Glover and the late Esther Rolle and a revival which became a TV movie aired in 2008 starring Sean “Diddy” Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.
The late Oscar nominee Chadwick Boseman played many roles in his career, but the one that he will be remembered for most is his portrayal of T’Challa, the dignified king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, giving a new generation of Black children a superhero who looks like them. More than a few adults were also overjoyed to finally see a movie about a high-tech nation of Black people—uncolonized and proud of their Blackness.
Freedom on My Mind
After Emancipation, Jim Crow laws blocked the full citizenship of Black people, including the right to vote.
The Academy Award nominated film "Freedom on My Mind" tells the story behind the battle to register Black voters in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. It centers on the memories of 10 civil rights veterans three decades after the pivotal events that brought voting rights to one of the Deep South’s most vehemently segregationist states. In addition to an Oscar nomination, the 1994 film won the grand jury prize for documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro explores the history of racism in America through an unfinished James Baldwin book in which he reflects on fearless Black leaders Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr.
Director Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated documentary, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, helps to put the journey toward social justice, from Juneteenth to the Black Lives Matter movement, into perspective. It uses a treasure trove of archival materials to bring that history alive.
Few Black leaders voiced our anger over America’s promise of freedom and the harsh realities as the Spike Lee-directed Malcolm X did. Based on Autobiography of Malcolm X, which was written with Alex Haley, and featuring Denzel Washington in the lead role, the 1992 film shows how a one-time street hustler evolved into an iconic Black leader.
The film hit theaters in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots over the Rodney King verdict. Nearly three decades later, it’s still relevant for a new generation of Black activists who have taken to the streets following a string of police killings of unarmed Black men.
Any list of Juneteenth films is incomplete without Miss Juneteenth. Nicole Beharie, who portrayed Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel Robinson in 42, is Turquoise Jones in this film, which premiered in 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Turquoise, a former Miss Juneteenth beauty queen, is now a single mom who makes ends meet the best way she can, working multiple shifts at a Texas barbecue joint and at a funeral home. She’s also raising a teenage daughter, Kai.
Although life didn’t turn out so well for Turquoise, she’s determined to groom Kai to win the upcoming Miss Juneteenth scholarship pageant and to guide her toward better life choices.
There have been many battles on the road to freedom. Selma commemorates one of the most iconic confrontations in the fight for our humanity. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay recreates the drama surrounding the pivotal 1965 voting rights march from Selma, Ala., to the state capital in Montgomery.
The event is seared into our collective memories because of the vicious beating of the peaceful marchers at the hands of state and local police officers. David Oyelowo delivers a memorable portrayal of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the march.