The Labor Day holiday can be a bittersweet one: though temperatures outside still beckon us to the beach, barbeques, and block parties, the first Monday in September also marks the unofficial harbinger of summer's end. Pretty soon, days will start getting shorter and the nights a little colder, making the previous season's carefree fun but a memory.
However, Labor Day weekend isn't all bad, of course: it's one last opportunity to kick it with friends and family— and an excellent time to gather around for a marathon of movies and TV shows.
Here's a great list of old-school classics and modern hits everyone will love this Labor Day weekend.
Summer of Soul (2021)
This new documentary from The Roots’ musical savant Questlove relives the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a six-week concert series that featured some of the most notable acts of the day— some of whom are the greatest musicians who ever lived. One of the things that makes this 117-minute movie so captivating is the time it chronicles: 1969 was, of course, the year Woodstock took place in upstate New York, and while that event is considered part of American cultural history, so little is known about the Harlem Cultural Festival.
That event brought out incredible artists, including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and many more. It’s a history lesson, a celebration of culture, and a teachable moment about finding the value in Black art when the mainstream doesn’t. It’s sure to have everyone in the house dancing and singing too.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (2019)
It’s never a bad time to revisit Queen Bey’s 2019 concert film, a masterfully directed synopsis of her 2018 spectacle at Coachella. Of course, Beyoncé being Beyoncé, the music is on point, the choreography will take your breath away, and her performances are nothing short of mesmerizing. But Homecoming is much more than a concert.
As the name implies, it’s also a moving tribute to the HBCU experience, with overt and subtle nods to many facets of HBCU life, from the costumes to the band to the stunning re-arrangements of her material. It’s Black excellence to a beat, a treat the whole family can savor again and again and see something new every time.
High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (2021)
Caution: this one will make you hungry! This beautiful, tender series, based on the book High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, examines the roots of African American culinary history. Starting in Benin, West Africa, the series shows how resilient and creative Black people ingeniously held onto recipes and traditions— many of which are still very much in use and enjoyed today.
Miss Juneteenth (2020)
In this touching story from director Channing Godfrey Peoples, Nicole Beharie stars as Turquoise, a single mother living in Texas and the former winner of the local Miss Juneteenth pageant. When she enters her 15-year-old daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), in a pageant, all sorts of family fissures become exposed, and the family has to reconcile with the past and an uncertain future.
Though this film does have some brief moments of language that might be a lot for sensitive ears, it’s nonetheless regarded as a critical gem. With its focus on the Black holiday celebrating freedom, it’s a worthy watch.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
Action-packed and full of dazzling effects, this series, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, features Anthony Mackie in his continuing role as Sam Wilson. It takes place after the events of the 2019 Avengers: Endgame flick. In the movie, Wilson was handed Captain America’s shield, and the Disney+ series explores the implications of a Black man being given the iconic piece of patriotic symbolism.
It’s rich in lore and all the layers of Marvel mythology, but even newbies will enjoy seeing a Black superhero do his thing and work through the complicated issues that arise when a Black man becomes a defender of American ideals that aren’t always defending him.
Funnyman Kevin Hart stars in this buzzed-about drama, based on a true story. Adapted from a memoir by writer Matthew Logelin, in Fatherhood, Hart plays a dad whose wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) died just after giving birth to their daughter and adjusting to life as a single father. As he learns that it takes a village to raise a child, he leans on the support of family, friends, and a new love interest who comes into his life at just the right time.
David Makes Man (2019)
Originally on Oprah’s network OWN, this excellently crafted series created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) is on HBO Max too. It’s an incredibly moving coming-of-age story set in South Florida, where a teen prodigy named David (Akili McDowell) navigates two worlds: his school for gifted kids and the poor hardscrabble neighborhood where he lives. Exploring race, identity, class, and the power of human will, David Makes Man has received well-deserved accolades for being outstanding.
Jingle Jangle (2020)
We know that the holidays are a few months away but why wait to celebrate? This musical fantasy film, which came out in 2020, has been hailed as an instant classic for a new generation. Stacked with beloved Black actors including Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, and so many more, Jingle Jangle tells the story of Jeronicus Jangle, an inventor and toymaker who an opportunistic assistant betrays.
When Jeronicus’ granddaughter intervenes, Jangle finds his light again; a glorious new day dawns. John Legend is one of the producers, and with fantastic music and infectious dancing, Jingle Jangle is an excellent treat that’s even perfect on a warm day.
People who were around in the '90s when Martin aired for five seasons on Fox from 1992 to 1997 will no doubt get a kick out of reliving this hilarious show's characters (Sheneneh, anyone?), and its unforgettable catchphrases. (Get to steppin'!)
For the young ones too green to know the absolute joy in watching Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold, and the rest of the cast act a pure fool, they just might gain an appreciation for "old-school" comedy. No matter who's watching in the house, gut-busting laughter is all but guaranteed.
Madea's Farewell, the Play (2020)
Tyler Perry is no longer keeping bad mamma jamma matriarch Madea retired —she's coming to Netflix for a new project expected in 2022— but this is the last time we've seen her on stage, arguably the forum where Perry's character shines the brightest. In the play, Madea goes to rural Georgia town to be with her family as they celebrate her great-grandson graduating from law school, and, you guessed it, the drama starts. As always, Madea inserts herself smack dab in the middle; it's messy, extremely funny, and a great watch for the family.
Comedy greats Richard Pryor, Garrett Morris, and George Carlin are just some of the legends in this wild romp from the anything-goes era of the late 1970s.
Set in downtown Los Angeles, this funny flick follows what happens one crazy day at a car wash, when all sorts of customers and neighborhood characters swing by for amusements and eye-popping insanity.
All American (2018- )
Inspired by the life of professional football player Spencer Paysinger, this C.W. series follows what happens when a standout player from South Central L.A. is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High— a school that’s a short bus ride away but another world entirely.
Daniel Ezra is excellent as Spencer James, a young Black man trying to navigate a new, foreign environment with unforeseen challenges. With Empire alum Bre-Z playing Spencer’s best friend and Taye Diggs Spencer’s father figure with a mysterious connection to Spencer, All American is packed with riveting drama the whole family can enjoy.
In the film, we get to see Mrs. Obama as she embarks on a 34-city book tour and rare glimpses of the highly disciplined, carefully scripted Flyest FLOTUS letting her guard down. This one’s a tear-jerker because it’s the ultimate reminder of the greatness inside each of us, no matter where we come from.
In the film, she plays Claudine Price, a struggling single mother in Harlem who falls in love with a garbage collector Rupert (Jones); despite their circumstances, the pair find and make their beauty in a world designed to keep them down.
Sherman’s Showcase (2019- )
The premise of the series is outrageously silly: modeled in the vein of Soul Train, Sherman's Showcase is hosted by a guy named Sherman McDaniel (played by Salahuddin) who's somehow been alive—and not aged— to witness a plethora of Black music styles come and go, from disco to rap, house, R&B, gospel, and more.
However, as every sketch song lampoons our most beloved forms, viewers get to see laugh-out-loud parodies of artists like Mary J. Blige and Anita Baker. There are also insanely funny original songs like "Drop It Low for Jesus" that poke fun at Black culture while celebrating it with loving humor at the same time.