Here in the United States, February has been officially recognized as Black History Month on a national level since 1976. But the origins for such a month (designated to pay tribute to the trials, triumphs, and achievements of the nation’s Black population) date back to 1969 when students and educators at Kent State University first proposed the idea back in February of 1969. They followed up with their own honorary celebration almost a year later in 1970. February was eventually decided on to be the official Black History Month of the United States, owing to the fact that the second week of the month coincides with both the birthdays of 16th President Abraham Lincoln, who famously issued the Emancipation Proclamation of American slaves, and the notable former slave and leader of the abolitionist movement Frederick Douglas.
Today we proudly uphold the tradition for celebrating and honoring the enduring spirit and legacies of great people of all colors and ethnicities. And the Walt Disney Company is one of the leaders in the movement toward fostering universal respect in diversity and equality for all. Therefore, it should come as no surprise for fans with a subscription to Disney+ to discover a wide range of collaborations contained within the Celebrate Black Stories Collection. Comprised of a number of diverse works, the collection includes everything from short films, specials, and exclusive series to entertaining movies of all kinds.
The latter comes in an array of genres; you have more lighthearted cartoons and kid-friendly entertainments that feature a Black lead, as well as emotional dramas that tackle real-life issues throughout history and were created to educate and motivate older and younger generations alike. And it is that second category we will be focusing on in more detail here—those empowering, real-life events that have resulted in the production of informative, inspirational onscreen stories. Here are six such examples of feature films within the Disney+ Celebrate Black Stories collection that are sure to inspire you.
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6. Ruby Bridges, 1998
This is a heartwarming, family-friendly feature that recounts the real-life story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges—an African American girl growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960. When Ruby is chosen to be one of the very first children of color to be integrated into a local, formerly all-white elementary school in her district, it creates a massive snowball effect on daily life for her family as well as the entire community.
Some of the chain reaction events result in targeted protests and grotesque threats to do bodily harm to the child, parents keeping their kids home from school, and even her father losing his job! Despite all the unfolding harshness of the realities of life young Ruby must face each and every day, she exudes a brave, commendable spirit with courage and kindness through it all.
5. The Color of Friendship, 2000
Having originally aired on the Disney Channel back in 2000, this film also draws inspiration from true, historical events from the late 1970s. The movie tells the story of the budding friendship between two girls, who are just as different as any two people can be. You have Piper Dellums, who lives in Washington, D.C. with her parents. Her father is a prominent Black Congressman known for his very vocal opposition to the apartheid practices of South Africa. Then there is Mahree Bok, a well-to-do White, who hails from South Africa and arrives in the United States via enrollment in a study abroad program.
That’s when the two very different worlds collide, resulting in both girls having to come face-to-face with the unexpected. Mahree is not expecting her host family to be Black and Piper is surprised to learn that there are Whites in South Africa. Throughout it all, the two girls work to overcome the many challenges posed by preconceived notions, all while learning more about each other and what the true color of friendship really means.
4. Remember the Titans, 2000
This is perhaps one of the most popular picks on our list of recommendations, as many will recall the box office fame it celebrated more than two decades ago along with its numerous Academy Award nominations and resulting wins. While the scripted plot and several of the onscreen events we see depicted here were fictionalized accounts by writer Gregory Allen Howard, the film does maintain its overall integrity as the basis for the real-life story of a motivational Black coach named Herman Boone.
Portrayed by Denzel Washington, the movie follows along with Coach Boone in the face of adversity and emerging hardships as he sets out with the challenging objective to integrate the football team at T.C. Williams High School (now Alexandria City High School) back in the year 1971, when racial tensions were still high.
3. Queen of Katwe, 2016
This uplifting story by Walt Disney Pictures in cooperation with ESPN, Cine Mosaic, and Mirabai Films does not center around the Black experience in America. It does, however, serve as an inspirational and empowering story about beating the odds and not being defined by or limited to the challenges of the life, despite the situation you may have been born into. Presented as a biopic, the film follows the story of world-renowned, real-life Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi when, at age of 10, she first discovered her love for the game.
It is when a visiting missionary introduces her and other children living in the slums of Kampala, Katwe to the art of chess playing that Phiona develops a sincere interest in the game. But it goes far beyond that, as Phiona also demonstrates a true talent as a chess prodigy, which takes her from lowly circumstances to a far more elevated pathway into the success that she never before dreamed about. But the way to fame is still met with adversity and challenges, including prejudices towards her and her humble team along with those that unfold within her own family.
2. Red Tails, 2012
Despite the many films that have come out over the years about World War II battles and fighting overseas, there still aren’t enough out there about the Black American experience at this crucial time in world history. On the home front there were still those day-to-day struggles that come with living in a racially divided and segregated nation. But then, with most of the world at war, and soldiers of all colors being called to do their admirable duties, there was that oftentimes overlooked double-whammy challenge endowed on the African American population at this specific time in history.
That’s why movies like Red Tails offer up something original, empowering, and educational. Even though the film is an admitted work of fiction, and there have been some historic inaccuracies pointed out by audiences, Red Tails does succeed in raising the awareness for the overlooked Tuskegee Airmen who haven’t received nearly enough of the recognition due to them for their brave contributions and service to the United States.
1. Hidden Figures, 2016
Don’t miss out on this ultimate “hidden” gem on our list of motivational, inspiring must-watch movies included in the collection. Set in Langley Research Center in 1961, the story recounts the very vital yet often overlooked contributions made to NASA by some very intelligent Black women working behind the scenes. At a time when racial tensions were high and segregation was a deep-rooted practice in the United States, the enduring strength and perseverance reflected in this film is simply amazing.
Taraji P. Henson leads in her portrayal of Katherine Goble Johnson—the brilliant mathematical brains behind NASA’s crucial task of sending astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Octavia Spencer brings life to the role of Dorothy Vaughan, supervisor and mathematician at a time when neither was a traditional role for a woman, let alone a woman of color. Janelle Monáe Robinson does excellent justice in playing Mary Jackson—noted young, aspiring mathematical whiz and aerospace engineer. This historically based motion picture received a number of awards and accolades and was even nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 2016.
The Celebrate Black Stories Collection on Disney+ offers a wide range of other great watches in addition to all the premium picks we’ve highlighted here. The collection as a whole does well at tackling so many different angles and dynamics that make up the overall Black experience on many varying levels. So, we encourage you to browse this collection on your own to come up with any other, personally-geared interests awaiting the viewing pleasure for you and your family. This collection, along with the many other great collections by Disney+, are all created with the same objective in mind: to foster motivation and inspiration for all, in true Disney spirit.