9 Must Reads for Black History Month and Beyond Plus their Screen Adaptations

By Hannah White

Black History month is a time in which we remember important figures and events in the history of the African diaspora. To honor this history, I’ve curated a list of powerful stories—from classic novels to modern memoirs—and their screen adaptations to read and watch in remembrance this month and beyond. Featuring critically acclaimed documentaries and award-winning films, this list offers just a glimpse of some of the most compelling stories of all time.

I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin

Based on James Baldwin‘s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, acclaimed filmmaker Raoul Peck created this masterpiece that serves as a tribute to Baldwin’s greatness. In his final years, Baldwin imagined writing a story about his three assassinated friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. This documentary and book weave together notes and manuscripts by Baldwin, creating the book that he never completed.

Moonlight based on play by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s unpublished play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, this moving coming-of-age film (2016) follows the life of Cheron from childhood into adulthood. Cheron struggles with his sexuality and identity and faces abuse growing up with an addicted mother in Miami at the height of the crack epidemic.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.” Michelle Obama’s bestseller has also been made into an Emmy-Nominated Netflix Original documentary that you can stream now.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad.” In this tragic story which has been adapted into an extremely successful major motion picture, Tish and Fonny plan to marry but those plans are ruined when Fonny is falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned. Full of powerful emotions and fully realized, captivating characters, this classic tale about love and injustice is relevant now more than ever.

Chadwick Boseman: Forever Our King 1976-2020 by Mia Johnson

This commemorative book celebrates the life and legacy of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, whose life was tragically cut short last year due to colon cancer. Growing up in South Carolina and then going on to star in many memorable roles including Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and King T’Challa, Boseman is remembered as a talented and charismatic artist and a generous friend, family member, and activist. 

Boseman is most well-known for his starring role in Black Panther, a critically acclaimed Marvel film that is based on a comic book of the same name that was released in 1966.

Passing by Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen’s Passing follows the unexpected reunion of two friends who fall into an unhealthy obsession with each other. The movie stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, as well as IT’s Alexander Skarsgard. This film had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 30, 2021. It will be released by Netflix later this year.

Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir by Zora Neale Hurston

“Warm, witty, imaginative. . . . This is a rich and winning book.”—The New Yorker

In this autobiography, Hurston, one of the most influential American writers of all time, tells her story with her own powerful voice. This edition includes an all-new forward by the great Maya Angelou. Watch the BBC documentary on Hurston’s life here.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple (1982), an epistolary novel by Alice Walker, was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985. This continues to be a widely successfully story both to readers and viewers; the book won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction, and the film did extremely well at the box-office, ranking as the #1 rated PG-13 film released in 1985.

Precious

Sapphire’s Push: A Novel tells the story of Precious Jones: “an illiterate sixteen-year-old, [who] has up until now been invisible to the father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as just one more of Harlem’s casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as she learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it truly her own for the first time.”

This novel was adapted into the successful film Precious (2009), which received six nominations at the 82nd Academy Awards. Notably, Geoffrey Fletcher won for Best Adapted Screenplay and became the first African-American to win a screenplay award at the Oscars.

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