The Best Movies By Black Directors to Stream Right Now

From captivating dramas and documentaries to hilarious comedies, these movies from Black filmmakers are all a must-watch.

Alva Rogers in daughters of the dust
'Daughters of the Dust' | Kino International
'Daughters of the Dust' | Kino International

According to a 2021 report, just 6% of all films are directed by Black directors. Thanks to calls for more inclusion and representation in Hollywood within the past couple decades—and now more than ever in recent years—Black filmmakers are helming some of the biggest releases at the box office. Though the work of tearing down the barriers erected by centuries of systemic racism is never over—still no Black directors have won Best Director at the Academy Awards, and Steve McQueen was the first Black filmmaker to win Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave only a decade ago—there are myriad historic firsts to still be celebrated in the 21st century, and should encourage everyone to look back through history to surface the essential, yet often overlooked Black stories from the early days of cinema. From compelling social justice documentaries and historical dramas to innovative horror films and hysterical comedies, these are just a handful of must-watch films from Black directors that are available to stream right now.

cuba gooding jr in the best man
Universal Pictures

The Best Man, dir. Malcolm D. Lee (1999)

If you’ve never seen The Best Man (or its subsequent sequel, The Best Man Holiday), you are missing out on a capital-C classic romcom. Taye Diggs stars as a commitment-phobic writer who is the best man at his best friend’s wedding. It ends up being a reunion of old friends and lovers—all of whom have read Harper’s (Diggs) novel that’s filled with juicy “fictionalized” revelations about their friend group. Malcolm D. Lee (who also directed the truly perfect Girls Trip) crafted a deliciously fizzy, gossipy cocktail of a romantic comedy.
Where to watch: Peacock

Beyond the Lights, dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood (2014)

Romantic melodramas that transcend cliche are a lost art these days, but writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood is carrying the torch with this smart, nuanced, and sexy backstage drama centered around a singer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) on the verge of Rihanna-level stardom. She's got everything a pop star could want: money, fame, a controlling stage mom played by Minnie Driver. Yet, she feels empty and adrift until an ambitious cop with political aspirations (Nate Parker) saves her from a hotel room suicide attempt, kicking off a whirlwind romance filled with fast food, plane sex, and a bizarre cameo from Machine Gun Kelly. Warning: You'll want to have a tear-wiping tool nearby.
Where to watch: YouTube

Black Girl, dir. Ousmane Sembène (1966)

Based on a real-life story, Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène's Black Girl stars Mbissine Thérèse Diop as Diouana, a young woman from a poor village in Senegal who travels to France to be a nanny for a wealthy white family. As soon as she settles into her new life, her employers start treating her like little more than a servant, berating her harshly and piling on housekeeping tasks. Told partially in flashbacks, her claustrophobic life in France is contrasted with her poorer but happier time in Senegal.
Where to watch: Criterion Channel, HBO Max

Khalik Allah's black mother
Grasshopper Film

Black Mother, dir. Khalik Allah (2018)

Filmmaker Khalik Allah journeys back to his familial roots in this lyrical, lush documentary that paints a portrait of Allah's ancestral homeland of Jamaica. The critically acclaimed film was nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards' Truer Than Fiction award for its distinct visuals and sweeping storytelling, intercutting voiceover narration and dialogue with shots of people's lives in the towns and natural expanses of the island, inviting audiences to experience the film with all their senses.
Where to watch: Criterion Channel

Da 5 Bloods, dir. Spike Lee (2020)

Exploding with historical references, directorial flourishes, and flashes of combat action, Spike Lee's winningly spry war epic Da 5 Bloods embraces the inherent messiness of its subject matter. At first, the story sounds simple enough: Four elderly Black veterans, each with his own personal trials and tribulations, return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their beloved squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and search for a shipment of gold they buried in the jungle decades ago. But Lee, pushing the movie in sharply funny and emotionally fraught directions depending on the demands of the scenes, refuses to approach The Treasure of the Sierra Madre-like set-up in a straightforward manner. Instead, the movie pings between the MAGA-hat speckled present and the bullet-ridden past, using his older actors in the flashbacks as their younger selves to underline the inherent strangeness of time's passage. While some of the detours might test your patience, particularly once the men discover the gold and start arguing over what to do with it, the powerful ending, which becomes a moving showcase for the great Delroy Lindo, makes this a long journey worth embarking on.
Where to watch: Netflix

Daughters of the Dust, dir. Julie Dash (1991)

Shockingly, it wasn't until 1991 that this country saw a feature film directed by an African American woman released theatrically. Julie Dash's film about three generations of a Gullah family preparing to migrate off of their ancestral Saint Helena Island in 1902 remains a flat-out masterpiece, the stunning landscapes, costumes, and visuals captured onscreen complementing its complex and gutting storyline. Narrated by the Unborn Child, the future daughter of a young couple in the movie, the narrative is told in non-chronological bits and pieces as the family members struggle to preserve their unique creole culture while also looking toward their future in the Northern United States.
Where to watch: Tubi

jurnee smollett in eve's bayou
Trimark Pictures

Eve's Bayou, dir. Kasi Lemmons (1997)

Kasi Lemmons' directorial debut is a Southern gothic drama set in a prosperous Creole-American community in Louisiana, in which young Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett) lives with her well-off family. But cracks in the facade begin to grow as Eve, blessed with the "gift" of psychic foresight, discovers a dirty family secret, the fallout of which sets her on a path where she encounters battling Hoodoo mystics, family infidelity, and the terrors of teen girlhood, beset by the specters of unreliable memory. Lemmons disguises the movie's slick darkness beneath visually sumptuous cinematography and costuming, creating a genre-bending classic that continues to send a chill through the bones more than twenty years after its release.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Shudder

The Forty-Year-Old Version, dir. Radha Blank (2020)

This semi-autobiographical movie follows Radha Blank, a playwright for whom a "30 Under 30" honor now seems but a distant memory. When we meet her, Radha is teaching a group of hilarious and unruly high school kids, constantly sipping on a diet drink, and trying to get a play about her Harlem neighborhood produced. After a particularly enraging incident with one of the obnoxious white gatekeepers of the New York theater establishment, Radha turns to her old hobby: churning out rhymes. But her character's burgeoning desire to rap is really just a gateway for Blank to craft a narrative about finding creative integrity in a world that wants to pigeonhole you. Frequently, The Forty-Year-Old Version feels like a rejoinder to the type of movies that sometimes become hits at Sundance, where it premiered in 2020: ones that engage in poverty porn or use an oddball storyline to offer some trite inspiration.
Where to watch: Netflix

Ganja & Hess, dir. Bill Gunn (1973)

Utterly gorgeous and completely terrifying, Bill Gunn's experimental horror movie Ganja & Hess stars Duane Jones (star of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead) as Dr. Hess Green, a wealthy anthropologist researching an ancient African nation of blood-drinkers, whose unstable assistant (Gunn) accidentally stabs him with a ceremonial dagger, turning him into a vampire. Newly afflicted with a powerful need for human blood, Hess romances his assistant's wife Ganja Meda (Marlene Clark) when she comes around searching for her husband. Themes of grief, love, and desire to reconnect with religion abound in the film's disturbing and stick-in-your-brain images, so culturally significant that Spike Lee remade it, partially shot-for-shot, in 2014, titling his version Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Where to watch: Showtime, Shudder

the gaze barry jenkins

The Gaze, dir. Barry Jenkins (2021)

Unlike other films on this list, there's no narrative to Barry Jenkins' The Gaze. Rather, it operates more of an art piece, a 52-minute companion to his limited series The Underground Railroad. The Gaze is a series of portraits the Oscar-winning director of Moonlight made while working on his adaptation of Colson Whitehead's novel, capturing the faces of the actors on set. "No matter the length of the piece or the tone of the room, eventually, inevitably, I am asked about the white gaze," Jenkins wrote in a statement upon The Gaze's release. "It wasn’t until a very particular interview regards The Underground Railroad that the blindspot inherent in that questioning became clear to me: never, in all my years of working or questioning, had I been set upon about the Black gaze; or the gaze distilled." Inspired by the work of artist Kerry James Marshall, it's an exploration of ancestry and the power of looking.
Where to watch: Vimeo

His House, dir. Remi Weekes (2020)

Bol and Rial Majur, a married refugee couple newly fled from war-ravaged South Sudan, begin a probationary period of asylum in a London suburb, where they are given a shabby townhouse and a weekly stipend. Bol attempts to assimilate by going out into town, hanging out in pubs, using silverware to eat meals, and buying new clothes, but Rial still clings to their Dinka culture and the memory of the child they lost during their crossing. They see specters all over the house and begin to believe that a witch is haunting them. The power of His House comes not from the intermittent scares or constant building dread, but from the devastating, final-act reveal that forces its characters to reckon with the trauma they've suffered and the guilt that has consumed their lives. There is a particular flavor of horror that exists in experiencing shocking violence and then escaping into a world that makes it seem like nothing more than a dream.
Where to watch: Netflix

Hollywood Shuffle, dir. Robert Townsend (1987)

In the mid-‘80s, Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans were lamenting the dearth of quality roles for Black actors. Tired of auditioning to play slaves, pimps, and other stereotypes, they decided to write a movie about the industry’s racial limitations. Out came Hollywood Shuffle, a hilarious satire in which Townsend plays Bobby Taylor, an aspiring actor who’s told he really needs to be more of an “Eddie Murphy type.” At a brisk 78 minutes, Shuffle is a feat of creativity, using fantasy sequences to depict Bobby’s wildest dreams or confirm his worst showbiz fears. Made on a shoestring budget, it was a modest hit back in 1987, opening the door for Townsend to direct The Five Heartbeats and co-create The Parent ‘Hood. Bobby Taylor would be proud.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

beyonce in homecoming, beychella
Parkwood Entertainment/Netflix

HOMECOMING: A film by Beyoncé, dir. Beyoncé and Ed Burke (2019)

2018's Coachella, now dubbed "Beychella," has already gone down in history thanks to Beyoncé's monumental headlining performance. In Homecoming, the pop icon not only places you in the front row of the concert, but gives an in-depth look at the the show's conception and production, exploring her creative process and just how important it was to her to highlight the influence of HBCUs and celebrate black culture in her set. The film is more than the spectacle of the icon and her career-spanning music; it finds Beyoncé in a rare intimate light, breaking down what has become the unmatchable artistry that's made her a global superstar.
Where to watch: Netflix

I Am Not Your Negro, dir. Raoul Peck (2016)

Samuel L. Jackson narrates this film based on an unfinished James Baldwin manuscript, voicing the late author's words about his fallen friends Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers and their part in the civil rights movement. Like the exceptional films of Goran Olsson (The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975; Concerning Violence), I Am Not Your Negro finds vital and momentous relevance in old writings and archival footage, with Peck's doc delivering a timely indictments of race relations in America that have long continued unsatisfactorily since Baldwin wrote on its history decades ago.
Where to watch: Hulu, Netflix

Inside Man, dir. Spike Lee (2006)

Denzel Washington is at his wily, sharp, and sharply dressed best as he teams up once again with Spike Lee for this wildly entertaining heist thriller. He's an NYPD hostage negotiator who discovers a whole bunch of drama when a crew of robbers (led by Clive Owen) takes a bank hostage during a 24-hour period. Jodie Foster also appears as an interested party with uncertain motivations. You'll have to figure out what's going on several times over before the truth outs.
Where to watch: HBO Max

taylour paige in jean of the joneses
Search Engine Films

Jean of the Joneses, dir. Stella Meghie (2016)

Premiering at festivals like SXSW and TIFF, Stella Meghie’s confident 2016 feature debut stars Taylour Paige (now of Zola fame) as a novelist who has just ended a relationship and is feeling adrift just as her estranged grandfather dies. Meghie’s impeccable aesthetic eye coupled with Paige’s perfectly droll performance explores the family dynamic between Black women and is a dryly funny look at coming-of-age. Since then, Meghie has gone on to direct films like The Weekend and The Photograph, but Jean of the Joneses cemented her as a directing and writing talent to watch.
Where to watch: Hulu

Losing Ground, dir. Kathleen Collins (1982)

In this groundbreaking indie from director Kathleen Collins, an ambitious academic (Seret Scott) both studies and searches for "ecstatic experience" within her own life. She's married to a set-in-his-ways painter, played with humor and wit by the filmmaker Bill Gunn, but their relationship is rife with the tension that often comes with attempting to maintain a long-term relationship. As a writer and a director, Collins has a brilliant ear for the way artists often speak without actually understanding one another, and the movie is packed with deft observations about creativity, desire, and disappointment. At the same time, it's also biting and alive, a vibrant study of a woman pursuing an idea with great passion.
Where to watch: Criterion Channel

Love & Basketball, dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood (2000)

The great Gina Prince-Bythewood—who has since made the sensitive and steamy Beyond the Lights and the fierce The Old Guard—made her feature film debut with this timeless love story about two teenage basketball players. There's a hint of autobiography to the material given that Prince-Bythewood herself was a high school basketball player who later ran track at UCLA, which is why the portrayal of the protagonist Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and her competitive drive still feels so rare. Yes, Love & Basketball is great because of the undeniable chemistry between Lathan and Omar Epps—as well as one of the best virginity loss scenes in film—but also because we so infrequently get to see female athletes like Monica on screen.
Where to watch: HBO Max

Emayatzy Corinealdi in middle of nowhere
AFFRM/Participant Media

Middle of Nowhere, dir. Ava Duvernay (2012)

In 2022, it’s Ava DuVernay’s world and we’re lucky to be living in it. The director/producer/writer has truly done it all telling Black stories through both television and film and creating more opportunities in Hollywood for other POC filmmakers. But back in 2012, DuVernay was the first Black woman to win the Directing award at Sundance for Middle of Nowhere—her second feature film. The incandescent Emayatzy Corinealdi stars as Ruby—a woman who has been working her way to become a doctor until her life is upended when her husband goes to prison and she attempts to try to get him early parole. However, Ruby learns that what she knows about her husband’s case might not be the whole story, while also slowly falling for a bus driver. It’s a languid, gorgeously shot romantic drama—and was just the beginning of seeing the breadth of DuVernay’s vision.
Where to watch: Netflix

Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins (2016)

Chronicling the boyhood years, teenage stretch, and muted adult life of Chiron, a Black gay man making it in Miami, this triptych altarpiece is at once hyper-specific and cosmically universal. Director Barry Jenkins roots each moment in the last; Chiron's desire for a lost lover can't burn in a diner booth over a bottle of wine without his beachside identity crisis years prior, blurred and violent, or encounters from deeper in his past, when glimpses of his mother's drug addiction, or the mentoring acts of her crack supplier, felt like secrets delivered in code. Panging colors, sounds, and the delicate movements of its perfect cast like the notes of a symphony, Moonlight is the real deal, a movie that will only grow and complicate as you wrestle with it.
Where to watch: Showtime

Mudbound, dir. Dee Rees (2017)

The South's post-slavery existence is, for Hollywood, mostly uncharted territory. Director Dee Rees rectifies the overlooked stretch of history with this novelistic drama about two Mississippi families working a rain-drenched farm in 1941. The white McAllans settle on a muddy patch of land to realize their dreams. The Jacksons, a family of Black sharecroppers working the land, have their own hopes, which their neighbors manage to nurture and curtail. To capture a multitude of perspectives, Mudbound weaves together specific scenes of daily life, vivid and memory-like, with family member reflections, recorded in whispered voice-over. The epic patchwork stretches from the Jackson family dinner table, where the youngest daughter dreams of becoming a stenographer, to the vistas of Mississippi, where incoming storms threaten an essential batch of crops, to the battlefields of World War II Germany, a harrowing scene that will affect both families. Confronting race, class, war, and the possibility of unity, Mudbound’s spellbinding drama reckons with the past to understand the present.
Where to watch: Netflix

Lovie Simone in selah and the spades
Amazon Studios

Selah and the Spades, dir. Tayarisha Poe (2019)

A Heathers for the modern era, Tayarisha Poe's debut feature is set at a private boarding school managed by factions of students. The Spades, led by the beautiful and powerful senior Selah, will be leaderless after Selah graduates, and as Selah grooms her possible successors, the rest of the operation teeters on the precipice of a backstabbing mess.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

She's Gotta Have It, dir. Spike Lee (1986)

Before checking out Spike Lee's Netflix original series of the same name, be sure to catch up with where it all began. Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) juggles three men during her sexual pinnacle, and it's all working out until they discover one another. She's Gotta Have It takes some dark turns, but each revelation speaks volumes about what real romantic independence is all about.
Where to watch: Netflix

Summer of Soul, dir. Questlove (2021)

The footage alone would be worth recommending The Roots' drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's directorial debut, which sold at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival for a record-breaking sum. These recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a weeks-long musical event that happened the same year as Woodstock, have been unavailable to the public until now, an example of a Black historical artifact being buried. The archival material is incredible, capturing unparalleled performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many more acts. Thompson frequently lets the music speak for itself, but also uses it as a guide through the place and the period, showing how Black artists were responding and evolving during the era. Summer of Soul is thoroughly joyous and also enormously vital.
Where to watch: Hulu

Time, dir. Garrett Bradley (2020)

Garrett Bradley’s documentary is both an extraordinary love story and an indictment of America's corrections system. Using home video from her subject and her own footage, beautifully rendered in black and white, Bradley constructs the story of a woman who has been fighting for 20 years for the release of her husband from prison. Fox Rich and her husband Rob both were involved in a bank robbery, but while Fox’s sentence was relatively brief, Rob's was for 60 years. In the interim period, Fox raised their children on her own, started a successful career, and began speaking out about the racial injustice inherent in America's penal policy. Bradley’s film is both a mediation on what it means to wait for someone as much as it is a condemnation of the system that unduly punishes Black people in this country.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

angela bassett in waiting to exhale
20th Century Fox

Waiting to Exhale, dir. Forest Whitaker (1995)

The most enduring image of Waiting to Exhale has long been immortalized in GIF form: Angela Bassett walking towards the camera and away from a burning car. It's a great '90s pop filmmaking moment, a star summoning a range of emotions in one defiant gesture. The rest of this adaptation of Terry McMillan's 1992 bestseller, directed with a light touch by Forest Whitaker, is laced with less fiery but equally compelling moments of humor, romance, and melodrama as we follow four friends (Bassett, Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine) navigating the challenges of their careers and personal lives. Anchored by one of the best soundtracks of all time, a mid-90s R&B masterpiece overseen by hitmaker Babyface, Waiting to Exhale remains a showcase for its four leading ladies, who find wit and nuance in the plot's twists and turns.
Where to watch: HBO Max

The Watermelon Woman, dir. Cheryl Dunye (1996)

There's a superlative attached to Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman: The seminal indie is the first feature directed by an out openly lesbian Black woman. That's far from the only reason you should watch this brilliant movie, which stars Dunye herself as, well, Cheryl, a struggling filmmaker working at a video store. (Obviously, this is not far from Dunye herself.) The film intercuts Cheryl's own life with a documentary she's attempting to make about a Black actress from the 1930s just credited on screen as "The Watermelon Woman." As it breaks ground as part of the New Queer Cinema movement, it also puts Dunye's work in conversation with filmmakers of her own generation, as well with the generations of Black representation on screen. It's also frequently hilarious.
Where to watch: Showtime

Zola, dir. Janicza Bravo (2021)

Inspired by a viral twitter thread that charted an eventful journey from Detroit to Tampa Bay, Zola is as witty, incisive, and exhilarating as its source material. From the opening voiceover, which introduces the movie's central relationship and draws directly from the thread itself, Zola (Taylour Paige) has you hooked. She meets Stefani (Riley Keough) at the cheesy restaurant she works at and the two share a connection, immediately texting back and forth about a trip Stefani wants to make to Florida with the purpose of making cash stripping. Quickly, the two hit the road with a gruff, nameless mystery man (Colman Domingo) and Stefani's earnest, lanky goofball boyfriend Derrek (Succession's Nicholas Braun). Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues. To tell a very online story set in 2015, director Janicza Bravo and her co-writer Jeremy O. Harris skillfully incorporate the formal elements of technology—the pinging sound of a notification, the spacey glow of a screensaver, and the know-it-all tone of a Reddit thread—but the movie doesn't have a cluttered look. The visual choices never get too fussy. Instead, Bravo uses striking, carefully composed images to locate comedy in the surreal details and the uncomfortable confrontations. As intense as it gets, you're happy to be trapped in the car for the ride.
Where to watch: Showtime

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.