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Books and movies for Black History Month — for all ages

A photo from Disney Pixar's 2020 film, "Soul." The University of Utah Marriott Library and Black Cultural Center hosted the digital event "Books vs. Movies" recently to illustrate different recommendations for Black History Month.

A photo from Disney Pixar's 2020 film, "Soul." The University of Utah Marriott Library and Black Cultural Center hosted the digital event "Books vs. Movies" recently to illustrate different recommendations for Black History Month. (Walt Disney and Pixar Studios)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Have you ever considered watching Men in Black or The Princess and the Frog for Black History Month? There's a lot of stuffy and intimidating recommendations for people looking to learn about Black history, but it doesn't need to be that way.

On Thursday, the University of Utah Marriott Library and Black Cultural Center hosted the digital event "Books vs. Movies" to illustrate different recommendations for the month. Here's some of the most fun, challenging, and interesting media recommendations for the month of February:

Book and movie — why not both?

If you like books and movies both, here are some classic and award-winning suggestions with adaptations for book and film lovers alike.

  • "Hidden Figures" — Both the New York Times bestselling book and award-winning movie were published in 2016 with the same name. The story focuses on a team of female African American mathematicians who served a vital role at NASA throughout the space race. The PG film can be streamed on Disney+.
  • "Malcolm X""Malcolm X" is a PG-13 1992 film by Spike Lee that stars Denzel Washington, based on the New York Times bestselling book "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Both the book and film are award-winning and focus on the controversial civil rights leader of the same name, including his early life, criminal career and incarceration, conversion to Islam, marriage, and assassination. The movie can be streamed on HBO Max.
  • "The Color Purple" — A controversial classic due to its graphic subject material, "The Color Purple" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 book that has been adapted into countless stage plays and a 1985 PG-13 movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The story centers on an African American woman's coming of age story in the 1900s, and the sexism, racism, and violence many women faced during the time period. "The Color Purple" film is streaming on HBO Max.
  • "Roots" — The 1976 novel by Alex Haley (who also co-wrote "The Autobiography of Malcolm X") spawned a TV-14 rated 1977 miniseries with the same name. Somewhere in the nebulous area between fiction and nonfiction, the story follows Haley's family genealogy from Kunta Kinte, who was sold into slavery from Gambia down seven generations in the United States to Haley himself. The story covers major events such as the Civil War and Civil Rights movement. The "Roots" miniseries is streaming on HBO Max.

Family

These movies and books are a great way to show Black experiences and culture for a night of fun for the whole family.

  • "Soul" — A 2020 Disney film, "Soul" is an emotional and fun film for the whole family. A jazz pianist named Joe lands the gig of his life and accidentally falls to his death — only to return to the land of the living as a soul and put the meaning of family and a career into perspective. While not an exclusively Black story, Disney assembled a team of musical and cultural consultants to ensure that Joe's life was presented in a real and diverse way. "Soul" can be streamed on Disney+.
  • "The Princess and the Frog" — The 2009 romantic comedy musical is a modern reimagining of "The Frog Prince" that takes place in New Orleans and follows Tiana, a waitress aspiring to become a restauranteur. The film explores American Black culture through the French Quarter and a quirky cast of characters interested in jazz, gumbo, baguettes and true love. "The Princess and the Frog" can be streamed on Disney+.
  • "Malcolm Little""Malcolm Little" is a children's book discussing the early life of Malcolm X that was written by X's daughter.

Not just Black

The books and movies include Black characters or discussions on race, but also have a lot more going on.

  • "Men in Black" — This 1997 PG-13 classic comedy film follows a duo of secret agents defending Earth from malignant aliens and promoting peace with the good ones. Men in Black can be streamed on Hulu or purchased on Amazon Prime or YouTube.
  • "The Great Gatsby" – This 1925 classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald spawned a 2013 PG-13 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In 1920s society, life is divided up by class and race, and racism is a major theme throughout the work. A writer and day trader named Nick reflects on the life of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby.
  • "To Kill a Mockingbird" – The 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Harper Lee has been a beloved story about race and empathy since its inception and spawned the 1962 unrated movie. The story centers on two young children whose father is defending a Black man accused of assault, and how he faces a segregated community to argue for justice.

If you're still looking for more recommendations for Black history month, the full list from the University of Utah Marriott Library and Black Cultural Center can be found here.

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