The Frida Cinema Blog: African American Documentaries Part 2 :Groundbreaking African American Women

Continuing our 3-part documentary blog series highlighting the history, culture, and influence of African Americans in America, are 10 documentaries streaming now, honoring groundbreaking and history-making African American Women.

10. A Ballerina’s Tale

Misty Copeland is the first African American female principal ballet dancer at the world-renowned American Ballet Theatre. Battling the conventional standards of the world of classical ballet and a potentially career-ending injury, Copeland has blossomed into one of the most famous ballerinas in America.

9. American Masters: Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock and Roll

Pioneering singer, electric guitarist, and songwriter Sister Rosetta Tharpe aka “The Godmother of Rock and Roll”, created a revolutionary musical and lyrical style of gospel, becoming a major part of the foundation of early rock and roll. Her work heavily influenced the first generation of rock and roll royalty, such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley.

8. American Masters: Althea

Althea Gibson was the first African American woman to take the international tennis world by storm in the 1940s and 1950s. Through her tennis career was short-lived, she made history by becoming the first African American of any gender to win the Grand Slam tournament in 1956.

7. Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, directs this documentary, examining the life, career, and legacy of the groundbreaking LGBT+ comedian Moms Mabley. Mabley, one of the most cutting-edge comedians of the 1960s, addressed everything from civil rights to female sexuality, while breaking down color and gender barriers in standup comedy on television.

6. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender LGBT+ advocate and a beloved icon of the 1960s gay rights movement, who died of an apparent suicide in 1992. Trans right activist Vitoria Cruz, investigates the unsolved questions of Johnson’s tragic death, which was not given a proper police investigation, while also celebrating Johnson’s impact.

5. The Loving Story

The interracial love story between Mildred and Richard Loving is responsible for one of the most important civil rights era supreme court ruling against segregation, Loving v. The State of Virginia. Mildred, a soft-spoken Virginian housewife, took the initiative to have her interracial marriage recognized legally in their native Virginia, becoming in the process a civil rights advocate.

4. Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed

This Peabody Award-winning documentary highlights the challenges and triumphs of the pioneering politician, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. In the height of the civil rights movement, Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress (1969-1983), the first African American of any gender to run for president, and the first woman to run for the presidential nomination for the Democrat Party.

3. (In)Visible Portraits

Over a three-year period, first-time director Oge Egbuonu, collected an array of stories from Black female scholars and historians, to everyday Black women and girls, creating, “a love letter to Black women”. A documentary from the heart, Egbuonu shows how despite the challenges Black women have faced historically and currently in America, they continue to rise up, breaking gender and racial glass ceilings.

2. I Am Somebody

This trailblazing civil rights documentary, directed by Madeline Anderson, is recognized as the first half-hour documentary to be directed by African American female member for the DGA (Director’s Guild of America). It follows the strike of African American hospital and nursing home employees, working to form a union and receive higher wages, with help from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

1.     4 Little Girls

Spike Lee’s profoundly heart-wrenching documentary of how four girls, Addie Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair, who lost their lives in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, on September 15, 1963, changed America forever. Lee’s signature impactful and in-depth style of storytelling makes this film an essential documentary of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, becoming a preserved film in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress. 


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