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Classic movies to watch for Black History Month

Nipsey Russell as Tinman, left, Ted Ross as

Nipsey Russell as Tinman, left, Ted Ross as Lion, Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as Scarecrow appear in "The Wiz." Photo Credit: AP

It's only a matter of time until "Moonlight," "Fences," "Get Out" and "Hidden Figures" become classics, but until then, here are some black feature films that have made history, in honor of Black History Month.

“Lilies of the Field” (1963)

William Edmund Barrett’s 1962 novel “Lilies of the Field” was adapted for film in 1963 by James Poe starring Sidney Poitier and Lilia Skala. Set in the Arizona desert, Homer Smith (Poitier) is a traveling handyman who suddenly becomes the answer to the prayers of a group of German, Austrian and Hungarian nuns who wish to build a chapel for their town. Because of his performance, Poitier also became the first African-American to win an Oscar for best actor.

“The Wiz” (1978)

Universal Pictures and Motown Productions adapted “The Wiz” for film in 1978, reimagining L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel “The Wizard of Oz” to feature an entirely African-American cast. Starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell and Ted Ross, the film follows a Harlem schoolteacher named Dorothy (Ross) as she whisked away to the realm of Oz.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1979)

This movie made for television first aired on CBS in 1979 retelling Maya Angelou’s autobiography of the same name. The film traces the life of Angelou (Constance Good) beginning with her and her brother being sent to live with her grandmother after the divorce of her parents to eventually overcoming the trauma of being sexual abused as a young girl. 

“The Color Purple” (1985)

Steven Spielberg directed this period drama based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, which follows the life of Celie Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg in her film debut) and the other people in her life as they struggle to overcome a variety of issues, including racism and misogyny, in the rural South during the first 40 years of the twentieth century.

“The Learning Tree” (1969)

This period piece, based on Gordon Parks’ autobiographical novel, chronicles the life of Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson) and the events that suddenly force him into manhood while growing up in a small Kansas town during the 1920s.

"A Raisin in the Sun" (1961)

Lorraine Hansberry's iconic 1959 Broadway play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” came to the big screen in 1961 with Ruby Dee, Steven Perry, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Louis Gossett Jr. and Sidney Poitier. The groundbreaking film told the struggles of the Younger family as they fought to break free of poverty on Chicago’s South Side.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967)

Interracial couple Joanna “Joey” Drayton (Katharine Houghton) and Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) visit Drayton’s  upper class, liberal parents Christina and Matt Drayton, played by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, respectively, at their San Francisco home so she can introduce them to her fiancé. Drayton also invites Prentice’s parents over. By the time dinner is served, both families realize as long as Dayton and Prentice love each other, race doesn’t mean a thing.

"In the Heat of the Night" (1967)

“In the Heat of the Night,” based on John Ball’s 1965 novel of the same name, tells the story of a black Philly detective, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), who is wrongly arrested for the murder of a white businessman in Sparta, Mississippi. Upon his release, Tibbs, and the sheriff who arrested him, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), team up in an effort to hunt down the real killer.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)

Based on the bestselling novel by Harper Lee, the film follows the life of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), a lawyer and widower. While Finch defends a black man named Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) in court after he is accused of raping a white woman, Finch's children, Jem and Scout, are fixated on their mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. A tale of prejudice, power and justice unfolds, all through the eyes of the Finch family.

"Brother John" (1971)

John Kane, played by Sidney Poitier, returns to his hometown in Alabama to be with his sister who’s dying of cancer. During his visit back home, there’s a labor strike and Kane is wrongly suspected of being an agitator.

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