Based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, this historical work of fiction follows the life of 1960s aspiring journalist Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Set against the Civil Rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi, she finds herself forming a bond with the black maids of Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson. Hoping to become a more highly regarded writer, she sets out to write a book about the maids to expose the rampant racism of the era. She hopes that her writings will bring a louder voice to the black people placed in the role of the help and not as vocally heard in the southern states.
The film was directed by Tate Taylor (Get On Up) and starred the likes of Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone. The Help became a box office winner, an accolade-nominated darling, and heavy criticism for once more perpetuating the white saviour narrative. The film made $216 million at the box office and the film was nominated for four Academy Awards. If you’re seeking more films that better lift up black voices and expose racism in more profound ways, take a look at these ten films of a similar nature to The Help.
Based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures tells the story of the unsung heroes who helped bring America to the stars with the space program. The film follows the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, crucial members in helping NASA become a robust organization with their hard work behind the scenes. While they struggle to deal with racial issues at work, they keep pushing forward as they push America into space. Directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), this biographical drama stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons.
Based on the iconic stage play August Wilson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Fences takes place among the working class of 1950s Pittsburgh. Troy Maxson lives the life of a garbage man with a wife and son. But his son is getting older and wanting to do more for himself by becoming a college football athlete. Troy, however, is still finding himself bitter about having never achieved his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. Growing ever more angry and frustrated, he starts taking out his rage on his family, leading to contentious bouts with his wife and son as their family crumbles amid ambition. Directed by Denzel Washington himself and nominated for numerous Academy Awards (including Best Picture), this historical drama stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney.
Loosley based on the 1964 murder investigation, Mississippi Burning finds FBI agents Alan Ward and Rupert Anderson heading down to the south to look into some missing Civil Rights workers. Making their job all the tougher is a southern community that is bound by rampant racism. With the local authorities refusing to cooperate, the agents become tougher in their investigation that goes the extra mile of aggression for justice. Directed by Sir Alan William Parker (Bugsy Malone) and written by Chris Gerolmo (Miles from Home), this intense crime drama that focuses on historical racism stars Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, and R. Lee Ermey.
The Color Purple
Based on the award-winning epistolary novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple mixes the period-piece drama of early 20th-century Georgia with the tribulations of growing up. This historical epic follows the forty years of Celie, an African-American living in the south. Residing during a time of racism and sexism, Celie endures horrible abuses and disgusting racism. She’s even married off by her abusive father to the equally as awful Albert Johnson. Trying to find some companionship anywhere she can, hoping that she’ll someday be able to rejoin her sisters in Africa. Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Menno Meyjes (Amazing Stories), this award-nominated drama stars the likes of Danny Glover, Adolph Caesar, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Rae Dawn Chong, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Based on the historical fiction novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound takes place in the Mississippi Delta around the time of World War II. The African-American Jackson family find themselves going through tough times. While Ronsel Jackson is shipped off to serve his country in the war over in Europe, the rest of the family struggles with farm life amid racist communities that become hostile towards them. Ronsel finds himself falling in love in Germany during his service that he finds returning to a country that doesn’t value him as a horrific nightmare. Directed and co-written by Dee Rees (Pariah), this tragic tale of Americana stars Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks.
As one of the more musical, charming, and cleaner pictures by the raunchy writer/director John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble), Hairspray blends the eccentric dancing of the era while being frank about the racist histeria. Taking place in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, the film follows the aspiring star of Tracy Turnblad, a plump high school student with big dreams. She wants to be on television to dance her heart out but finds that she’s not as accepted by the popular and beautiful crowd the show usually attracts. She does, however, find kinship within the African-American community as he joins in their fight against racial segregation. The film stars Sonny Bono, Ruth Brown, Divine, Debbie Harry, Ricki Lake, Jerry Stiller, Ric Ocasek, and Pia Zadora. The film would be transformed into more of a stage musical, as well as a 2007 remake.
In the Heat of the Night
Based on the history novel by John Ball, In the Heat of the Night follows a murder investigation in Sparta, Mississippi where the African-American Philadelphia police detective Virgil Tibbs is accused of the crime by a racist community. The racist police chief of Bill Gillespie makes the arrest and it’s up to the stern Tibbs to prove he was not only the murderer but that he’s capable of busting this case wide open, proving a racist community wrong. Directed by Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof) and Stirling Silliphant (The Towering Inferno), the film stars Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Lee Grant, and Warren Oates. The film not only received two sequels of They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971) but a 1988 TV series as well.
The Intruder (1962)
Directed by B-movie king Roger Corman, The Intruder is one of the director/producers more earnest and intense dramas ever made. The film takes place in the early 1960s where a small southern town finds itself visited by the mysterious stranger of Adam Cramer. Adam’s mission is to stir up racial tensions in the town with the ultimate goal of making the community far more hostile towards the idea of integrated schools. But how far can one man go to antagonize a community before reducing it to a steaming stew of hatred? For a film by Corman, the picture was incredibly progressive for the era, starring the likes of William Shatner, Frank Maxwell, Beverly Lunsford, Robert Emhardt, Leo Gordon, Charles Beaumont, and Jeanne Cooper.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Joanna Drayton is a white woman who has just fallen in love with the black doctor John Prentice. They’ve become engaged and decide to announce this information when they come to Joanna’s parents for dinner. Her parents are both liberals and find themselves conflicted with how to deal with the fact that their daughter is dating a black man, coming to terms with their own racism amid such a marriage. Directed by Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones) and written by William Rose (The Ladykillers), this palpable drama of race relations stars Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Katharine Houghton.
One Night in Miami
Based on the novel of the same title by Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami depicts a fictional meeting of African-American minds in the 1960s. It is 1964 and the famous black figures of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke are having a small and intimate party at the Hampton House motel. The four meet up to chat about their current careers and the Civil Rights movement, their back and forth often turning heated as they debate just how they should be perceived by an America that still has a racial problem. As the directorial debut of Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), this historical drama stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr.