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Water Cooler: Finish off Black History Month with documentaries on Kanopy

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 22, 2021

WC caption goes here here here here here here here here.  (Associated Press)
WC caption goes here here here here here here here here. (Associated Press)

With a few days left in Black History Month, there is still time to squeeze in more learning. Kanopy comes in handy once again, providing educational resources that are available to watch from home for free with a local library card. Visit to view the complete “Must-See Black History” collection, but here are a few of the highlights to begin with.

“Soul Food Junkies” – An exploration of the soul food tradition and its relationship to Black cultural identity and history. In addition to looking at this food through a cultural lens, this documentary also examines the role of socioeconomic conditions in Black communities and the broader economics of the food industry in shaping the evolution of this cuisine. The film gathers various perspectives on soul food and food industry through interviews with soul food cooks, activists, historians and doctors. Directed by Byron Hurt. 2012. 64 minutes.

“Black in Latin America” – This PBS series explores how the European colonization and the transatlantic slave trade influenced the culture and demographics of Latin America. The series includes four episodes: “Haiti & Dominican Republic – An Island Divided,” “Cuba – The Next Revolution,” “Brazil – A Racial Paradise,” and “Mexico & Peru – The Black Grandma in the Closet.” Directed by Diene Petterle, Ilana Trachtman and Ricardo Pollack. 2011. 214 minutes.

“Freedom Flyers of Tuskegee” – During World War II, more than 950 African American men were trained as fighter pilots at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. This was due to the reversal of a U.S. military policy that had forbade Black men and women from flying. By the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals and Clusters, numerous Legions of Merit, the Red Star of Yugoslavia and a Presidential Unit Citation. Directed by Dean Tapia. 2011. 49 minutes.

“Tongues Untied” – This groundbreaking documentary was aimed at giving a voice to the communities of Black gay men, sharing their culture and perspectives of the world with a broader audience. Through poetry, music, performance and personal stories, this documentary highlights a community that had to confront racism as well as homophobia from the general population and within the Black community. The film was so controversial when it came out that it was denounced from the floor of Congress. Directed by Marlon Riggs. 1989. 55 minutes.

“Jazz” – This 10-part documentary celebrates one of the United States’ greatest original artforms. Through archival footage and contemporary interviews, the film explores the historical events and cultural exchanges that birthed a new form of music around the end of the 19th century and how it continues to evolve to this day. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and Keith David and featuring performances by legends like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Directed by Ken Burns. 2011. 1,066 minutes.

“Rejoice and Shout” – Explore 200 years of African-American Christian history to trace the evolution of gospel music and all the various styles of music it influenced. From spirituals and early hymns, to four-part harmony-based quartets and the integration of blues and swing, to the evolution of soul, hip-hop and rap, gospel serves as a connecting thread through Black history. Learn about gospel legends such as The Staple Singers, The Clara Ward Singers, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Directed by Don McGlynn. 2011. 116 minutes.

“Ethnic Notions” – Trace the roots of racial stereotypes and learn how they have fueled prejudice against people of color through United States history. Through clips of films, cartoons, songs and minstrel shows as well as footage of advertisements, children’s rhymes and household artifacts and knick-knacks, learn how dehumanizing caricatures such as Mammies and Sambos permeated American culture. Directed by Marlon Riggs. 1987. 59 minutes.

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