Movies

6 Movies About Black Athletes Everyone Should Watch

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I remember talking to my friend one time, who’s Black, and he lamented that people only love us when we’re dunking a basketball, or tossing around a football, but otherwise, they don’t don’t want us living in their neighborhoods. 

While I don’t entirely agree with that sentiment (I live in a culturally diverse neighborhood, and we’re all very cordial and supportive of one another), I do understand his general feelings. I mean, if you watch most movies about race and social justice, you’ll find a great deal of animosity directed toward Black people.   

But, not all movies that focus on race necessarily have to end in tragedy. Some movies, particularly sports films, usually end in triumph. So, even though, as my friend says, some people only love Black people when they’re playing sports, I do think that viewing movies that showcase both the inner and outer struggles of Black athletes can go a long way. And, just so we’re clear, The Blind Side will not be on this list. That film may be a bit too inaccurate for my taste.  

Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans.

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Remember The Titans (2000) 

A tearjerker if there ever was one, directed by Boaz Yakin, and starring Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Donald Faison, and many others, Remember the Titans is the “based on a” true story of a Black and white coach who work together to integrate not only a team, but an entire community. 

Washington stars as the Black coach, Herman Boone, and Patton stars as the white coach, Bill Yoast, and throughout the movie, we see the Black and white players at arms against each other, until they eventually learn to work together as a team. 

Remember the Titans is one of Denzel Washington’s most iconic roles, and the film teaches a good lesson on how anybody can work together, as long as they have a common goal to shoot for.   

Channing Tatum in Coach Carter.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Coach Carter (2005)  

Directed by Thomas Carter (who is in no way related to the film’s protagonist), Coach Carter stars Samuel L. Jackson as the titular coach, who returns to a high school he once attended, and is determined to make sure that the boys he’s coaching are not just concerned with basketball, but also about their futures. 

Even though it’s based on a true story, it’s basically Dangerous Minds, but with basketball, since these athletes (many Black, but not all), seem to have more of a commitment to the streets than to the classroom, and Coach Carter aims to rectify that. 

Though Coach Carter isn’t technically a fictional teacher, he definitely makes a difference. And the reason why everybody should watch it is because it shows that these young men are not acting out just because they hate school. It’s because they have a lot going on in their lives that many of the teachers don’t even know about. It’s a great look into the lives behind the jerseys, which are just as important as the players inside of them.    

Josh Lucas in Glory Road

(Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

Glory Road (2006)  

Don’t have time to watch both Remember the Titans, and Coach Carter? Then just watch Glory Road instead, which is a nice amalgamation of the two. Directed by James Gartner, and starring Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight, and a slew of others, Glory Road is another one “based on a true story,” but this time about a coach who decided to have an all-Black starting line-up, which was the first in NCAA history.

Of course there’s a whole lot of racism that comes attached to that decision. But, the coach, and the players stand their ground, even despite the fact that people are getting more and more gutsy in how they want to intimidate the coach and his Black players. 

But, given that this is a Disney movie, much like Remember the Titans, you just know that the team is going to end up succeeding in the end, and shutting down the haters, if not so much racism itself. In the end, it’s a great basketball movie, and an inspirational film about facing adversity head on. It’s good stuff.    

Stephan James as Jesse Owens in Race

(Image credit: Entertainment One Films)

Race (2016) 

In a lot of ways, Race, which is the story of Jesse Owens, is infuriating, but that’s only because it reflects reality, and all the hardships that Owens had to face, both abroad, and back “home” once he returned to America. 

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, and starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremey Irons, and several others, Race is the true story of how Jesse Owens went from being the fastest person in Ohio, to being the fastest person in the world. 

But, like most of the movies on this list, racial discrimination abounds, and you’re left both cheering, but also seething for all the crap that Owens had to go through just to be the best runner in the world. Race, like the next movie on this list, is the kind of film that should be mandatory viewing every Black History Month. It’s a worthy movie.  

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

42 (2013) 

42 makes me want to cry. Not just because the story of Jackie Robinson is downright depressing with all the crap that he had to take, but also because it’s one of Chadwick Boseman’s best performances, and who doesn’t still miss Chadwick Boseman?   

Directed by Brian Helgeland, and starring Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, and others, 42  focuses on baseball, sure, but the film is much more concerned with all of the mistreatment and smothered rage that Robinson had to endure in order to be the first Black baseball player in the Major Leagues. 

In that way, he was just as important at the plate, as he was away from it, as even his mere presence in the stadium sent shockwaves throughout the country. 

Will Smith, Demi Singleton, and Saniyya Sidney playing around with a cart full of tennis balls in King Richard.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

King Richard (2021) 

Okay, so let’s just try to forget the infamous slap that accompanies this movie, and instead, focus on the excellent film that actually led to Will Smith winning Best Actor in the first place, and that’s King Richard, the story of the father of tennis megastars, Venus and Serena Williams.  

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, and starring Smith as Richard Williams, and Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena Williams, respectively, King Richard is a story about Black athletes struggling (and succeeding) in what was, prior to them, viewed as a sport of privilege.

Throughout the film, we see Smith’s character turn down offers that seem like no-brainers, but this is only because he views his daughters’ success more as the sky being the limit, which is inspirational, to say the very least. 

Honestly, it’s hard for me to try to sway my friend’s opinion, nor do I think it’s my responsibility to do so. That said, I do think that there is certainly something special in any movie where the characters triumph over adversity. And, these sports movies featuring Black athletes could always be a step in the right direction. So, I say watch them! They definitely can’t hurt.   

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