This February, we at ALPAKA are feeling especially ready to celebrate, listen and learn during Black History Month. If you are looking to make sure you celebrate in a big way too, we have come up with an epic list of books, documentaries, films, and podcast recommendations to help continue our collective education, not only during this month, but throughout the entire year.
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
This national bestseller by American novelist and activist James Baldwin was instrumental in galvanising and lending a voice to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement that was just beginning to emerge into the mainstream in 1963. Consisting of two beautifully sharp essays outlining Baldwin’s perspective on the place of race and racism within mainstream American society, The Fire Next Time
still remains one of the most influential and poignant books of its time.
The Colour Purple, Alice Walker
This iconic, Pulitzer Prize winning book has become one of the most beloved and revered pieces of literature of all time. The story follows the life of Celie, an African American woman living in early 20th century Georgia. Her life is filled with violence and pain, but it is also a life of resilience and love, miraculously shown in the face of such hatred and isolation. Celie’s story is one we should all know, if only for the beautiful and heartfelt way in which Walker has written it.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X with Alex Healy
This monumental piece was published in 1965 and is the product of several in-depth interviews between journalist Alex Healy and Malcolm X. The book details Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism and pan-Africanism. Whilst Haley’s input is both necessary and imperative to the structure of the book, this is still very much Malcolm X’s story, and one that we believe everyone should be acquainted with.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
In the timeless memoir, I Know Why The Caged Birds Sing, Angelou details her own personal experiences with racism, sexual assault and shocking violence that became a mainstay of her formative years. The beauty of the book however comes from the antidote Angelou prescribed to herself and now to her readers, as a solution to overcoming adversity and affliction; getting lost in the world of books and self-love. This ground-breaking book should absolutely be on everyone’s ‘to read’ list.
The New Jim Crow (Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness), Michelle Alexander
Since this book was published to great acclaim in 2010, it has since acted to enlighten an entire generation to the unfair and often prejudiced treatment of the African American community within the US’s criminal justice system. Linking modern America’s current criminal justice system to the abhorrently racist Jim Crow laws of the late 19th century, Alexander searingly calls attention to the institutionalised and systemic racism that continues to exist and thrive today, as well as calling for mass reform. The New Jim Crow is an incredibly powerful read from start to end.
Listening to The Nod will always guarantee an entertaining and educational time. When you listen to this podcast you will hear stories that we are almost certain you have never heard before. Interested in hearing about an interracial drag troupe from the 1940’s? We thought you might be, so whether you are listening on the drive to work, or while you’re lazing on the couch, The Nod is sure to bring you those ‘I never knew that!’ moments every time.
Code Switch is a race and culture outlet from NPR that offers thought provoking, nuanced and detailed discussions on race’s relationship with a variety of factors in our society. From over-policing in African American communities to a detailed look at the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, the discussions on Code Switch are always informative and highly engaging.
Noire Histoir offers up a stunning array of black history facts, literature reviews and motivational stories from not only Black communities in America, but from across the entire globe. This podcast celebrates all things Black Excellence and helps to shed light on tales and figures you probably didn’t learn about in high school. Do not be fooled by the title however, Noire Histoir does not only focus
on events from the past, but too on events and people today, that will one day make history.
Films and Documentaries
13th, Ava DuVernay
Duvernay graces this list again with a deep cutting look at the American prison system, and the recent prison population explosion that, unsurprisingly, has seen an intensification in the incarceration of African Americans. DuVernay puts forth her contention that the enslavement of the African American people has been allowed to continue and flourish within the American criminal justice and prison systems, which unfairly trial Black people in accordance with institutionalised racial biases. This documentary is truly eye opening and shocking, and one that you will be unlikely to forget.
Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s latest ‘joint’ Da 5 Bloods mixes Spike Lee’s signature style of genre innovation by combining together the ‘Vietnam War Movie’ with the ‘Buddy Adventure’ and throwing in a few dashes of ‘Thriller’ just to keep things fresh and interesting. Lee’s film follows a group of Black Vietnam Veterans returning to Vietnam to find a stash of lost gold. Lee’s film serves to celebrate and
valorise the oft unsung and forgotten Black soldier, who fought to protect a country that more often than not did not want nor respect them.
I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck
Visionary Raoul Peck in a stunning documentary takes activist James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, which detailed his own personal experiences with racism during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as his time spent with Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. and brings forth a brutally honest look of an individual’s experience within such a grand and tumultuous movement.
The documentary is underscored by the clear and honest words of Baldwin, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee
The film that finally netted Spike Lee is (long overdue) first Oscar, BlacKkKlansman rocked the world upon its first release. The premise alone is enough to have anyone hooked, even more so when you find out that this story, is true. In the 1970’s, a Black police officer, Ron Stallworth infiltrated the Ku
Klux Klan, and did everything in his power that he could to thwart their plans and attacks. This movie, on its own is thrilling, shocking and uplifting, but when Lee makes his clear assertion in the last moments of the film that the last American presidency did more to help White Supremacy than hurt it, the movie is elevated to a poetic and unforgettable level.
Selma, Ava Duvernay
Another instance of taking a detailed and localised look within the revolutionary Civil Rights Movement comes in the form of Duvernay’s critically acclaimed Selma. The film, or rather biopic, immerses its audience within a very specific, period of Martin Luther King Jr’s life, his campaign to secure equal voting rights through a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Duvernay is able to bring new perspective and depth to such an established and iconic man, in a beautiful film that is sure to leave audiences touched and awed.