For many, Black History Month is a time for learning, sharing and community. As UCLA celebrates Black History Month, we’re asking members of the Bruin community to share recommendations for what to read, watch and listen to this February and beyond. Which plays and poems, novels and nonfiction do you plan to read? What TV series, documentaries or feature films do you like to watch? And what songs, albums or podcasts do you listen to that commemorate the long history of African American successes and contributions or past and present struggles for rights and opportunities in this country?
Black History Month has been celebrated in certain areas — particularly on college campuses — of the United States since the 1970s, was recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976 upon the nation’s bicentennial and eventually signed into law by Congress in 1986. The Black historian Carter Woodson and his colleagues at the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History planted the seeds for Black History Month by organizing the first Negro History Week in February 1926.
Works of art and scholarship can strengthen the bonds among Black people and communities and extend connections to neighbors and allies across color barriers and national borders. The books, movies, music and more that we take in as we think about Black history spread joy, raise awareness and inspire us to action.
Presented here are read, watch, listen recommendations from students, staff and faculty from across campus. This list will grow as @UCLA social media accounts solicit your suggestions — some of which will be added to this article throughout the month.
- Verlena Johnson, student affairs officer in the architecture and urban design department, recommends African American Art and Artists by Samella Lewis, and the work of artists such as Faith Ringgold (visual artist and children’s book author), Freida High Tesfagiorgis (visual artist and art historian), Kara Walker (visual artist), Edmonia Lewis (visual artist), Betye Staar (visual artist), Preston Jackson (visual artist), Harriet Powers (visual artist), Lenn Keller (photographer), Lorna Simpson (photographer), Carrie Mae Weems (photographer) and Marlon Riggs (filmmaker).
- Kyle Mays, assistant professor of African American studies, American Indian studies, and history, recommends Alaina E. Roberts’ I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land.
“This book has helped me think about Black and Indigenous relations in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), rethink the period of Reconstruction and who can reproduce forms of settler colonialism,” Mays says. “Roberts even has a robust discussion about the Tulsa Massacre and how those Black people obtained the land in the first place (spoiler: it was Indigenous allotments). A must-read.”
- Erica Palomares Smith ’05, head of UCLA Content Studio, recommends A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, by Hanif Abdurraqib.
“This collection of beautifully written essays reflects and celebrates Black performance in American culture across time and with various lenses,” Palomares Smith says. “You’ll learn something, gain perspective and your heart will break but also be put back together again throughout. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before!”
- Brisa Marie Smith Flores, doctoral candidate in culture and performance and co-editor-in-chief of Ufahamu: Journal of African Studies recommends Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall.
“This book is mainly about North America, but it does such a great job demonstrating how many enslaved people continued their cultural heritage — including their language, identity and history — for generations,” Smith Flores says.
- Audrey Devost M.A. ’19, a doctoral candidate and Bunche fellow, recommends Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers.
“I bought this book during the height of COVID, and it gave me a lot of perspective on how I engage with activism,” Devost says.
- Otis Noble, assistant director of community engagement in the Division of Social Sciences, recommends the ABC comedy Abbott Elementary.
Abbott Elementary follows eager public school teacher Janine Teagues (played by Quinta Brunson, the show's creator) and her colleagues at Philadelphia’s underfunded Abbott Elementary, as a documentary crew films their day-to-day lives.
- Jason Kikkawa, a materials engineering major, recommends Just Mercy. The movie presents a real-life case from the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in Alabama state jails and prisons.
“This film simultaneously evokes distress and hope by illuminating the obstacles facing the Equal Justice Initiative and the inspiring work they do,” Kikkawa says. “Bryan Stevenson and Walter McMillian’s story is ultimately triumphant, but the time taken from those wrongfully incarcerated can never be given back. The film was very moving, and I enjoyed the performances from all of the main actors.”
- Eric Greene, associate director for diversity and campus climate in strategic communications, recommends Octavia Tried to Tell Us.
“Tananarive Due, author and UCLA lecturer, teamed up with theologian Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman to co-found and co-host this series of live webinars inspired by the work of Afrofuturist writer and one-time UCLA Extension student Octavia Butler and its enhanced resonance given our times,” Greene says. The recordings are available on YouTube.
- Christopher Brennan ’99, library assistant at the UCLA Music Library, recommends Wattstax. Stream through UCLA Library or find through JustWatch.
The documentary film covers an all-day concert at the 1972 Watts Summer Festival, which featured performances by Stax Records artists such as Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, the Staples Singers and more.
“This film documents the concert that came to be known as ‘the Black Woodstock,’ which was held on the anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riot and attracted 100,000 people,” Brennan says. “The historic event took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 20, 1972.”
- Lorrie Frasure, associate professor of political science and African American studies, recommends the Intersectionality Matters podcast, hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, who holds the Promise Institute Chair in Human Rights at UCLA School of Law.
The podcast features Crenshaw, a leading scholar of critical race theory, and her guests exploring the hidden dimensions of today's most pressing issues, such as #SayHerName, COVID-19 and the global rise of fascism.
- Veena Hampapur M.A. ’10, Ph.D. ’16, UCLA Labor Center director of communications, recommends the center’s Re:Work podcast on Black midwives in South Los Angeles devoted to birth justice and Black maternal health — “The Calling”and “It's Magic.”
“As covered in the Los Angeles Times last year, Black women are nearly four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women, regardless of socioeconomic status,” Hampapur says. “A Black woman with a college education has a 60% greater risk of dying than a white woman with less than a high school education. This timely miniseries focuses on the women who run Kindred Space LA, one of the few Black-owned birthing centers in the U.S. dedicated to helping women experience empowered births.”
- Eboni Shaw, manager of UCLA African American studies, recommends the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap. Cheryl Keyes, professor of ethnomusicology and global jazz studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, served on the executive committee that created the anthology.
The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap chronicles the genre’s growth from its start in the Bronx and its evolution to worldwide influence. The collection features a track list that spans four decades of hip-hop and rap from various artists.
- Christine Fulgentes, a business economics major, recommends Black music such as “What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.
“Black artists have shaped the music scene for many decades. Black artists are also responsible for multiple different music genres from rap to R&B,” Fulgentes says. “Music transcends every language and barrier, and Black artists have been — and will always be — at the forefront of musical innovation.”