The 1960s brought some stellar black movies to the screen, covering a range of genres. In addition to humorous and light films, the decade also saw the release of movies covering political and social issues affecting black Americans.
Grab some popcorn and gift comfy for a movie night because we have tons of excellent movies for you. Here are our favorite 60s black movies.
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
A Raisin in the Sun follows the story of a poor black family who has the chance to collect on a significant insurance payment. The money could mean salvation or ruin, depending on the outcome. The film stars Sidney Poitier, the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor.
Paris Blues (1961)
Paris Blues gives you not one but two superstars, featuring Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman. It tells the story of two American Jazz musicians now living in France. The two men fall in love with two tourist girls from America. Fun fact: Louis Armstrong also makes a cameo.
Black movies in the 1960s look well beyond the borders of the United States. Dilemma follows Englishman Toy Hood, who takes a job in Johannesburg. While there, he meets people from different social classes, forcing him to confront the harsh realities of the country’s apartheid.
Pressure Point (1962)
In this emotionally charged film, Sidney Poitier plays a black psychiatrist working in prison. His character receives the unwelcome job of assisting an American Nazi who is facing charges of sedition. Peter Falk of Columbo fame makes a cameo as a young psychiatrist.
Borom sarret (1963)
Although it’s technically a short film, coming in at just 20 minutes, Borom Sarret is worth mentioning on this list. According to IMDB, some consider it the first film made by a black African. It shows what poverty is like in the African country of Senegal, focusing on the working class.
Black Like Me (1964)
This drama is gripping because the directors based it on a true story. Black Like Me is about a white reporter who artificially darkened his skin (temporarily) and headed into the segregated South. His goal was to see what the experience would be. The film is set amid the Civil Rights movement.
One Potato, Two Potato (1964)
One Potato, Two Potato is another one of the 60s black movies on this list that addresses sensitive topics for its time. It tells the story of an interracial marriage between a white woman and an African-American man. The woman’s ex-husband sued for custody of their children, claiming that the “mixed” household was damaging for the kids.
Ballad in Blue (1965)
This movie makes the list mainly because of the rare appearance of Ray Charles. The musician plays a character who wants to help a low-income family with a blind son by paying for a medical procedure to help the child regain his sight. Of course, expect some music courtesy of Charles.
A Man Called Adam (1966)
Here’s another black movie featuring a famous musician—in this case, it’s Samny Davis Jr. Louis Armstrong also stars! A Man Called Adam is about a jazz musician who finds himself struggling to deal with the harsh realities of everyday life.
Black Girl (1966)
This film is another must-see for anyone looking for movies set outside of the U.S. Black Girl tells the story of an African woman from Senegal who moves to France to work as a servant. It’s based on a novel by Ousamen Sembene, who also directs the film.
Sweet Love, Bitter (1967)
This drama tells the story of famous jazz musician Charlie Parker’s final years. Set in the 1960s jazz scene of New York, there is some debate about how much of Sweet Love, Bitter is fictitious and how much is true to reality.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Sidney Poitier cements his position as one of the big names of 60s black movies with yet another appearance in this crime drama. In the Heat of the Night is about a black detective who faces murder accussations in a racist southern town. After they clear his name, he takes over the job of solving the case.
Portrait of Jason (1967)
Portrait of Jason covers several different controversial topics, making it quite progressive for the time. Jason Holliday stars as a black homosexual prostitute. He’s interviewed about his unconventional life by Shirley Clarke.
For Love of Ivy (1968)
For Love of Ivy is yet another 60s black movie with Sidney Poitier, this time starring alongside Abbey Lincoln and Beau Bridges. The romantic comedy is about the son of a wealthy family who learns that their maid is leaving to study. To prevent her departure, he sets her up with a man.
Here we have another movie from Ousmane Sembene (already known for Black Girl). Mandabi is likewise linked to Senegal, following the story of a Senegalese family who receives a money order from a Parisian relative. The unexpected cash creates some friction in the clan.
This drama-thriller was the brainchild of director Jules Dassin and Ruby Dee, a well-known actress and activist. Based on the 1935 film The Informer, this adrenaline-pumping story is about a group of black activists betrayed by one of their members.
Putney Swope (1969)
If you’re in the mood for a laugh, this is the 1960s black movie for you. It tells the story of a high-flying New York City ad agency. When the board must elect a new chairperson, they mistakenly vote for Putney Swope, the board’s one black member.
The Learning Tree (1969)
The Learning Tree tells the story of Newt Winger. The young black man is born in Kansas, where he learns tough lessons about racial injustice. The cast includes Kyle Johnson, Estelle Evans, and Alex Clarke. Gordon Parks is the director of this poignant tale.
Change of Mind (1969)
This pick is the only science fiction movie on the list, and it delivers a weird and wild tale. Directed by Robert Stevens, Change of Mind is a strange story of a brain transplant. Specifically, it’s about the transplantation of a white man’s brain into a black man’s body.
Top 60s Black Movies, Final Thoughts
The 1960s were a prosperous era for black cinema. The decade saw significant progress in addressing social issues, with films covering topics formerly seen as taboo. Our roundup of the best 60s black movies above covers all kinds of options, providing a movie for every taste.
Whether you’re looking for something to watch with your friends or want to explore some historic black cinema, the options above are some of the best.