Slavery is one of the greatest sins in human history. This makes the fact that it happened time and time again throughout human history that much more tragic.
Of course, the most recent example of slavery is the enslavement of native African people, who were kidnapped from their homes, and transported overseas to European countries and America.
London’s slavery operation was massive for centuries, but the worst situation by far took place in the US between 1654, when John Casor legally became a slave, and 1865 when the thirteenth amendment officially ended slavery.
These two centuries were packed with so much evil and supremacy over black people that this period still remains a sensitive topic to date.
This is something that must never be forgotten, and thanks to the film industry, there are many great movies that you can watch to educate yourself on the matter.
With that said, here is my list of the best black slavery movies, where some may double as movies about plantations.
Ready for a historic tear-jerker? Scroll down.
The first on my list of slavery movies to watch is Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg focused on Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his stewardship of the Union during the long years of the American Civil War.
The US President, famous for ending American slavery, has to bring the full measure of his humanity, passion, as well as political skill to achieve what will become his ultimate legacy.
Obviously, president Abraham Lincoln sought to introduce a massive change that did not sit well with a large number of white folks at the time.
Steven Spielberg has gone a long way to present these hardships that followed the president’s life to the viewer and turn this story into a historical drama that is now considered a cinematic masterpiece that you can watch on Amazon Prime Video.
The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, and others.
Django Unchained (2012)
Another great film that deals with American slavery is Django Unchained, brought to the screen by Quentin Tarantino. Jamie Foxx plays a freed slave Django Freeman, who travels across America accompanied by a German bounty hunter. Together, the pair seeks a sadistic plantation owner in order to free Django’s wife.
Django Unchained is a pre-Civil War story, which starts when the bounty hunter attacks the infamous Brittle brothers who held Django captive.
After freeing him, the pair starts traveling together and hunting the most dangerous criminals in the American South, eventually arriving to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), where Django’s wife is still held as a slave.
This drama film (available on Amazon Prime Video) is easily one of the best movies about slavery today. The Guardian reviewed Django Unchained, calling it a “brilliant and brutal revenge western, with its bromcom double act from Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.”
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, and others.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1987)
Next, we have a film that truly highlights the racial inequality that marked this period of American history. The film is an adaptation of a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and it follows a number of 19th-century African Americans enslaved in the American South.
The plot kicks off when a young woman, Eliza, hears that she will be separated from her son, despite being promised that they will stay together.
She flees from the plantation owner, leaving behind her friend, Tom. From there on, the story splits, following both Eliza who is trying to survive with her son, as well as Tom, who faces immense cruelty but still tries to cling to faith.
The film stars Avery Brooks, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Phylicia Rashad, Paula Kelly, and others.
The next on the list of the best slavery movies is Amistad, another film by Steven Spielberg, whose story takes place on a slave ship in 1839. The plot follows a group of slaves aboard the Spanish slave ship La Amistad.
On their way from Cuba to America, cruelty towards the slaves leads to an unexpected uprising, led by Cinque.
However, this does not end well, and the slaves are later held prisoner in Connecticut, during the heated debate involving their release.
Former slave, now a free man, called Theodore Joadson, is trying to ensure that the slaves are exonerated and set free. He recruits a property lawyer, played by Matthew McConaughey, who helps his case.
The film stars Djimon Hounsou, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and others.
I Am Slave (2010)
Stepping away from American slavery for a bit, we have I Am Slave, a thriller set in London’s slave trade, which centers on a woman’s fight to achieve freedom from slavery. The film is definitely worth watching for both, its incredible story and also to get a glimpse into how bad the struggle of enslaved people was.
It focuses on a 12-year-old girl Malia, who was taken from the arms of her own father and sold into slavery.
For the next six years, she worked for a Sudanese family, only to be sent to London at 18. The inhumanity and brutality of experiences she was forced to endure have never diminished, and the only thing that changed was the location, as she was now in the heart of the slave trade.
The film stars Wunmi Mosaku, Isaach de Bankole, Igal Naur, Nasser Memarzia, Lubna Azabal, and others.
Runaway Slave (2012)
A different kind of movie that actually deals with modern slavery, Runaway Slave is a story that aims to show that people can break free from a life during which they are forced to rely on welfare.
This drama film follows Rev. C.L. Bryant, who takes it on himself to unveil that the welfare system is nothing more than one of modern forms of slavery, indicating that African American slaves were never truly released.
The film was created to be a documentary, where Bryant interviews people from all walks of life. He reached out to a presidential candidate, a show host, an economist, and many others.
Along the way, he shared the little-known facts involving black Americans, the history of the two ruling parties, and more.
Unlike the other slavery films on this list, Runaway Slave is still one of the best movies about slavery, and it is an entirely true story.
The film stars Andrew Breitbart, Glenn Beck, Allen West, Herman Cain, Thomas Sowell, and others.
Turning back to slavery prior to the American Civil War, we have the 1969 movie simply called Slaves.
This is a film about rebelling against slave masters, which follows a slave mistress of a cruel Mississippi planter.
However thanks to a Christian slave who was sold to the same planter together with her, she gets inspired to refuse forced labor, and rebel against the captors, leading others among the enslaved Africans to follow her example.
Despite receiving negative reviews, the film still became one of Continental Distributing’s highest-grossing films,
The film stars Dionne Warwick, Ossie Davis, Julius Harris, Stephen Boyd, and others.
The Birth of a Nation (2016)
Another of the best slavery movies in recent years is The Birth of a Nation, also available on Amazon Prime Video.
The film is set against the antebellum South, and it follows a literate slave, a young man by the name of Nat Turner. Turner is also a preacher, while his owner, Samuel Turner, starts experiencing significant money problems.
Realizing that there is more to Nat than meets the eye, he decides to use him, and have him use his preaching to subdue unruly slaves.
Samuel sees this as a good way to quell any ideas of an uprising at the time of an upcoming insurrection.
However, when Nat realizes what suffering African Americans are forced to endure, he decides that he cannot simply stand and preach. In the end, Nat ends up causing the very rebellion that he was supposed to prevent.
The film stars Nate Parker, Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis, Penelope Ann Miller, and others.
Halfway down the list, we have Belle, a film whose plot takes place an entire century before the American Civil War.
This is a period drama that follows the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle a biracial girl born in 1761. While her mother is an African woman, her father is a British royal navy captain.
Thanks to her lineage, Belle gets to live a life with privileges that others of the same color could not even dream of.
However, she did not stay blind to the suffering of others who were not spared from slavery.
Growing up with her uncle, a local judge, she attempts to influence a court ruling in favor of slaves, in hopes that small contributions would lead to the end of slavery. You can watch it right now on Amazon Prime Video.
The film stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Gode, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, and others.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Moving on, we have a difficult and tragic film called 12 Years A Slave.
Solomon Northup is a free black man, but unlike others of his time, he was born free, and has lived free in upstate New York. However, this changes when he gets kidnapped and forced into slavery.
To prevent anyone from discovering the crime, his captors forced him to adopt a new name, Platt.
Solomon was forced to spend the next 12 years a slave, facing the hardships that come with the life of a slave even after going from one owner to another, including a ruthless and sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
All he had to help him endure the hardships were his faith, courage, and will power.
12 Years a Slave was based on a true story, an autobiography of Solomon Northup, written long after he reclaimed his freedom. And, while this makes it one of the best movies about slavery, it also makes it one of the most horrific ones.
The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others.
Another slavery movie whose plot predates the Civil War is Emperor, the most recent film on this list, which only came out in 2020.
The film was inspired by the legends of an African king descendant, and it follows the story of Shields “Emperor” Green.
In the movie, Emperor is an outlaw who joins a raid held in Harper’s Ferry in hopes of releasing his enslaved family.
The film was generally perceived as good, if historically inaccurate.
For example, The Guardian said that it had taken certain liberties that “are not taken with the same revisionist audacity as Quentin Tarantino gave Django Unchained, with whom this shares a producer. Here, rewriting history seems to consist solely of insisting that exciting gunpowder-keg explosions were a daily occurrence in the 19th century.”
Even so, I believe that it deserves a place on the list of the best movies about slavery for its excellent cinematography, casting, location, wardrobe, and more.
The film stars Dayo Okeniyi, Naturi Naughton, Ben Robson, Kat Graham, James Cromwell, Bruce Dern, and others.
Sankofa is an old African word that essentially means “remember the past.”
The film is quite different from others on this list, as it follows a black American model from modern times, who encounters a mystic during a photo shoot in Ghana, one of the countries of West Africa.
The mystic transports her into the past, during one of the worst periods of world history. There she finds herself in a position of one of the slaves, working the plantation.
The film focuses on the atrocities of slavery, but also on the power of black resistance that the enslaved had to let out carefully over the course of two centuries.
The film stars Oyafunmike Ogunlano, Alexandra Duah, Guy Warren, Mutabaruka, Afemo Omilami, and others.
Moving on, we have one of the best movies about slavery set during the Civil War itself. The film follows the legendary 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army.
This particular group of soldiers consisted of only African-American men, led by the white commanding officer, Colonel Shaw.
This was a period when no one thought that black soldiers could be good soldiers, and they were determined to prove that opinion as a false one.
Not only that, but the regiment was involved in some of the Civil War’s bloodiest actions, including the ones against a Confederate fort in Charleston, South Carolina.
More than that, it also tackled the issue of discriminatory pay, where black soldiers got only a fraction of the pay that white soldiers were getting.
The film stars Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, and others.
Free State of Jones (2016)
Unlike Emperor, Free State of Jones has done its best to stick to the facts.
The movie follows a rebellious farmer who leads a group of soldiers that deserted during the Civil War. Tired from a fight, they band together with the intention of achieving a new goal, a mixed-race free state in the deep South.
The farmer, Newt Knight, joined the war himself, although he served as a medic for the Confederate Army.
Being a forward thinker, he was opposed to slavery, and would rather help save lives than take them away. This mentality eventually led him to open his door to deserted soldiers and slaves alike, leading his own rebellion that eventually changed history.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Jacob Lofland, and others.
Amazing Grace (2006)
Amazing Grace takes place in 18th-century England, where two individuals, House of Commons member William Wilberforce and his close friend and future Prime Minister William Pitt start a long and difficult battle of abolishing Great Britain’s slave trade.
Despite the fact that his initial legislation got defeated and quite strongly, at that, Wilberforce refuses to give up due to his growing affection for Barbara Spooner.
Barbara not only rekindles his fighting spirit when he is broken by the parliament’s refusal of his idea, but she eventually also becomes his wife.
Amazing Grace is a beautiful story of a nation that is starting to become aware of the horrors it has committed, and while the power-hungry who only see profit do not intend to give up without a fight, the immorality of the system that ruled for ages continues to push the righteous fight ever forward.
The film stars Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, and others.
The Mission (1986)
Another amazing story about slavery can be seen in the movie The Mission.
The film revolves around a reformed slave trader, Mendoza, who is on a mission of helping Jesuit Father Gabriel in saving South American natives from slavery.
The largest power in the area is the Portuguese government, which is after profit gained from slave labor, and will stop at nothing to achieve control and capture as many natives as possible, stuck in the years when slavery was still considered a perfectly fine way of conducting business.
However, while the priest and the reformed trader agree that the natives must be protected, they still strongly disagree on how to achieve this task.
The film stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Aidan Quinn, Ray McAnally, Liam Neeson, and others.
Nearing the end of the list, we have a movie called Tamango. This is another 18th-century tale featuring both the atrocities committed by Dutch slavers, as well as revolt of the slaves.
The movie takes place on the ship transporting a group of enslaved people, who, at one moment, manage to capture the captain’s mistress.
One of the newly captured Africans, Tamango, starts an uprising that eventually leads to a rather violent conflict.
The film did not shy away from graphic portrayals of the horrors that occurred during the age of slavery, which is why it belongs on this list, as such things should never be censored and forgotten, or the history will undoubtedly repeat itself.
The film stars Alex Cressan, Dorothy Dandridge, Curd Jurgens, Jean Servais, and others.
Last, but not least, we have Antebellum, a film that follows a successful author, Veronica Henley.
Veronica is just about to finish her book tour and go back to her family, when a shocking turn of events takes place, and she finds herself on a Southern plantation in the 60s, where black people still lived the lives of slaves.
The film particularly focuses on the horrific situation in which the women of this period found themselves, as it explores an issue that is still extremely sensitive in American society.
The film shocks by combining modern-day scenarios with those that took place in a horrific past, leading to numerous chilling situations.
The film stars Janelle Monae, Jena Malone, Gabourey Sidibe, Kiersey Clemons, Robert Aramayo, and others.
Which film did you find the most interesting? Or did I miss one that should be on the list? Let me know in the comments section below.