This post was originally published on Defender Network

By Raquel Rogers

During Black History Month, we’re often bombarded with stories of struggles and oppression. But there is a growing trend to also focus on Black joy, which continues to prevail in a variety of ways. Here, we look at five films that capture the richness of Black film and the spirit of Black joy in the face of adversity.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Adapted from James Baldwin’s novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk” explores the complex story of Clementine (Kiki Layne) as she attempts to support her family and clear the name of her wrongfully accused lover, Alonso (Stephan James). Directed by Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), this story highlights the importance of love and trust in the face of white supremacists. With breathtaking performances by Layne and James, this film invites viewers to fall in love alongside our two protagonists.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Whether you like animated films or not, this $80 million movie is well worth your time. With a star-studded voice cast, an awe-inspiring animation style, and a thrilling sound score, this gorgeously colorful and action-packed film tells the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an Afro-Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn who struggles with the new pressures associated with attending a prestigious private school. Unable to fit in and overstressed by school work, Miles blows off steam through graffiti in a secret underground room in the New York City subway station, where he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. After discovering his strange new powers, Miles quickly learns that this is only the start of a crazy new reality. The science fiction coming-of-age story celebrates Miles’ Black and Latino culture while exploring the balance between gaining independence and relying on others.

Dope (2015)

Dope” tells the tale of Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his best friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), three geeks who are obsessed with all things 90s culture and getting into Harvard. Life is pretty straightforward and uneventful for the trio until a chance encounter with a local drug dealer goes terribly wrong, and they find themselves in possession of a stolen bag of ecstasy. On their last big adventure before heading off to college, Malcolm, Jib and Diggy find themselves getting into some pretty sticky situations. With expert style, hilarious bad decisions, and a Los Angeles backdrop, Dope is an intimate celebration of a Black boy and his youth.

Hair Love (2019) Sony Pictures

Don’t let the fact that this movie is a short film dissuade you! Written and created by Mathew A. Cherry and Bruce Smith, this story addresses the importance of representation in entertainment. When Stephan is left in charge of getting his daughter, Zuri, ready for a big event, he finds himself face-to-face with one very daunting task: styling his daughter’s hair. Just five minutes in length, this film is a sweet and refreshing story that reflects on the importance of identity, culture, hair and familial support. Small but mighty, “Hair Love” feels like a love story made by and for Black women, earning this feel-good film the top spot on this list.

Wendell and the Wild (2022)

Director and comedian Jordan Peele has certainly made a name for himself in the film industry. A master of both horror and comedy, most notably known for films such as “Get Out” and “Us”, Peele released this little gem to Netflix the same month his big-box office winner Nope hit theaters. Though the animated film did not receive nearly as much attention as its live-action counterparts, “Wendell and Wild” is a wholesome film that explores the relationship between trauma and self-acceptance.

After a challenging childhood which included the death of both of her parents, disillusioned punk rock teen Katherine “Kat” Elliot finds herself as the Hell Maiden to two quirky demon brothers, Wendell and Wild (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele respectively). While undertaking this mission, the three characters develop a steadfast friendship. Kat slowly heals from her past trauma, finally allowing her to come into her own power as a strong, smart and tough woman. A film that flawlessly expresses how beauty can coexist with pain, “Wendell and Wild” is an empowering tale that highlights the importance of accepting the darker parts of ourselves and celebrating them along with the rest of us.