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10 Black Filmmakers Whose Movies You Should Watch Right Now -BB

According to a recent study from USC Annenberg, only 24 of 178 films that were released in 2019 and that will be released in 2020 were or will be directed by people of color. At a time when demands for more representation in films continues to rise, it’s obvious Hollywood has a long way to go before it’s truly inclusive. Fortunately, some black filmmakers have worked hard to diversify the very white mainstream movie industry in recent decades, including Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, and Ava DuVernay.

Unfortunately, other black filmmakers have struggled for funding and recognition. The history of black cinema reaches back to the dawn of the industry itself, and the distinct and variant works of black directors warrant as much respect and attention as any white director’s contributions. This list features 10 such directors.

10 Charles Burnett

This Mississippi native is one of the most prolific and overlooked American directors to date. As a child, Burnett moved with his family to Watts, a black neighborhood in Los Angeles. His experiences there informed the nature of his output as a filmmaker.

As a film student at UCLA, Burnett became involved in the Black Independent Movement. His first feature, Killer of Sheep, was released in 1978. A gritty, neorealistic look into life for residents of Watts, it’s still considered his masterpiece. Burnett went on to make films like To Sleep With Anger, which stars Danny Glover, and The Annihilation of Fish starring Lynn Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

9 Julie Dash

Julia Dash is also part of the legions of African and black students who studied at the UCLA Film School between the 1960s and 1980s. A New York native of South Carolina descent, Dash’s most famous work is her 1991 feature Daughters of the Dust. Daughters of the Dust was the first full-length film by a black woman to receive a general theatrical release in America.

It tells the story of a Gullah family on St. Helena Island in coastal South Carolina who gather together on the beach for a reunion in 1902. The Gullah are descendants of West African slaves who settled along the coastal regions of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina after the Civil War, and their beautiful traditions are brought to life in Dash’s movie. Dash has also worked in television and directed music videos.

8 Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks was a photographer and director who made a name for himself as a Civil Rights journalist who co-created the blaxploitation genre of films. Due to the popularity of these films, which uplifted black action heroes, Parks became the first black director whose movies were released to wide audiences.

Parks’s most notable film is 1971’s Shaft, remade in 2019 with Samuel L. Jackson playing the title character. Parks also directed a sequel to Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score, as well as the films The Super Cops and Leadbelly, the latter of which is a biopic about the iconic blues musician.

7 Euzhan Palcy

Euzhan Palcy is from Martinique in the West Indies, and her early films were the first by a black woman to be produced by a major Hollywood studio. Palcy has won both Cesar Awards, the highest honor in France, and Venice Film Festival Awards. Palcy’s films are influenced by the dark and brooding thrillers of directors like Alfred Hitchcock.

Palcy’s debut feature, Sugar Cane Alley, came out in 1983, and it focuses on a poor black family living on a sugar cane plantation in the Martinique of the 1930s. Her next film, 1989’s A Dry White Season, stars Marlon Brando, who came out of his retirement in order to help her make it. He’s supported by Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon. She continues to direct movies that dig into the complex political history of the African diaspora and the rich cultural traditions of her home.

6 William Greaves

William Greaves was likely the hardest working documentary filmmaker of the 20th century, producing over 200 movies that landed him four Emmy nominations. This Harlem native began as an actor, studying alongside Marlon Brando and Shelley Winters in the famous Actor’s Studio. Eventually, Greaves turned toward filmmaking, using his skills to document the black experience and highlight the stories of famous people of color.

Greaves worked for various political organizations and educational television networks to make his films. His most famous feature is 1968’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm. This experimental, fictionalized documentary follows Greaves as he attempts to film another documentary, Over The Cliff, in Central Park.

5 Dee Rees

Dee Rees is an exciting and accomplished contemporary film and television director. A Nashville native, she’s responsible for the acclaimed feature films Pariah, Bessie, and Mudbound. Her films prioritize black and queer female voices, and she received an Oscar nomination for the Mudbound screenplay, as well as multiple Emmys for Bessie, which aired on HBO.

Rees has also directed episodes of television series like Empire and When We Rise. Her next feature is a thriller set in Washington D.C. and is adapted from and shares a title with the Joan Didion book The Last Thing He Wanted. It stars Anne Hathaway and Willem Dafoe.

4 Oscar Micheaux

Founder of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, Oscar Micheaux is considered the first major black American filmmaker, and he’s credited with making over 40 feature films between the 1910s and 1940s. His name is affiliated with „race film,“ an early film type made by and for black people.

Micheaux was also an accomplished author, and he was known to adapt his books to the big screen. His major films include The Homesteader, Within Our Gates, The Conjure Woman, and The House Behind The Cedars. Micheaux used his platform to focus on racial inequality, economic exploitation, and the struggles faced by people of color during the Jim Crow era.

3 Kasi Lemmons

Kasi Lemmons’s latest release, 2019’s biopic Harriet, is her highest-grossing, but this Missouri native has been making movies since the 1990s. She’s also a productive actor, credited for roles in films like The Silence of the Lambs, Candyman, and Fear of a Black Hat.

Lemmons’s first feature is 1997’s Eve’s Bayou, a voodoo horror film starring Samuel L. Jackson. She’s worked with Don Cheadle, Taraji P. Henson, Forrest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett on other films like Talk To Me and Black Nativity. While a talented actor and filmmaker, Lemmons considers writing her true passion.

2 Marlon Riggs

Marlon Riggs was one of many talented voices whose life was cut short by the AIDS epidemic. Before he passed in 1994, Riggs challenged taboos through his documentary films, often providing intimate details into the lives of gay black men like himself.

His credits include Ethnic Notions, Tongues Untied, and Color Adjustment. Through his films, Riggs wanted to eradicate stereotypes about homosexuality and race. Riggs was also a poet and gay rights activist, using his voice to share messages of love and acceptance.

1 Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins is responsible for one of the forgotten arthouse masterpieces of the 1980s: 1982’s Losing Ground. This semiautobiographical film stars Seret Scott and playwright Bill Gunn as a married couple. She’s a philosopher and he’s a painter. Both actors give vibrant, lively performances that dig into the nature of creative culture and partnerships.

Collins died from breast cancer in 1988, but this beautiful, narrative film that focuses on the story of a black woman paved the way for later features, like Julie Dash’s aforementioned Daughters of the Dust.

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