Here are 7 Black directors who have changed the entertainment landscape:
We will start the list with the man often credited as the first Black filmmaker: Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux is known as the first Black feature filmmaker, author, and independent producer. He wrote, directed, produced, and financed his 40+ films, many of which tackled racial issues. Micheaux's projects were the first by a Black American to be shown in white movie theaters.
These topics were confrontations of the atrocities Black Americans endured. His films often starred actors from within the African American community and challenged stereotypes about Black people that were pervasive during his lifetime.
Next on our list is Marlon Riggs. He was an award-winning American filmmaker, poet, scholar, and activist. Riggs used a combination of documentary filmmaking, performance poetry, public speaking, and scholarship to explore the African Diaspora, identity politics, and self-expression.
His works often tackled issues such as homophobia in the Black community, racism in America, and other topics that were important to him. He is highly regarded for his work as a Black gay filmmaker and for sharing themes of race and sexuality.
Julie Dash is an award-winning director, writer, and producer. Dash attended the acclaimed UCLA film school and was part of the L.A. Rebellion. She is best known for her 1991 classic film, Daughters of the Dust. It was the first feature by an African American woman that was theatrically released in the United States.
The film tells the story of three generations of Gullah people living on St. Helena Island – descendants of slaves brought to America from West Africa a century before. Since Daughters of the Dust, Dash has continued to direct movies and TV.
Barry Jenkins is an American filmmaker and Academy Award-winning director. He is best known for his movies Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy, and If Beale Street Could Talk. Moonlight was the first LGBTQ movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars and also won three other awards that evening as well.
Jenkins' films have consistently tackled topics such as class, race, gender identity, and sexuality in a very honest way, earning him praise. His works often highlight the beauty of Blackness with stunning visuals paired with beautiful music and thoughtful dialogue.
This list of Black directors would not be complete without Ava DuVernay. She is an award-winning director, writer, and producer. Her credits include the feature film Selma which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
DuVernay also directed Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, making her the first Black female director to helm a movie with a budget over $100 million. When she’s not on set, DuVernay has been an activist and advocate for social justice issues such as prison reform and the fight against racism in Hollywood. She runs the film collective Array, dedicated to giving people of color and female directors more film opportunities.
We must remember to mention the legendary Spike Lee! He is an acclaimed American filmmaker, actor, and producer. His works, such as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and BlacKkKlansman have pushed the boundaries of film and helped to revolutionize the industry. Lee is also known for his activism and outspokenness on race, politics, and culture.
His films often feature strong Black characters and provide a platform to discuss the complexities of being Black in America. Lee has received numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman and an honorary Academy Award for his work in film.
Last but not least is John Singleton, the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. Singleton is known for his works, such as Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning. His films often touch on police brutality, gang violence, and race relations in America. Singleton's works often feature Black characters in leading roles and successfully convey the problems of the inner city to the masses.
His work also significantly impacted the industry, opening the door for more African American filmmakers to be taken seriously in Hollywood.Last but not least is John Singleton, the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. Singleton is known for his works, such as Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning.His films often touch on police brutality, gang violence, and race relations in America.
Singleton's works often feature Black characters in leading roles and successfully convey the problems of the inner city to the masses. His work also significantly impacted the industry, opening the door for more African American filmmakers to be taken seriously in Hollywood.
These seven groundbreaking directors have helped to revolutionize the film industry and create a space for Black creatives. Their work has been credited and awarded accolades. However, much more is needed to level the playing field and ensure a truly diverse representation of stories on and off-screen. Learning Black History is an ongoing process, let’s keep learning and celebrating Black history.