Black women filmmakers

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Black women filmmakers have contributed to the filmmaking industry across the world.[1][2] There are disputes concerning whom the first black women filmmaker is, but the earliest director with undisputed evidence is Zora Neale Hurston, who created the film Children's Games in 1928.[3]

Black women filmmakers[edit]

The film industry has been difficult for black women to break into. According to Nsenga Burton, writer for The Root, "the film industry remains overwhelmingly white and male."[4] In her book Black Women Film and Video Artists, Jacqueline Bobo notes that "there is a substantial body of work created by Black women film/video makers, extending back to the early part of this century. Unfortunately, the work is overlooked not only by many distributors, but also by critical reviews and scholarly analyses, with the notable exception of those by Black women scholars, have been few and far between."[5] One of the issues concerning the involvement of Black females in film making is not simply the involvement or lack in numbers, but the influence given to them. As Ada Gay Griffin examines in Seizing the Moving Image the issues in telling a Black story in film cannot be resolved by adding a couple of black actors or hiring black crews to produce the film, but by seizing control of the image as Griffin argues and this is done by gaining production ownership of the films which can be done by Black women gaining more Studio Executive positions in the film industry which is severely lacking.[6] Therefore, when looking at Hollywood's industry Black women filmmakers become the most unnoticeable, they become existent only in the periphery of the industry. In other words, it may be somewhat apparent that Black women filmmakers are small in numbers but the fact of the matter is that there are many black woman filmmakers that are actively contributing to the film industry.

Jacqueline Bobo, an associate professor in the women's studies program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, argues that the general public sees Black women's works as small, irregular works of interest to small circle of intimate friends.[7]


Jacqueline Bobo establishes that black women filmmakers have been productive throughout the twentieth century. Dating back to the 1900s, black women filmmakers have created a Genesis of a Tradition. Through Gloria J Gibson-Hudson's essay titled "The Ties That Bind: Cinematic Representations By Black Women Filmmakers," she notes that these black women have developed a framework or "commonalities" that evolved from social and historical circumstances.

Documentation exists of Black women producing and directing films during the prolific interim of Black film production from 1910 through the 1920s. Archivist and film scholar Pearl Bowser notes that Black women worked behind the camera on numerous films during this time on what were known as "race" films, that is, independent films produced by Black filmmakers, rather than white-controlled films about Black life. Historical records show that two women were especially noteworthy in filmmaking during this period. Madame C.J. Walker, one of the first Black millionaires, made her fortune manufacturing and distributing cosmetics and hair-care products for Black women. In addition to her retail business, Walker owned the Walker Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana and produced training and promotional films about her cosmetics factory. The theater still stands today and was recently purchased by IUPUI for renovations. These films, Bowser declares, "offered a visual record of women's work history" and the "development of cottage Industries." Bowser also points to the importance of Madam Toussaint Welcome, Booker T. Washington's personal photographer, who produced at least one film about Black soldiers who fought in World War I.[8]

During the 1930s other pioneer Black female filmmakers included Zora Neale Hurston, a folklorist who created work centering on ethnographic films. Zora Hurston earned her MA in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University. The film Children's Games, was directed by Hurston, and is the first non-silent film to be directed by a black woman.[9] In addition, Eslanda Goode Robeson is another 1930's pioneer regarding Black female filmmakers. She too held a Ph.D. in anthropology and made ethnographic films similar to Hurston's reels. Similar to Hurston's films, they are available for viewing at the Library of Congress but their fragile conditions renders it inaccessible for public screening.

In 1991, Julie Dash became the first black female filmmaker to have a full-length general theatrical release in the US for her film Daughters of the Dust. The film was recognized in 1999 by the 25th annual Newark Black Film Festival as one of the most important cinematic achievements in black cinema in the 20th century. Daughters of the Dust was placed on the National Film Resgistry by the Library of Congress in 2004, making it one of 400 other American-made films that are preserved and protected as national treasures.[10]

Ava DuVernay, a pioneer of black female filmmakers, became the first black woman to win the US Dramatic Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. She received an Oscar nomination for her documentary 13th, and has also made history as the first black woman director to be nominated for a Golden Globe. DuVernay continued her career in filmmaking with her most recent film A Wrinkle in Time[11] was released in 2018 with an estimated budget surpassing $100 million, which makes DuVernay the first black female to direct a live-action film with that large of a budget.[12] She is set to direct New Gods, a Warner Bros. and DC Comics film, in 2019.[13]

Selected black women filmmakers and filmography[edit]

Mara Brock Akil[edit]

  • Girlfriends (2000)
  • The Game (2006)
  • Being Mary Jane (2013)
  • Black Lightning (2018)

Debbie Allen[edit]

Madeline Anderson[edit]

Maya Angelou[edit]

Amma Asante[edit]

Neema Barnette[edit]

Anike Bay[edit]

  • Girls Like Us (2012) - feature film
  • Girls Like Us... The Short Of It All! (2013) - short film
  • Woman to Woman by Complete Love (2013) - music video
  • The Pastor's Wife (2014) - short film
  • Girls Like Us 2.0! The Hustle! The Game! (2014) - feature film
  • "All They Know Is Shoot" by Tripp Sticc featuring Ricky Moncler (2016) - music video

Lillian Benson[edit]

  • Amen: The life and music of Jester Hairston (2015)
  • All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11 (2003)
  • Cat Champion - Big Blue Marble series (1982)
  • Circus Rider - Big Blue Marble series (1980)

Ayoka Chenzira[edit]

  • Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum (1979)
  • Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People (1984)
  • Secret Sounds Screaming: The Sexual Abuse of Children (1986)
  • The Lure and the Lore (1988)
  • Zajota and the Boogie Spirit (1989)
  • Alma's Rainbow (1993)
  • My Own Tv (MOTV)
  • HERadventure (2014)

Kathleen Collins[edit]

  • Losing Ground (1982)

Julie Dash[edit]

Zeinabu Irene Davis[edit]

  • Filmstatement (1982)
  • Re-creating Black Women's Media Image (1983)
  • Crocodile Conspiracy (1986)
  • Sweet Bird of Youth (1987)
  • Cycles (1989)
  • Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant (1989)
  • A Period Piece (1991)
  • A Powerful Thang (1991)
  • Mother of the River (1995)
  • Compensation (1999)
  • Passengers (2009)
  • Spirits of Rebellion: Black Cinema at UCLA (2011)

Monica Dillon[edit]

  • And the Living is Easy

Leila Djansi[edit]

  • Ties That Bind (2011)
  • Where Children Play (2015)
  • Like Cotton Twines (2016)

Ava DuVernay[edit]

Monica J Freeman[edit]

  • Valerie (1975)

Lisa Gay Hamilton[edit]

Tanya Hamilton[edit]

Alile Sharon Larkin[edit]

Kasi Lemmons[edit]

Nnegest Likké[edit]

Shola Lynch[edit]

  • Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed
  • Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

Jessie Maple[edit]

  • Methadone: Wonder Drug or Evil Spirit (1976)
  • Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy (1977)
  • Will (1981)
  • Twice As Nice (1989)

Darnell Martin[edit]

Barbara McCullough[edit]

  • Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification (1979)
  • Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space (1981)
  • Fragments (1980)
  • World Saxophone Quartet (1980)

Ngozi Onwurah[edit]

  • Coffee Colored Children (1988)
  • And Still I Rise (1991)
  • The Body Beautiful (1991)
  • Monday's Girls (1993)
  • Welcome II the Terrordome (1994)
  • The Desired Number (1995)
  • Shoot The Messenger (2008)

Euzhan Palcy[edit]

  • Sugar Cane Alley (1983)
  • A Dry White Season (1989) - first film directed by a black woman produced by a major Hollywood studio
  • Siméon (1992)
  • Aimé Césaire: A Voice for History (1994)
  • Ruby Bridges (1998)
  • The Killing Yard (2001)
  • Parcours de Dissidents (2006)
  • Les Mariées de l'isle Bourbon (2007)

Gina Prince-Bythewood[edit]

Dee Rees[edit]

  • Orange Bow (2005)
  • Pariah (2007)
  • Eventual Salvation (2008)
  • Colonial Gods (2009)
  • Pariah (2011)
  • Bessie (2015)
  • Mudbound (2017)

Debra J. Robinson[edit]

  • I Be Done Was Is (1984)
  • Kiss Grandmama Goodbye (1992)

Jacqueline Shearer[edit]

  • A Minor Altercation (1977)
  • The Promised Land from Eyes on the Prize (1990)
  • Keys to the Kingdom from Eyes on the Prize (1990)
  • The Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment (1992)

Cauleen Smith[edit]

  • Drylongso (1988)
  • Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (1992)

Frances-Anne Solomon[edit]

  • I Is A Long Memoried Woman (1990)
  • Reunion (1992)
  • Bideshi (1994)
  • What My Mother Told me (1995)
  • Peggy Su! (1998)
  • Lord Have Mercy! (2003)
  • Coming Home (2006)
  • A Winter Tale (2008)
  • Human Traffic - Past and Present (2012)
  • Break Out (2017)
  • Hero (2017)

Sylvia Sweeney[edit]

  • Breaking the Ice: Story of Mary Ann Shadd (2000)

Jocelyn Taylor[edit]

  • 24 Hours a Day (1993)
  • Frankie & Jocie (1994)
  • Bodily Functions (1995)

Monona Wali[edit]

  • Grey Area (1981)

Yvonne Welbon[edit]

  • Monique (1991)
  • Cinematic Jazz of Julie Dash (1992–93)
  • Sisters in the Life: First Love (1993)
  • Missing Relations (1994)
  • Remembering Wei Yi-Fang, Remembering Myself (1995)
  • A Taste of Dirt (2002)

Liz White[edit]

Tammy Williams[edit]

Fronza Woods[edit]

  • Killing Time (1979)
  • Fannie's Film (1979)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. Women Filmmakers of the African & Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity (SUI: 1997)
  2. ^ Foster (1997), 2
  3. ^ Brooks-Betram, Peggy. "Drusilla Dunjee Houston". Women Film Pioneers Project. Columbia University. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Black Women and the Hollywood Shuffle". Archived from the original on 2010-11-21. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  5. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998. p. 6.
  6. ^ Wallace, Michele (1992). Black Popular Culture. Seattle: Bay Press. pp. 231–233. ISBN 978-1-56584-459-9.
  7. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998.
  8. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 6-7
  9. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 6-7
  10. ^ "Julie Dash". The HistoryMakers. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  11. ^ "A Wrinkle in Time"., Inc. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  12. ^ Quackenbush, Casey. "Ava DuVernay is the First African-American Woman to Direct a $100 Million Film". Time Inc. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  13. ^ IMDb. "The New Gods - Internet Movie Database tt8145762". IMDb. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 17 April 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]