Black women filmmakers

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Black women filmmakers are a group of underrepresented women that have contributed tremendously in the filmmaking industry.[1] Geographically, these women come from all across the world including places such as the United States, Britain, Canada, countries within Africa, and more. Therefore, it is important to understand their history and current struggles.[2]

Black women filmmakers[edit]

According to Nsenga Burton, writer for The Root, "the film industry remains overwhelmingly white and male."[3] This is true to this day yet what is even more striking is the representation when looking at the number of Black women filmmakers in the United States. 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."[4] 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.[5] Yet what the public fails to see is that, in fact, Black women have gone to prestigious educational institutions (I.E. Columbia University, UCLA, USC, Chicago Institute of the Arts, Northwestern, NYU, etc.) and have earned Masters of Fine Arts degrees from their prospective prestigious graduate film and television programs. Therefore, the idea that these women's works are simply small and catered to a diminutive group of people is by no means true. For, these respected Black women have mastered the understanding of cinema and media history, theory, and criticism all of which is demonstrated in their works resulting in exemplary films and video.


Looking at the history of black women filmmakers, 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. In other words, 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. Furthermore, historically, there seems to be a clear goal of promoting survival strategies for black women and transforming them into socially committed viewers. In addition, black women filmmakers have traditionally felt the need to challenge the oppression that they historically have encountered. Thus, showing a strong resistance of this oppression through their work. When looking at the subject matter, it is noticeable that black women filmmakers have produced long-form narratives as well as complex innovations with a variety of forms. These subject matters are concerned with vital issues such as cultural politics, domestic relations, sexuality, black women's relationships to concepts of physical reality (including hairstyles and color consciousness) and portraits of cultural, social, and political activists, among other topics.

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" film, 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, and produced training and promotional films about her cosmetics factory. 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.[6]

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. 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. Yet, 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.

What inspired black women filmmakers?[edit]

An essay written by Claudia Springer in 1984,[7] talks about fifteen Black women filmmakers who worked in Los Angeles. Most of these women had received an MFA in motion picture and/ or television production at UCLA. The other women received their MFA in cinema production from USC. Interestingly enough, though, they all shared one inspiration and goal. According to Springer, they said they chose filmmaking as a way to express their ideas, to influence or enlighten audiences, and to counteract the damage caused by Hollywood's inadequate treatment of Black people.[7] Black women filmmakers feel it necessary to reach Black people with responsible depictions of Black life; it has become imperative.

We wanted an art that would actually reflect Black life and its history and legacy of resistance and struggle! ... We wanted an art that was as Black as music ... an art that would educate and unify Black people. In our attack on an anti-Black racist America ... We wanted a mass art, an art that could Monkey out the libraries and Boogaloo down the street in tune with popular revolution.... What we wanted to create would be African American and revolutionary. In fact, it would be the real link to our history – part of the mainstream of Black art through the century[8]

Baraka recalls the Black aesthetics and for so many Black women filmmakers, they too found this to be true within their works. Black women filmmakers found themselves inspired through their rich histories and through the poor representations that Hollywood cinema had to offer, thus for the most part, they chose to depict their true identities and stories though various distinct styles and perspectives. These styles and perspectives included, documenting black lives, black women narratives, social movements, cultural movements, cultural and creative processes, experimental representation, womanist Black feminism, Afrocentric feminism, Third World feminism, womynism, and African feminism. These Black women filmmakers not only "provided astute analyses of Black women's films and videos but also contextualized the works within the broader spectrum of film and video production and criticism".[9]

Monetary struggles[edit]

As noted Black women filmmakers have been producing work dating back to the 1900s. They have produced numerous works, yet there are still eminent struggles they face. First and foremost, when it comes to money and the production funding, Black women filmmakers constantly find themselves bumping their head against a financial glass ceiling. The cost to produce a film is getting costly every year and because there has not been much support for many Black women filmmakers, it has become a constant struggle. There have been attempts to help with the funding and various sites on the internet can be found where donations are being accepted. Yvonne Welbon has taken action through her own hands and her website Sisters in Cinema[10] has a donate tab where one can support Black women filmmakers. There are also other foundations such as the Black Women Film Network [11] where scholarships are awarded to Black women who are pursuing their career in film, screenwriting or a related areas; screenings; workshops and seminars. Their main goal is to help support black women in the making of their untold stories.

Selected Black women filmmakers and filmography[edit]

Debbie Allen[edit]

Madeline Anderson[edit]

  • Integration Report I (1961)
  • Malcolm X- Nationalist or Humanist (1967)
  • Sesame Street and The Electric Company (1964–1969)
  • I Am Somebody (1970)
  • Infinity Factory (1977)

Maya Angelou[edit]

Amma Asante[edit]

Leila Djansi[edit]

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

Neema Barnette[edit]

Anike Bay[edit]

  • Girls Like Us (2012) Featured 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) Featured Film
  • All They Know Is Shoot by Tripp Sticc Featuring Ricky Moncler (2016) Music video
  • Girls Like Us Menage "A" Trois (2017) Pre-Production
  • She Had Me At Hello (2017) Development
  • Tell It To Jesus (2019) Script

Lillian Benson[edit]

  • All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11 (2003)
  • Cat ChampionBig Blue Marble series (1982)
  • Circus RiderBig 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)

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

Ava DuVernay[edit]

Lisa Gay Hamilton[edit]

Tanya Hamilton[edit]

Nnegest Likké[edit]

Shola Lynch[edit]

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

Darnell Martin[edit]

Jessie Maple[edit]

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

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)

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" (2015)
  • " Hero" (2015)

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)

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)

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. ^ <"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-11-21. Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  4. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998. p. 6.
  5. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998.
  6. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 6-7
  7. ^ a b "Black women filmmakers" by Claudia Springer
  8. ^ Amiri Baraka, Forward, in Larry Neal's Visions of a Liberated Future (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989: x-xi.
  9. ^ Bobo, Jacqueline, ed. Black Women Film & Video Artists. New York: Routledge, 1998. p. 5.
  10. ^
  11. ^


External links[edit]

  • ^ Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. Women Filmmakers of the African & Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity. SIU Press: 1997.