1. 19 Talented Black Female Directors You Need To Know
Watching a Black woman’s story on the big screen is always a beautiful moment. It’s even better when the artist behind the scenes are Black women. Directors like Jessie Maple and Zeinabu Irene Davis paved the way for Ava DuVernay, who became the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Director (“Selma”) at this year’s Golden Globes. Here are 19 Black female directors you should know.
2. Leslie Harris
Harris debuted her first film, “Just Another Girl On the I.R.T.” in 1992 which she wrote and directed (that’s her with the clipboard). Newcomer Ariyan A. Johnson played Chantel Mitchell. A smart, Brooklyn rude gal that for all her know-it-all behavior, gets pregnant at the age of 17. Despite the cult love for the Sundance-winning “I.R.T,” Harris wouldn’t release another film until 2013’s “I Love Cinema.”
3. Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou made her directorial debut with “Down In The Delta,” starring Alfre Woodard, Wesley Snipes (here together at the ’98 premiere) and Loretta Devine. In 1972, Angelou became the first Black woman to sell a movie script, “Georgia, Georgia” — directed by Swedish filmmaker Stig Björkman. Her second film script was 1982’s “Sister, Sister.”
4. Kasi Lemmons
In 1997, Lemmons released “Eve’s Bayou” about a wealthy Louisiana family, through the eyes of its Eve, played by a Jurnee Smollett. It was a critics’ favorite and Lemmons’ most lauded work as a filmmaker. Some of her other directorial credits include the acclaimed “Talk To Me,” and “The Caveman’s Valentine” and “Black Nativity.”
5. Dee Rees
“Pariah”, the 2011 Sundance winner for Cinematography, was Rees’ first film. It was an autobiographical take on a young, African-American lesbian who comes to terms with her orientation, but also experiences being disowned by her mother because of it. Prior to, Rees was a graduate student of NYU film school, and was mentored by Spike Lee. Lee hired her as the script supervisor intern for his 2006 film “Inside Man.”
6. Julie Dash
Treated as the doyenne of Black female filmmakers, Dash’s 1991 debut “Daughters of the Dust” was praised for his history-laced storyline, gaining wide distribution. Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and preserved in the National Film Registry, the Queens-born, of Gullah descent talent mainly stayed with indies until 2002’s “The Rosa Parks Story.” She also directed “Love Song” starring Monica in 2000.
7. Amma Asante
The British-Ghanian filmmaker brought the unknown, real-life story of biracial aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle to the big screen in “Belle” starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The unique film that found distribution in America was Asante’s second, succeeding her acclaimed “A Way of Life” which earned her a prestigious BAFTA honor.
8. Victoria Mahoney
Mahoney was an aspiring director whose dream came true through her feature debut (that she also also wrote) “Yelling to the Sky.” The impressive film starred Zoe Kravitz as its lead and a cast that included Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe and The Roots’ Blackthought. The film was nominated for the Berlin International Film Festival’s top Golden Bear.
9. Sanaa Hamri
Hamri’s entertainment career began in music videos, her first being (no big deal) Mariah Carey’s “Thank God I Found You.” Her directorial debut was the interracial romantic comedy “Something New” with Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker. Hamri’s credits include Nicki Minaj’s videos for “Super Bass” and “Fly” and films “The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants 2” and “Just Wright.”
10. Euzhan Palcy
Hailing from Martinique, France, this Louis Lumière College grad is a force! She’s the first Black recipient of the Cesar Award, has earned a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was the first Black woman to have her film backed by a major studio, which was 1989’s “A Dry White Season” for MGM. That movie also marked her as the only woman to direct the iconic Marlon Brando. She also directed the TV biopic on “Ruby Bridges.”
11. Darnell Martin
This Bronx-native’s, and graduate of Sarah Lawrence and NYU, first film was the 1992 short “Suspect” which lead to her full-length (underrated) comedy “I Like It Like That” in 1994. She’s also directed Halle Berry in the adaptation of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Beyonce in “Cadillac Records,” giving us Queen Bey’s best acting role yet as the late great Etta James.
12. Ava DuVernay
The woman who inspired this list, Duvernay’s sophomore film “Middle of Nowhere” wowed critics. She become the first Black woman to win the Sundance Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic Film in 2012, as the Californian and UCLA grad has worn many hats including working in broadcast journalism and publicity. Her directing credits includes a Prada short film and an episode of “Scandal.”
13. Gina Prince-Bythewood
Yes, she wrote and directed every black girl’s favorite “Love and Basketball” but don’t sleep on her other great films! She also directed adaptations of “Disappearing Acts” and “The Secret Life of Bees” and last year’s underrated love story “Beyond The Lights.” The UCLA graduate began in television working on “A Different World” and “South Central.” “Love And Basketball” was released in 2000, starring Sanaa Lathan.
14. “Beyond the Lights”
Watch Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker in a clip here!
15. Tanya Hamilton
Hamilton is a Jamaican born talent that came to America at 8 years old with her mom. A Columbia University alumni, her first film was 1997’s “The Killers.” In 2010, she directed “Night Catches Us,” a biopic of Philadelphia’s Black Panthers starring Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington. It earned her many nominations from Sundance, Black Reel, Independent Spirit, and won an Athena Film Festival honor.
16. Tina Mabry
Mabry’s autobiographical “Mississippi Damned” is a tough film on family secrets and denial, but the acting was fantastic and her direction brilliant. In 2009, the UCLA grad received accolades from tons of festivals including Chicago International, American Black Film, New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Film, Atlanta and Black Reel. The film also featured a young Tessa Thompson.
17. “Mississippi Damned”
Watch a scene here!
18. Cheryl Dunye
Dunye’s most notable work is 1996’s full-length indie “The Watermelon Woman.” Like the Black lesbian take on Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” Dunye played the lead character who works in a video store and is obsessed with making a biopic about an obscure black actress. She also has an interracial romance with a former White female customer. The Liberian born, Temple and Rutgers grad last project was 2014’s “Black Is Blue.”
19. “The Watermelon Woman”
Watch a funny scene from the flick here!
20. Nzingha Stewart
Stewart has always been one to watch, as she’s directed over 100 music videos for some big names in neo-soul and hip-hop, including Common, Jadakiss, Joss Stone, and Bilal. This January, she wrote and directed the Lifetime TV movie “With This Ring” starring Regina King, Jill Scott, and Eve. The NYU Philosophy grad also executive produced Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” movie.
21. Nzingha Stewart
Here’s the video for Eve’s “Satisfaction” that Stewart directed! #tbt
22. Yvonne Welbon
This Chicagoan filmmaker has based most of her most praised projects on racism and homosexuality, as Welbon is an outspoken member of the LGBT community. Her first film 1991’s “Monique” tackled her own experiences with prejudice and won Best Documentary at the Festival of Illinois Film and Video Artists. Other notable works are “Sisters In The Life” and “Missing Relations.”
23. Kimberly Towns
Towns’ college thesis project “Zero” was nominated for HBO’s Short Film Competition and selected for the American Black Film Festival. A graduate of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, the new filmmaker is on a roll, as last year, she directed the short film “Hands To The Sky”, that featured an autistic protagonist.