Famous Black Filmmakers

With several films this year directed by African-American filmmakers being recognized at the Academy Awards , and with February being Black History Month, we thought we would highlight some of the most exceptional films made by black filmmakers.

Killer of Sheep

Charles Burnett made this 1977 masterpiece for $10,000, and submitted it as his thesis for his Master of Fine Arts at UCLA. It was only shown occasionally around the country for years, but its reputation started building slowly year after year. Now it has been selected by the Library of Congress as one of the first 50 films on the National Film Registry, and has even been listed by the National Society of Film Critics as one of the 100 essential films of all time. Killer of Sheep is set in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles and is the story of the character Stan, who works in a slaughterhouse and finds the jobs tedious. Stan is married and has two kids, but is emotionally distant from them and often dreams of escape.

DaughtersDOTD of Dust

Daughters of the Dust is a significant film for a variety of reasons, but the most important reason is that it was the first film to be directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the U.S. Directed by Julie Dash, the film is set in 1902 and is the story of the Peazant family who live on Saint Simons Island in Georgia. The family has maintained the culture and language of their African ancestors who were brought there as slaves, but members of the Peazant family are planing to move North and leave their culture behind. What follows is contrasting views on the families' shared heritage. This film has also been placed on the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

After failing to obtain funding to develop his own film, Melvin Van Peebles independently financed and directed this 1971 film that some consider the beginning of the blaxpolitation genre. Sweetback, played by Melvin Peebles himself, works as a performer in a whorehouse and one night the LAPD arrive and plan to arrest Sweetback for the murder of a black man to placate the African-American community. The agreement with Sweetback's boss is that they will let Sweetback go in a few days, but after arresting him the police also stop to arrest a young member of the Black Panthers. After the Black Panther insults the officers they start beating the young man, which provokes Sweetback to retaliate and defend the him from the police. From there Sweetback's story takes off as he goes on the run from the LAPD in this innovative cult classic that features a soundtrack performed by Earth, Wind, & Fire.

Eve's Bayoueves

Directed by Kasi Lemmons this 1997 film continues to gain fans each year as more people discover its atmospheric and rich world. Eve's Bayou is the story of a ten year-old girl named Eve who lives with her younger brother, older sister, mother and father in a wealthy African-American community in 1960's Louisiana. Her father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is an established doctor in the community and one night after a party Eve catches her father having sex with another woman. Eve tries to tell her sister Cisley, but Cisley tells Eve she must have misinterpreted what happened. As the summer rolls on her father's serial infidelity becomes apparent and strains the family, and Eve finds out she possesses a "second sight" that warns her that something terrible is about to happen.

This list is of course not exhaustive, and there is the famous Spike Lee, the under-appreciated Carl Franklin, and the recently recognized Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVernay to add to your list.

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