With all the extra time at home due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, now’s the perfect opportunity to rummage through Netflix and binge-watch movies and TV shows. While you’re searching for content, you should definitely take the time to check out Black women directors who are creating powerful and compelling narratives.
From indie flicks to bigger budget films, Black female filmmakers are making waves. Often they dare to tackle sensitive and socially relevant issues through their craft.
Mojisola Sonoiki, an award-winning Atlanta-based filmmaker and founder of the African Film & Arts Foundation, agrees. “Black female filmmakers are challenging cultural narratives through their work that explores tough issues such as human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and the lack of visibility in politics or leadership positions.”
“Being a marginalized group wherever we as Black Women find ourselves be it back home or in the West, we are bound to bring different perspectives on how stories are presented and explored,” she adds.
So despite Hollywood’s many biases and prejudices, these women are breaking down barriers. Today we highlight 10 Black women filmmakers whose work you should know. These talented women have established themselves as breakthrough directors. They deserve our recognition as they continue to leverage their influence for better representation both in front of and behind the camera.
Ava Duvernay is a powerhouse who has mastered both film and television. She was the first black woman to win the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival and has amassed critical acclaim for her skillful exposure of racial inequality, in films like When They See Us and the documentary Thirteenth, as well as her nuanced storytelling seen in Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow. Duvernay recently announced she teamed up with Colin Kaepernick for a new Netflix documentary, Colin in Black & White, which will explore how Kaepernick’s teenage life made him the activist he is today. Duvernay is a name you’ll want to follow, and her sharp work is always worth watching.
You can follow her here: @ava
Director of the yet to be released thriller, Candyman, and still fresh fromher debut film, Little Woods, Nia DaCosta is not afraid to tackle big themes in abstract ways. DaCosta wrote Candyman, set to be released on September 25, alongside Win Rosenfeld and esteemed filmmaker Jordan Peele. She tweeted the film is “at the intersection of white violence and black pain is about unwilling martyrs. The people they were, the symbols we turn them into, the monsters we are told they must have been.”
You can follow her here: @NiaDaCosta
Dee Rees is outspoken about the challenges she has overcome to achieve staying power and legitimacy in the film industry as a black queer woman. Her work, which includes the Academy Award-nominated Mudbound and widely praised indie film Pariah, manages to feel incredibly personal and raw, allowing viewers to feel strongly connected to and immersed in her stories. Rees’s talent and unique perspective are apparent and make her films required watching for any cinephile.
You can follow her here: @ReesDee
Chinoye Chukwu is a Nigerian-American director and the first black woman to win the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Her most recent film, Clemency, following the psychological struggles of an executioner, was heartbreakingly devastating and touched the hearts of critics and audiences. Chukwu’s ability is undeniable and she’s certain to have more impactful work to come.
You can follow her here: @ChinonyeC
This French actor and filmmaker was the first black female director to be in contention for the Cannes Film Festival’s highest prize, the Palme d’Or. Mati Diop is renowned for her documentary shorts, such as A Thousand Suns, centered around actor Magaye Niang, and Atlantiques, about two friends who embark on a dangerous boat journey, which was later adapted into the fictional Atlantics, her feature film debut. Diop toys with the idea of identity and through her filmography has managed to confront her own, allowing her work to stand out.
You can follow her here: @matidiop
Amma Asante is a British filmmaker whose talents extend to acting and screenwriting. She is best known for her movie Belle, inspired by the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle, which tells the story of a biracial young girl brought up in an aristocratic family in the 18th century. Asante’s own bicultural background informs her work: her parents both immigrated to London from Ghana. Most recently, Asante directed episodes of notable TV shows, The Handmaid’s Tale and Mrs. America. She continues to use her clout in the film industry to promote diverse representation and stories in the media.
You can follow her here: @AmmaAsante
In 2008, Gina Prince-Bythewood performed the difficult task of adapting a classic, beloved book to film with great success in her portrayal of The Secret Life of Bees. Prince-Bythewood is currently garnering a lot of attention for her superhero film The Old Guard. As the first black female director of a major superhero film, she is not shy to take risks, defying traditional norms within the genre. The movie is on Netflix and will be a must-see of the summer.
You can follow her here: @GPBmadeit
Another woman who got her start acting on-screen before transitioning to being behind it. Victoria Mahoney’s debut film, the semi-autobiographical Yelling to the Sky, launched her into fame within the industry. Mahoney’s talent earned the attention of stars including J.J Abrams and Ava Duvernay. Mahoney and Duvernay are now developing a science fiction TV series entitled Dawn which will premiere on Amazon Prime. Mahoney is certainly staying busy, as in addition to this series she is in pre-production for the anticipated Kill Them All, about a murderess seeking revenge.
You can follow her here: @VictoriaMahoney
Kasi Lemmons was able to seamlessly transition from a talented young actress to a well-respected director. The recent Harriet director is best known for her directorial debut Eve’s Bayou, praised for its emotional resonance and complexity. Lemmons is masterful in her intertwining of supernatural themes with realistic narratives and conveying her characters in an intimate light.
You can follow her here: @kasi_lemmons
With her film LionHeart, a beautiful story about a woman who works to save her father’s company, Genevieve Nnaji became the first Nigerian director to make a Netflix acquired film. Nnaji is multi-talented, also applauded for her contributions to Nigerian film as an actor and producer. Considering this was Nnaji’s debut film, already making her the subject of much admiration, it will be exciting to follow her film career and see what story Nnaji decides to tackle next.
You can follow her here: @GenevieveNnaji1
Main Image: Ava Duvernay courtesy of Array Now