According to filmmaker Amma Asante, Black women constitute less than one percent of the movie industry. However, this sobering statistic has not stopped the women on this list—and plenty others—from creating notable and memorable work. (I’ve tried to highlight directors other than Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince Bythewood, as many are already aware of their contributions to the art of cinema.)
1. Euzhan Palcy
The French West Indian director of the 1989 film A Dry White Season, which chronicled the era of apartheid South Africa, was the first film helmed by a Black woman to receive production backing from a major Hollywood studio. The film received an Oscar nod in the form of a nomination for Marlon Brando, but similar to Ryan Cougler’s Creed, the director and the film were not nominated for any honors. Palcy, however, has received a Cesar award from France for her film Rue Cases Negres translated Black Shack Alley.
2. Dee Rees
A former intern of Spike Lee’s NYU program, Dee Rees directed the critically acclaimed short turned feature length film, Pariah, about a young woman’s struggle being comfortable with her sexuality and knowing that her family wouldn’t accept it. Rees also directed the biopic of blues pioneer Bessie Smith, which also garnered buzz both in critical circles and on social media. She’s definitely one to watch.
3. Julie Dash
The first Black woman to receive a general theatrical release, Dash directed 1991’s Daughters of the Dust, a look at a fascinating culture rooted off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Gullah people were brought to the U.S. from primarily rice-producing regions of West and Central Africa. They’ve preserved their language, arts, religious practices and strong sense of place and family as one of the country’s oldest living cultures. Dash also directed 2002’s biopic of Rosa Parks, The Rosa Parks Story which was nominated for an Emmy Award.
4. Kasi Lemmons
A writer and director to whom we may all be indebted to for showcasing Black people in a more Gothic light. She is most well known for directing the 1997 film Eve’s Bayou, which starred its producer Samuel L. Jackson. Eve’s Bayou won her an Independent Spirit award, an award that celebrates the best independent films of the year. Lemmons has more recently written and directed Black Nativity starring Angela Bassett, who has recently been producing behind the camera as well.
5. Amma Asante
Black Brit Amma Asante bursted onto the scene in 2004 with her critically acclaimed debut, A Way Of Life, a thriller which Asante not only directed, but wrote the screenplay to. Asante did not release her second film until 2013, Belle, a movie following the life of a biracial woman in 18th Century England, powerfully portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Asante has positioned herself as one to watch with two films so far apart in pacing and content. A true talent.
What black women directors do you think deserve more shine? Let us know in the comments below!