While innovations in technology have made it easier than ever to make a movie, it has become harder than ever to receive significant financial backing. Doubly hard when one is a director of an underrepresented background.
Black Americans have been a part of the film industry since the beginning, over a century ago, but one could argue that there were not any Black film directors given enough of a platform to become a household name until the 1990s. Though a diverse set of directors were able to breakthrough from that time through the aughts, the shift in focus toward solely blockbuster filmmaking has left many Black filmmakers out to dry.
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In recent years, quite a few Black directors have seen a greater level of support and reverence, from “Get Out” director Jordan Peele to “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins to “Selma” director Ava DuVernay. And every February their work rightfully makes the lists of must-watch films by Black directors. But that group still has plenty of peers, and even predecessors, who have miraculously continued to keep making films with sizable distributions.
Before introducing a list of 10 Black filmmakers still working today, whose debut films are worth the watch, it is worth it to list some of the parameters that may disqualify a filmmaker from being included on the list. Everyone included has made at least three features, meaning “Judas and the Black Messiah” helmer Shaka King and “Zola” filmmaker Janicza Bravo have not yet made the cut. There is also a whole class of filmmakers from the 1990s that now primarily work in television, like “I Like It Like That” director Darnell Martin, or who have not been working at all, like “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” director Keenen Ivory Wayans. There are other directors whose first features are not the films that broke them out, like Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”), Amma Asante (“Belle”), or Tim Story (“Barbershop”). And finally, there are names like Spike Lee, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and even Tyler Perry that are already on any cinephile’s radar.
So with all that said, here is a list of 10 Black filmmakers that one should know, all of whom continue to still work steadily in Hollywood — along with the reasons why one should check out their debut feature.
With editorial contributions by Alison Foreman and Wilson Chapman.
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