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At Least Five Oscar-Qualifying Documentaries This Year Were Directed by Black Women - Are You Watching?

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by Jai Tiggett
November 11, 2013 7:29 PM
7 Comments
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Clockwise from top left: Dawn Porter, Shola Lynch, Yoruba Richen, Michele Stephenson, Marta Cunningham

Woefully underreported by major news outlets to date is the fact that this year, there are at least five feature documentaries directed by black women qualifying for Academy Award consideration, including Gideon's Army by Dawn Porter; Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch; Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham; The New Black by Yoruba Richen; and American Promise by Michele Stephenson

I've written often here on S&A about the work being done in the documentary world and how it tends to fly under the radar. Even critically acclaimed docs tend to receive less attention, understandably, as they come with smaller budgets, limited distribution (if they make it to theaters at all), and center on issues that are often more serious and less "sexy" than their counterparts on the scripted film side. 

Still, black documentary filmmakers - and black women in particular - are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space. The films listed above have been awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit, but many are still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration. 

As advances in digital filmmaking have made documentaries far more affordable and accessible, these filmmakers are thriving in terms of output and achievement, but are still hankering for attention. 

So as we see a noteworthy number of black female doc directors qualifying for Oscars this year, it makes sense to highlight these films, if only in hopes that more voting members will be watching and taking note. 

We've covered most of these projects at length on this site, but consider this a handy recap for those just tuning in: 

FREE ANGELA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS

Director: Shola Lynch 

This in-depth profile of activist Angela Davis premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and attracted the support of executive producers Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jay-Z. 

S&A Review HERE

S&A Interview with Shola Lynch HERE


VALENTINE ROAD

Director: Marta Cunningham 

This HBO Documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and explores the lives of two middle schoolers - an out transgender student and the classmate convicted of his murder. 


GIDEON'S ARMY

Director: Dawn Porter

A profile of three young, idealistic public defenders in the Deep South. This New York Times Critic Pick won the Editing award at Sundance 2013. 

S&A Review HERE


AMERICAN PROMISE

Directors: Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster

Won the Documentary Special Jury Prize for Achievement in Filmmaking at Sundance 2013. Follows the 13-year educational journeys of two African American boys at an elite college prep school. 

S&A Review HERE 

S&A interview with Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster HERE


THE NEW BLACK

Director: Yoruba Richen 

This explosive documentary on race, sexuality, and the black church premiered at LA Film Festival and picked up the Best Documentary award at Urbanworld Film Festival. 


*Many thanks to Thom Powers and our friends in the doc world for lending their thoughts to this discussion. 

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

7 Comments

  • siga | January 15, 2014 3:19 AMReply

    all the above mention is black women lets not go there lets try and stop looking at the raciest Hollywood for recognition lets make movies for us blacks so we can support them we have our music awards who need white people approval. we don`t need white people to support us we can do it ourself. yes there the old slave master motto still going on divide them they will never make it but we all had a good year with two small company doing so good LIONSGATE and WEINSTEIN COMPANY together they cap over 1.odd billion world wide Django make over three hundred million. the white is still trying to keep us done so the way to go is to look to ourself we can do it if all black super stars can just stop and look around the white is using us to make money why can`t we do ourself too.

  • IGBO | December 28, 2013 11:39 PMReply

    Unfortunately, none of these five films are among the fifteen Academy Award finalists. However, Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim was among the fifteen for her documentary, "The Square." Dawn Porter's film is among the five nominees for an Independent Spirit Award. If anything, this shows just shows competitive the documentary category is this year.

  • Li Ling | December 12, 2013 4:52 PMReply

    I like the one the directors choose their children and their friends as shooting aims. They change a perspective to observe their children's lives. Which is quite impressive. Because our parents barely care about their offspring. When we listen to their point of view about their lives, I think we can find something we neglect in our daily lives.

  • critical acclaim | November 12, 2013 4:37 PMReply

    excellent post. thank you!

  • JD | November 12, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    I very much want to see The New Black. AS a black gay man, the issue of homosexuality in the black community has always interested me. The fact that it's still so taboo in 2013 blows my mind after all the oppression and struggles that black people had to go through in the early 1900s. The fact that many black folk think gay civil rights and black civil rights aren't comparable blows my mind.

  • Pamela | November 11, 2013 10:48 PMReply

    Don't forget CALL ME KUCHU, which is directed by TWO women

  • Anonymous | November 11, 2013 10:51 PM

    actually the article is referencing black female directors specifically, but cmk is a great film :)

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