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Cross Post: Sisters in Cinema: Where are the Black Women Film Directors?

Women and Hollywood By Evette Dionne | Women and Hollywood August 1, 2012 at 12:06PM

Last week, the Twitterverse was gifted a priceless nugget when film director Ava DuVernay and her guild, AFFRM, released the second trailer for her anticipated movie, Middle of Nowhere. The acclaimed project, which highlights the women and families that mass incarceration leaves behind, earned DuVernay the coveted Sundance Film Festival award for Best Director. Around the globe, women rejoiced; in a male-dominated industry, it is rare for a woman to be bestowed with such an outward validation for her work. After all, women “comprised just 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2011,” according to the Center for Study of Women in TV and Film.

This is common for African American women directors, who are often challenged about their films and must battle with studios for their original vision to remain intact. Even Dr. Angelou, a respected author and philanthropist, wasn’t exempt from the discrimination. At the behest of a major studio, Dr. Angelou wrote the screenplay for her novel, Georgia, Georgia, but was denied the chance to direct the adaptation. Once Georgia, Georgia was released, Dr. Angelou was devastated. The film served the novel no justice. Despite the hurt she experienced with the gross misinterpretation of her book, Dr. Angelou remained dedicated to filmmaking. Twenty-five years after her first film failure, she made her directorial debut at the age of 70 with Down in the Delta.

As an alternative to the exile of black women film directors, most choose to follow the independent route to success. This leads to less exposure and accolades than the movies that are released to theaters, but some black female directors consider this to be a bonus. Being in control of writing, producing and funding enables them to maintain creative and executive control of their product from concept through distribution. However, not having studio funding limits an independent film’s reach in the global market.

This does not extend to their white male counterparts like Quentin Tarantino for example, who is also considered an independent filmmaker. But eventually, Tarantino and others who resemble him are able to find private investors willing to fund their film or their scripts are sold to major studios that produce and distribute the movie. These opportunities are not as available to black women directors. However, there is one exception to the rule.  Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust was released in 1992 and it is considered the first independent film directed by an African American female producer to be distributed nationally. This success was achieved after vigilant strides on Dash’s behalf to fundraise. She funded the film with the assistance of donors, but no support from major movie studios. Other black women filmmakers have attempted to emulate Dash’s success with less luck.

So black women, one of the most sought after audience demographics for movie studios, aren’t behind the camera providing insight into our culture. This leads to a misrepresentation of the black community on the silver screen. Often, we are caricatures of ourselves, as evidenced in Jumping the Broom and other projects, which leads to resentment for what the media machine represents in our communities.

There are a number of black women who submit applications to film school each fall, but there are a rare few who are altering the media landscape. Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer of ABC’s Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, is one of the most prominent black women in Hollywood. Mara Brock Akil, who is responsible for The Game and Girlfriends, is another. But in filmmaking, Ava DuVernay is the queen of the hill. This is a deserving distinction. DuVernay is an inspiring director with an acute sense of how to connect with her audience through the silver screen. However, we are only as superb as our competition and she is reigning without a single challenger for her crown. Hopefully, this will change as major motion picture studios realize the importance of representation.

Maybe with persistence, dedication and lots of sacrifice, black women film directors can have another five movies financed by the “Big Six” between now and the next centennial.



Evette Dionne is an Illinois-based writer pursuing a Masters in Media Management and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.  She is an intellectual instigator for several publications including Urban CuspUPTOWN, Africlectic and VIBE Vixen. She is also the managing editor of Full Figured News and HBCU Buzz. For more of her writings, check out her website You can also follow her on Twitter (@EvetteDionne).

This post originally appeared on The Feminist Wire. It was printed with permission.

This article is related to: Women Directors, Racism

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