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

by Evette Dionne
August 1, 2012 12:06 PM
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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.

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  • Faith | August 3, 2012 11:42 AMReply

    Uh...Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love and Basketball," "The Secret Life of Bees"), Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou"), Dee Rees ("Pariah"), Sanaa Hamri ("Something New"), Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S., "Herbie the Love Bug" remake).

    Point is: yes, it's hard out here for a black female film director (of which I'm one) but there are more than just the ones mentioned. A Google search and some additional research would have shown that. I would have liked to have heard from some of these women to get their comments on how hard the road is.

    The constant refrain among Hollywood (and even NY indie execs) is that "Black films don't make money," which--however you feel about Tyler Perry--has proven is BS. And Spike, John Singleton, Hughes & Hudlin Bros. proved it before him. Plus, why are Black women limited to telling stories only about Black women?

    The racism/sexism in the industry isn't going away any time soon (it's not a walk in the part for women narrative filmmakers of ANY race, with the exception of Kathryn Bigelow--and it took her 30+ years to get to the A-list). But if we want to see more from a Black woman filmmaker, we have to buy the movie tickets and get our friends/relatives to do the same.

  • Evette Dionne | August 4, 2012 8:40 PM

    Faith: I am in the process of putting together a project surrounding this topic. If you're interested in participating, I can give more information. Please email me at

  • Bren | August 2, 2012 12:44 PMReply

    Great post. I like reading about Julie Dash and Ava Duvernay and others working for the black American women. This could be a book.

  • Rick | August 1, 2012 10:29 PMReply

    An article about black women directors and yet not one mention of note to Dee Rees. Who penned and directed the beautiful and personal film "Pariah".

  • Anita | August 1, 2012 5:46 PMReply

    Black female director Laurene Williams film "Phil Cobb's Dinner For Four" is an sweet and quirky look at friends and family relationships. It stars Eric Pierpoint, Josh Stamberg, Katie Lowes, Ted Lange. Williams sense of humor is sharp and subtle and the look of the film is beautifully shot on a Silicon Imaging SI-2K.

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