While women make up only 13 percent of directors in film, the number of Black women behind the camera is even smaller. Though the media has been stingy with granting Black women opportunities to helm projects, there have still been a number of women who have made a seat at the table and paved a way for the women behind them. As we close out Black History Month and welcome March (fondly known as Women’s History Month), we are spotlighting eight films directed by pioneering Black women. From historical period pieces to films that masterfully capture contemporary experiences, these eight films are must-sees.
- Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé (Director: Beyoncé, Ed Burke)
When Beyonce’s shimmery boots stepped onto the Coachella stage in 2018, music festivals would never be the same. As the first Black woman to headline Coachella, “Beychella” brought HBCU culture to the mainstream. Homecoming (streaming on Netflix) is an “intimate, in-depth look at Beyoncé’s celebrated 2018 Coachella performance reveals the emotional road from creative concept to cultural movement.”
2. Mudbound (Director: Dee Rees)
Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war. With an all-star ensemble cast, Dee Rees captures the complicated race relations of the American South.
3. Queen & Slim (Director: Melina Matsoukas)
A couple’s first date takes an unexpected turn when a police officer pulls them over. Melina Matsoukas shared her artist prowess as director of Beyonce’s groundbreaking visual album Lemonade. Matsoukas does it again, sharing a beautiful depiction of Black love in Queen & Slim.
4. Harriet (Director: Kasi Lemmons)
The extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history. Featured in our Weekly Action’s #MediaWeLike, Kasi Lemmons brilliantly showcases Tubman’s story that had long been ignored by Hollywood.
5. Pariah (Director: Dee Rees)
A Brooklyn teenager juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression. Made with a budget of just $500,000, Dee Rees’ underdog film (and first feature) is one of few movies to explore the queer identity of a Black woman.
6. Daughters of the Dust (Director: Julie Dash)
Languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where African folk-ways were maintained well into the 20th Century and was one of the last bastions of these mores in America. Though a cinematic marvel and the first film by a Black woman to get a wide release, Hollywood was unreceptive despite the film’s success. Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust marked her last theatrical release.
7. Selma (Director: Ava DuVernay)
A chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. In her portrayal of the movement, Ava DuVernay brings a realism unlike most Hollywood flicks. “What we were trying to do with this whole film is to just elevate it from a page in your history book and really just get it into your body — into your DNA.”
8. Eve’s Bayou (Director: Kasi Lemmons)
After a daughter witnesses her father having an affair, she begins a chain reaction that could tear her family apart. Inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, Lemmon’s film (starring Diahann Carroll, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is heralded as a beautiful portrait of Black life.
Take Action! Have a movie marathon in celebration of Black History and Women’s History Months. Don’t forget to support projects by Black women directors in the box office!