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NOTABLE FILMS BY BLACK DIRECTORS

By: Kenji


Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)
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Oscar Micheaux
Oscar Devereaux Micheaux (2 January 1884 – 25 March 1951) was an American author and film director. Although predated by the short lived Lincoln Motion Picture Company that put out smaller films, he is regarded as the first African-American feature filmmaker, and the most prominent producer of race films.

Micheaux (sometimes written as “Michaux”) was born near Metropolis, Illinois and grew up in Great Bend, Kansas, one of eleven children of former slaves. As a young boy, he shined shoes and worked as a porter on the railway. As a young man, he very successfully homesteaded a farm in Gregory County, South Dakota, where he began writing stories. Micheaux overcame many of the racist attitudes and restrictions on African-American publishers and authors by forming his own publishing company to sell his books door-to-door.

The advent of the motion picture industry intrigued him as a vehicle to tell his stories. He formed his own movie production company and, in 1919, became the first African-American to make a film. He wrote, directed and produced the silent motion picture, The Homesteader, starring pioneering African-American actress Evelyn Preer, based on his novel of the same name. He used autobiographical elements in The Exile, his first feature film with sound, in which the central character leaves Chicago to buy and operate a ranch in South Dakota. In 1924, his film, Body and Soul, introduced the movie-going public to Paul Robeson.

Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African American to produce a film to be shown in “white” movie theaters. In his motion pictures, he moved away from the “Negro stereotypes” being portrayed in film at the time. In his film Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in the D.W. Griffith film, The Birth of a Nation.

The Producers Guild of America called him “The most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.” During his illustrious career, Oscar Micheaux wrote, produced and directed forty-four feature-length films between 1919 and 1948 and wrote seven novels, one of which was a national bestseller.

Micheaux died in Charlotte, North Carolina, during a business trip. His body was returned to Great Bend, Kansas, where he was interred in the Great Bend Cemetery, alongside members of his family.

Legacy
In 1986 the Directors Guild of America honored Micheaux with a Golden Jubilee Special Award and today the Oscar Micheaux Award is presented each year by the Producers Guild.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Oscar Micheaux has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6721 Hollywood Blvd.
There is a 1994 documentary about Micheaux, Midnight Ramble, named after the “Midnight Rambles” in which cinemas would show films at midnight to African-American audiences.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante, father of African-American filmmaker M.K. Asante, Jr. listed Oscar Micheaux on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
On June 22, 2010, in New York, the US Postal Service™ issued a 44-cent, Oscar Micheaux commemorative stamp.


Diop Mambety
The son of a Muslim cleric and member of the Lebou tribe, Djibril Diop Mambéty was born near Senegal’s capital city of Dakar in Colobane, a town featured prominently in some of his films. Mambéty’s interest in cinema began with theater. Having graduated from acting school in Senegal, Mambéty worked as a stage actor at the Daniel Sorano National Theater in Dakar until he was expelled for disciplinary reasons. In 1969, at age 24, without any formal training in filmmaking, Mambéty directed and produced his first short film, Contras’ City (City of Contrasts). The following year Mambéty made another short, Badou Boy, which won the Silver Tanit award at the 1970 Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia.

Mambéty’s technically sophisticated and richly symbolic first feature-length film, Touki Bouki (1973), received the International Critics Award at Cannes Film Festival and won the Special Jury Award at the Moscow Film Festival, bringing the Senegalese director international attention and acclaim. Despite the film’s success, twenty years passed before Mambéty made another feature film. During this hiatus he made one short film in 1989, Parlons Grandmère (Let’s talk Grandmother).

Hyènes (1992), Mambéty’s second and final feature film, was an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play The Visit and was conceptualized as a continuation of Touki Bouki. At the time of his death, the film director had been working on a trilogy of short films called Contes des Petites Gens (Tales of the Little People). The first of the three films was Le Franc (1994). At the time of his death Mambéty had been editing the second film of that series, La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil (The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun), which premiered posthumously in 1999. His early death to lung cancer, at age 53, occurred in a Paris hospital.

The notion of hybridity is a theme that runs through many of Djibril Diop Mambéty films. Like many of his contemporaries, Djibril Diop Mambéty used the cinematic medium to comment on political and social conditions in Africa. As critiques of neocolonialism, like those of Ousmane Sembène and Souleymane Cissé, Mambéty’s films can similarly be understood in the context of Third Cinema. Yet, his often unconventional, surrealist, fast-paced, non-linear style distinguishes Mambéty from other prominent filmmakers of Francophone African Cinema who employed more traditional didactic, social realist narratives. African Studies scholar Sheila Petty notes, “unlike other African filmmakers of the late 1960s and early 1970s whose films were structured around essentialist nationalist discourse focused on the binary opposition of African values versus cultural alienation, Mambéty sought to expose the diversity of real life”. According to critics like Petty, his films were an expression of an African sensibility neither locked into narrow nationalism nor into colonial French culture. Instead of rejecting or elevating one as more or less authentically African, Mambéty confronted and engaged with postindependent Africa’s complexities and contradictions. Montage sequences in his films that are overflowing with symbols and sounds of traditional and modern Africa, as well as contemporary European culture, depict hybridity. In addition, his own editing and narrative style are a confluence of the ancient griotic tradition of tribal storytelling and modern avant-garde techniques. Mambéty was interested in transforming conflicting, mixed elements into a usable African culture, and in his words, “reinvent[ing] cinema”.

Other common thematic concerns in Mambéty’s films are power, wealth and delusion. Offering a cynical view of humanity in his last feature-length film, Hyènes, Mambéty implicates Africans themselves for a continuing dependency on the West. Through the film and in many interviews, the director suggests that Africans are short-sighted in looking to the colonial past for their future, and are misled by their unrestrained desires for material goods that ensure Africa’s dependency on foreign aid. Ultimately, however, Mambéty transmitted a message of hopefulness in his final films, which elevate the “little people,” as the bearers of a positive and new Africa. “The only truly consistent, unaffected people in the world,” Mambéty once said of the marginalized, “for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves”.


Touki Bouki (Diop Mambety)
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Charles Burnett
Along with Spike Lee, Charles Burnett was among the most crucial African-American cinematic voices to emerge during the final decades of the 20th century; unlike Lee, however, Burnett earned little mainstream recognition for his work and has remained largely a non-entity even within the bounds of the black filmgoing community. Motivated to action by years of one-dimensional black stereotypes and story lines in Hollywood features, Burnett has endeavored to bring to the screen a deeply personal, realistic portrayal of contemporary African-American existence, drawing his inspiration from the work of the Italian neorealist movement. Unfortunately, consistent victimization at the hands of studios and distributors has repeatedly conspired to silence his unique voice, and while younger and less accomplished black filmmakers rose to commercial success in his wake, Burnett himself has remained at best a highly regarded cult figure throughout his career.

Born in Mississippi in 1943, Burnett was raised in Los Angeles, where in the late ‘60s and early ’70s he attended U.C.L.A.’s graduate film program alongside fellow African-American movie innovators Larry Clark, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, and Billy Woodberry. After serving as the cinematographer on 1976’s Bush Mama, Burnett made his feature debut in 1977 with the acclaimed Killer of Sheep. The victim of poor distribution, the picture never gained the widespread notice it deserved, but in 1981 it won honors at the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as what later evolved into the Sundance Film Festival, and it was also among the first works chosen for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ Historic Film Registry. After winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980, Burnett began work on his sophomore feature, 1983’s My Brother’s Wedding, but he again faced insurmountable distribution difficulties resulting in an abortive release.

Upon receiving a 1988 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship grant, Burnett began work on his masterpiece, 1990’s To Sleep With Anger. Though it starred box-office favorite Danny Glover, the film was screened in only 18 theaters nationally, with an advertising budget of less than 400,000 dollars. Burned again by the Hollywood system, Burnett next turned to television, where in 1991 he filmed a documentary about U.S. immigration titled America Becoming. Returning to feature films, he began reworking The Glass Shield, a long-dormant screenplay about police corruption. When American financing fell through, he received backing from the French production company CIBY 2000, but the company later forced Burnett to relinquish the final cut, and the film was also edited by American distributor Miramax prior to its 1994 release. Nightjohn, an adaptation of a Gary Paulsen novel, premiered to great acclaim on the Disney Channel in 1996. After directing two more made-for-TV features, Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding (1998) and Selma Lord Selma (1999), Burnett returned to the screen as the director of a quirky romance, The Annihilation of Fish, starring James Earl Jones and Lynn Redgrave
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Julie Dash
Julie Dash (born October 22, 1952 in Long Island City, Queens, New York) is a United States filmmaker. Her Daughters of the Dust in 1991 was the first full-length film with general theatrical release in the United States by an African American woman. Daughters of the Dust was included in the National Film Registry in 2004. She is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated
We are honoured to have Julie on this site
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Spike Lee
As a writer, director, actor, producer, author, and entrepreneur, Spike Lee has revolutionized the role of black talent in Hollywood, tearing away decades of stereotypes and marginalized portrayals to establish a new arena for Afro-American voices to be heard. His movies, a series of outspoken and provocative socio-political critiques informed by an unwavering commitment toward challenging cultural assumptions not only about race but also class and gender identity, both solidified his own standing as one of contemporary cinema’s most influential figures and furthered the careers of actors including Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, and Laurence Fishburne. Born Shelton Jackson Lee in Atlanta, GA, on March 20, 1957, he was raised in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. After attending Atlanta’s prestigious Morehouse College, returned to New York to make his first movie, 1977’s Last Hustle in Brooklyn, a portrait of the area’s Black and Puerto Rican communities. Later, he enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, earning his Master of Fine Arts Degree in film production. His senior feature, 1982’s Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, was the first student effort ever showcased in Lincoln Center’s “New Directors, New Films” series, and also garnered the Student Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

His 1986 comedy She’s Gotta Have It, took the Prix de Jeunesse award at Cannes and earned close to 9 million dollars at the box office. Soon Hollywood came calling, and in 1988, he released his major studio debut School Daze; however, it was his third film, 1989’s Do the Right Thing, which launched Lee to the forefront of the American filmmaking community. A provocative, insightful meditation on simmering racial tension, it was among the year’s most controversial and talked-about films and went on to net an Oscar nomination for “Best Screenplay.” The jazz world was the subject of ‘90s Mo’ Better Blues, which opened to lukewarm press; however, with his next film, Jungle Fever, Lee was again at the center of controversy over the picture’s subject matter, interracial romance. Afterwards he started his dream project, 1992’s Malcolm X. Shot at various points across the globe, the three-hour biopic of the slain civil-rights leader reached theaters in its intended form only after celebrities including Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and Prince helped defray financing costs in the wake of Warner Bros.’ mandate that Lee trim the film’s running time by half an hour. Lee next shot the change-of-pace Crooklyn, a relatively light serio-comedy based largely on his own experiences growing up in Brooklyn in the early ‘70s and written in tandem with his sisters Joie and Cinqué. Next up was 1995’s Clockers, a highly regarded urban crime drama based on the novel by Richard Price. In 1996, Lee released two very different feature:. Girl 6, looked at the world of a young actress forced to accept work as a phone-sex operator,and Get on the Bus, paid tribute to the historic Million Man March. Upon signing a three-year, first-look production contract with Columbia, he then began work on He Got Game, a study of the politics of high-school basketball. Lee’s next film, Summer of Sam, set in Brooklyn during the long, hot summer of 1977 when serial killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz terrorized the city.The director’s subsequent project, Bamboozled (2000) was another testament to Lee’s status as one of the most complex and divisive filmmakers of both the late 20th century and the early 21st century.

In the following years Lee would tackle a quartet of more personal projects with A Huey P. Newton Story, Come Rain or Come Shine, Jim Brown: All-American, and a ten-minute segment of Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet before again turning to feature films with The 25th Hour. The film found Lee branching off to surprising effect, even if it didn’t score a direct hit at the box office. After stepping behind the camera to direct the Showtime gang drama Sucker Free City in 2004, Lee moved back into feature territory with the 2004 comedy drama She Hate Me. In addition to his primary work as a filmmaker, Lee has also written a number of books about filmmaking, as well as the 1997 Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir. Additionally, he directed a number of commercials, most famously a series of Nike spots in which he appeared (in the guise of his She’s Gotta Have It character, Mars Blackmon) alongside basketball superstar Michael Jordan, as well as music videos for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, and Prince. To aid aspiring filmmakers, Lee also founded the 40 Acres and Mule Film Institute on the campus of Brooklyn’s Long Island University
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Steve McQueen
Born in London, McQueen grew up in West London and went to Drayton Manor High School. He was a keen footballer, turning out for the St. Georges Colts football team. He did an art A level at Hammersmith and West London College, then studied art and design at Chelsea College of Art and Design and then fine art at Goldsmiths College where he first became interested in film. He left Goldsmiths in 1993 and then studied briefly at the Tisch School in New York City. He found the approach there not experimental enough for him, however, complaining that “they wouldn’t let you throw the camera up in the air”.

McQueen’s films, which are typically projected onto one or more walls of an enclosed space in an art gallery, are often in black and white and minimalist. He has cited the influence of the nouvelle vague and the films of Andy Warhol. He often appears in the films himself.

His first major work was Bear (1993), in which two naked men (one of them McQueen) exchange a series of glances which might be taken to be flirtatious or threatening. One of his best known works, Deadpan (1997), is a restaging of a Buster Keaton stunt in which a house collapses around McQueen who is left unscathed because he is standing where there is a missing window.

As well as being in black and white, both these films are silent. The first of McQueen’s films to use sound was also the first to use multiple images: Drumroll (1998). This was made with three cameras, two mounted to the sides, and one to the front of an oil drum which McQueen rolled through the streets of Manhattan. The resulting films are projected on three walls of an enclosed space. McQueen has also made sculptures such as White Elephant (1998) and photographs.
He won the Turner Prize in 1999, although much of the publicity went to Tracey Emin, who was also a nominee.
His 2008 film Hunger, about the 1981 Irish hunger strike, premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. McQueen received the Caméra d’Or (first-time director) Award at Cannes. The film was also awarded the inaugural Sydney Film Festival Prize, for “its controlled clarity of vision, its extraordinary detail and bravery, the dedication of its cast and the power and resonance of its humanity”.
In his 2011 follow-up feature Shame, “Michael Fassbender plays a New York man confronting his sexual compulsions and the self-destructive acts of his sister.
McQueen’s most recent film is 12 Years a Slave (2013). Based on the 1853 autobiography of the same name by Solomon Northup, the film tells the story of a free black man who is kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery, working on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before being released.”


Hunger (Steve McQueen)

Above info courtesy of Mubi, Wikipedia, All Movie Guide. I’m reluctant to overload this section, so just a sample. Info on top African directors Souleymane Cissé and Ousmane Sembene can be found on the lists Mali, and Essential African Films, respectively. See also John’s list Black & Gay, and Malik’s list Black Cinema in the Aftermath of Spike Lee. A lot of African films have been added recently to Mubi: i would need to familiarise myself much more with various national cinemas and directors there to be able to add the most deserving or notable films with any confidence.

suggestions please.

 

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Displaying 4 of 31 wall posts.
Picture of Meine Gu

Meine Gu

30Jul13

Kenji, you did it again. Luv the list!

Picture of Thomas Clancy

Thomas Clancy

18Dec12

'Pariah' by Dee Rees

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Picture of Kyle Lewis

Kyle Lewis

4Oct12

Restless City by Andrew Dosunmu.

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Picture of Eloi MV

Eloi MV

6Apr12

I don't know how you manage to made that much relevant list but it's surely a pleasure to go through each and everyone of them. Thanks for all your contributions Kenji!

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