This Black History month, we are celebrating Black filmmakers. Each week we will be featuring filmmakers you should know about from different parts of the industry. And today, we celebrate a selection of Black directors from the last century, who have worked across drama, autobiography, short films and feature films.
Part of the Sankofa Film Collective (which transformed the way race was represented in British independent cinema), Maureen Blackwood’s work focuses on the frequently untold stories of black British Women within a shared political heritage of struggle.
Blackwood’s 1993 film ‘Home Away from Home’ tells the story of Miriam, the mother of a Nigerian-British family as she battles homesickness and hostility towards immigrants in suburban Britain. Amidst this she tries to recreate a piece of home in her back garden and heal the rift between her and her children.
Charles Burnett is an American film director, film producer, writer, editor, actor, photographer, and cinematographer. He was heavily involved in the Black Independent Movement, a filmmaking movement established at UCLA.
The film ‘Killer of Sheep’ was his first full-length feature film and was released to the public in 1978. It was filmed mostly on a handheld camera and hinges on themes of family and oppression to a soundtrack of jazz and blues artists.
Filmmaker and installation artist, Isaac Julien CBE RA, was born in 1960 in London, where he currently lives and works. His multi-screen film installations and photographs incorporate different artistic disciplines to create a poetic and unique visual language. His 1989 documentary-drama exploring author Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance titled Looking for Langston garnered Julien a cult following.
‘Young Soul Rebels’ is the debut feature film from Isaac Julien, and follows a young soul DJ who is accused of murder against the backdrop of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
Ngozi Onwurah is a British-Nigerian film director. She is best known for her first feature film, ‘Welcome II the Terrordome‘, which depicts an uprising in which the police kill a Black teen, set in a sci-fi dystopia where all Black people are confined to an area called the Terrordome. She is also known for her autobiographical film ‘The Body Beautiful‘, which was the first independent Black British feature film to be released.
‘Flight of the Swan’ is a short film she directed about a young Nigerian ballerina struggling against prejudice to fulfil her dream to be a ballet dancer. Watch it here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-flight-of-the-swan-1992-online
Gordon Parks is a renowned photographer turned filmmaker. He was the first Black American director to make a Hollywood studio film, and worked as a writer, producer, and composer across multiple projects.
Based on Parks’ own semi-autobiographical novel, ‘The Learning Tree’ follows the journey of Newt Winger, a teenage growing up in rural Kansas in the 1920s, as he experiences first love, the tests of friendship and institutional racism.
Thank you to shadow board member Hamza Pool (The Edge Picture Company) and Patrick Russell (BFI) for helping us pull this list together.