This Black History month, we are celebrating Black filmmakers. Each week we are showcasing filmmakers from different parts of the industry. And today, we feature a selection of Black screenwriters, working across a whole range of genres, writers who are fresh voices in the industry and writers whose work shaped the history of Black cinema.
Melvin van Peebles
Sometimes dubbed the ‘godfather of modern Black cinema’, director, writer, composer and actor Melvin Van Peebles jolted American independent cinema to new life with his explosive stylistic energy and unfiltered expression of Black consciousness.
Peebles wrote, directed and acted in the 1971 movie Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song which tells the story of a Black man on the run from white police officers, and a manhunt to find him. It became one of the most successful films of 1971, tallying more than $15 million in box-office sales and ushering in a new wave of Black cinema.
A poet, playwright and filmmaker, Kathleen Collins helped break barriers for female directors in Hollywood. She had two major films: The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy and Losing Ground, which were released in the early ’80s. Collins helped pave the way for future Black women filmmakers to have their films get national commercial distribution. Collins passed away in 1988 from breast cancer. At that time, the bulk of her work was unpublished and left to her daughter. In 2006, Nina Collins began to go through her mother’s archive and have it published, restored and reissued.
Although Losing Ground was denied a large-scale exhibition, it was among the first films created by a Black woman that was feature-length and created for popular consumption. It is a groundbreaking romance exploring women’s sexuality, modern marriage, and the life of artists and scholars.
Watch the trailer below:
Thirty-one years ago, filmmaker Julie Dash broke through racial and gender boundaries with her Sundance award-winning film (Best Cinematography) Daughters of the Dust. She became the first African American woman to have a wide theatrical release of her feature film. The Library of Congress placed Daughters of the Dust and her UCLA MFA senior thesis Illusions in the National Film Registry. These two films join a select group of American films preserved and protected as national treasures by the Librarian of Congress. She has also directed music videos, commercial spots, shorts and episodic television during her career. She was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for The Rosa Parks Story, which was released in 2002.
‘Daughters of the Dust’ tells the story of the Gullah people of South Carolina and Georgia’s Sea Islands, when many of the islanders, descendants of the Nigerian Igbo, decided to leave the secluded islands and travel north to find work in the burgeoning industrial economy. The film is narrated by an unborn girl child.
Watch the trailer below:
Winta Yohannes is a filmmaker, author and photographer whose films have been screened globally at festivals including the Berlinale, Edinburgh and the BFM International Film Festival in London. Her short films can be found amongst the British Film Institute’s, Duke University’s and University’s of Illinois in Chicago’s film/video collection.
Her photography work has earned her an Honorable Mention at the “Prix de la Photographie Paris” for her series “Nation of Islam” as well as at the “International Photography Awards” for her series “Berlin Rave Culture”. Yohannes is currently working on a new feature length screenplay and works as a script consultant.
Blue is My Middle Name is a short film written and directed by Winta, which follows a relationship between a jazz musician and a singer at a moment where it is on the rocks.
You can watch the full film here: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-blues-is-my-middle-name-1999-online
Nakia Stephens is an award-winning screenwriter and independent filmmaker who is devoted to telling authentic and purposeful stories that disrupt outdated and ill-informed narratives. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Nakia has always been influenced by Black culture and southern flair, which, coupled with studying creative writing in places like Shanghai, Beijing, and Ghana, helped to cultivate her passion for human connection through storytelling.
She is known for crafting character-driven narratives that effortlessly blend elements of heartache, humor, and controversy all while naturally amplifying the voices of marginalized groups, especially Black Women and Girls.
Nakia has had over 25 of her screenplays produced to screen including her most notable projects: Della Mae, Cream x Coffee, Noise, and Novella.
Novella is a short form in which, through colourful literature, we enter the creative mind of an author who sets off to write her first Black romance novel.