Black Directors Who Influenced The Culture


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There are a lot of Black directors who influenced the culture that we need to talk about ASAP.

Don’t lie, if I asked you right now how many Black directors you could name off the top of your head you will say Spike Lee and Tyler Perry and think you nailed it. YES, they did big things for the culture but there are dozens more you probably didn’t even know directed your favorite movies.

For decades, Black filmmakers have challenged the status quo to create premium cinematic masterpieces that brought Black culture to the forefront. They deserve their flowers.


Emmys / Via giphy.com

Juneteenth is about celebrating freedom and Black success and excellence. So, in honor of the holiday, here is my list of 50 Black directors that influenced the culture, and the world!

50.

Janet Mock


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Janet Mock is an activist and writer who is on the way to shattering expectations as one of the first Black trans directors for primetime television with emotionally driven episodes from FX’s Pose and the Netflix miniseries, Hollywood.

49.

Peter Ramsey


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Peter Ramsey is a director with skills originally suited for the art department of major motion pictures, working as a storyboard artist. In 2018, his second animated feature Spiderman: Into The Spider-Verse made it a solid fact he’s meant to become a full-fledged director of his own productions.

48.

Regina King


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Regina King started out a spunky teenager on the ’80s show, 227, followed up by appearances in several ’90s Black films alongside famous rappers like Ice Cube and Tupac. King stayed booked and busy only as an actress until 2013 when she began directing television episodes for shows like Being Mary Jane, Scandal, This Is Us, and Insecure, and her first feature film, One Night in Miami.

47.

Eddie Murphy


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Eddie Murphy is another case that it doesn’t matter how many films he actually directed, it’s all about the impact on the culture. The accomplished comedian attributes his success to many of the greats that came before him, and as one of the highest-paid and most popular actors of the time, he became a household name for everyone. Believe it or not, he technically only has one directing credit with 1989’s, Harlem Nights, starring some of his major influences Richard Pryor, and Redd Foxx.

46.

Melina Matsoukas


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Melina Matsoukas’ name rose in popularity after her directorial debut for Lena Waithe’s 2019 drama, Queen & Slim. The mistake was underestimating her career before this debut since she is one of the industry’s most accomplished music video directors. Every major award-winning artist you can think of has worked alongside Melina, including Ludacris, Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, and Rihanna.

45.

Chris Rock


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Chris Rock is one of the most successful comedians in the world getting his start in film as a small-bit player in many popular Black movies in the ’80s and ’90s. Once he moved into film production and earned starring roles, he took a chance at directing and captivated the audiences as per usual. His successful comedic turns at directing include Head of State (2003), I Think I Love My Wife (2007), and his unforgettable performance also starring in Top Five (2014). 

44.

Amma Asante


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Amma Asante is a British filmmaker who started as an actor and found her way into screenwriting and development like many other directors. After founding her own production company, Tantrum Films, she produced the BBC Two drama series Brothers and Sisters (1998). Under her production company, she made her directorial debut with A Way of Life (2004), a story of a woman’s struggle with her mother’s death and her broken childhood. Her filmography includes Belle (2013), A United Kingdom (2016), and TV episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Mrs. America.

43.

Justin Simien


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Justin Simien is making a name for himself as the newest generation of Black filmmakers stepping into the scene with his satirical love letter to Spike Lee’s and other Black directors’ earliest films. His first feature, Dear White People (2014), was a critically acclaimed dark comedy focusing on the lives of the very Black students at a prestigious Ivy League college. The show became a popular Netflix series setting him up for bigger and better things in the future, like the announced Disney+ series, Lando, based on the Star Wars hero.

42.

Lee Daniels


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Lee Daniels is a writer, producer, and director who rose to notoriety after Precious (2009), starring Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe. In the game years before, Daniels was a producer for films like Monster’s Ball (2001). Still, his turn in the director’s chair set him up for the success we see today with the 2013 historical drama Lee Daniels’ The Butler and The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021).

41.

Hype Williams


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Hype Williams is a permanent fixture in the hip-hop world as one of the most recognizable music video directors working with every major artist from the early ’90s to today. He only directed one feature film, Belly (1998), starring rappers Nas and DMX, but his videography spans over four decades.

40.

Victoria Mahoney


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Victoria was first known as a television director with episodes from shows like Queen Sugar, Grey’s Anatomy, Power, and Lovecraft Country. Her directorial debut with Yelling to the Sky (2011), starring Zoe Kravitz and Jason Clarke, earned her a spot at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and award recognitions. She holds a place as a Black female director to watch with her friend and colleague, Ava DuVernay. 

39.

Denzel Washington


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Denzel Washington followed in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier in every way. Washington stepped into movie roles that took his career into leading roles that transcended boundaries for Black actors in cinema. As did Poitier, Denzel’s turn at directing opened a new avenue for his acting career, appearing in most films he directed. These films include Antwone Fisher (2002), The Great Debaters (2007), Fences (2016), and A Journal for Jordan (2021).

38.

Forest Whitaker


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Forest Whitaker is an actor known for roles that call for a reserved intellectual. It’s surprising to find this calm and collected actor has a few directing credits under his belt in upbeat romantic comedies with his feature film debut Waiting to Exhale (1995), and other films Hope Floats (1998), and First Daughter (2004).

37.

Dee Rees


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Dee Rees makes films that specifically explore the identity of Black women. Her career began as a mentee of Spike Lee and evolved into a filmmaker unafraid to explore the taboo subjects of homosexuality for Black women, inspired by her own experiences. The stylistic LGBT must-see Pariah (2011) was the beginning of Rees creating a lane for more untold stories of lesbians in popular filmmaking. She continued female-forward storytelling with HBO’s Bessie (2011) and Mudbound (2017).

36.

Ossie Davis


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Ossie Davis is a household name in Black cinema known for starring alongside his equally talented wife, Ruby Dee, until his death. Many notable Black directors worked with Davis as an actor, revered amongst the community as an accomplished activist and pioneer. Like Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks, he directed several movies that moved the culture forward, including Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), Black Girl (1972), and Gordon’s War (1973).

35.

Tyler Perry


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Tyler Perry is much more than a tall man, sometimes in a gray wig and floral mumu. Beyond playing the titular character Madea in most of his films, Perry wrote and produced stage plays for years before developing his feature films and television series. Now, he is one of the highest-paid men in entertainment with a 330-acre studio, one of the largest film studios in the United States. His most notable films include the Madea feature film series (2005–2022), For Colored Girls (2010), and television shows House of Payne (2007–2012, 2020–present), Sistas (2019–present), and The Oval (2019–present).

34.

Carl Franklin


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Carl Franklin had a late start as a director, first getting into the acting business through theater, small films, and television. After returning to school in his late thirties, he went on to work with Roger Corman putting in the hours to become a notable crime thriller director. His best films include One False Move (1992), Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), and Out of Time (2003), both starring Academy Award winner Denzel Washington. 

33.

Bill Duke


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Bill Duke by name might not ring a bell, but everyone will remember him as that guy who played a soldier or a cop. As an actor, Duke has portrayed many characters in film and television, most notably no-nonsense law enforcement or the military. As a director, Duke is responsible for several television episodes, including Cagney & Lacey, Dallas, and Miami Vice. For feature films, he directed crime dramas A Rage in Harlem (1991), Deep Cover (1992), and one of the best Whoopi Goldberg comedies, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).

32.

Allen Hughes


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Allen Hughes is 1/2 of the sibling directing duo who made films about the Black experience at the height of ’90s Black cinema popularity. As a team, they focused on the actor’s experience and the technicality of filmmaking. Their first film together was Menace II Society (1993), which received great praise. Their following credits include Dead Presidents (1995), From Hell (2001), and The Book of Eli (2010). As a solo director, Allen’s credits include New York, I Love You (2008), Broken City (2013), and the documentary, The Defiant Ones (2017).

31.

Albert Hughes


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Albert Hughes is the other half of the brother duo team focused on the Black experience with a few suspenseful depatures. As a team, they focused on the actor’s experience and the technicality of filmmaking. His solo credits include Alpha (2018), and The Good Lord Bird (2020).

30.

Tim Story


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Timothy Story’s journey begins like many Black directors and then some. Not only was he a music video director, but he was also actually part of rapper Ice-T’s crew at one point. He sat at the helm for music videos for Jon. B, NSync, Jagged Edge, and India.Arie. His movies are quotable hits at the cookouts, including the original Barbershop (2002), Fantastic Four (2005), Think Like a Man (2012), Ride Along (2014), and the sequels for most of these movies.

29.

Reginald Hudlin


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Reginald Hudlin is a game-changer for Black filmmakers, setting folks up across the board with his brother, Warrington Hudlin. Today, he is known for many films and productions, earning him some of the highest accolades, including producing the NAACP Image Awards, Primetime Emmy, and the 88th Academy Awards ceremony. The producer of Django Unchained (2012) had a directorial debut with the hilarious cult comedy, House Party (1990), Boomerang (1992), Bébé’s Kids (1992), and The Ladies Man (2000).

28.

Paris Barclay


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Paris Barclay is a heavyweight in the field of directing for television. The Emmy Award-winning director remains booked and busy with a new episode of your mama’s favorite binge-worthy prime-time TV show. Before he stepped over to the small screen, he first directed Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996) for fellow Black director and producer, Keenen Ivory Wayans. To give you a taste of his TV credits, he’s directed episodes for, In Treatment, Sons of Anarchy, NYPD Blue, Cold Case, and Glee.

27.

Steve McQueen


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Sir Steve McQueen is a British filmmaker with the same name as that one actor who was like the Brad Pitt of the ’60s. This Steve isn’t an actor, but a master of the cinema known for the award-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013), a modern adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, after being kidnapped and sold into slavery. McQueen has a wide range, telling gritty stories in his other films, Hunger (2008), Shame (2011), Widows (2018), and the TV anthology series, Small Axe.

26.

Sidney Poitier


The Academy Awards @oscars / Via giphy.com

Sidney Poitier reset the game when he temporarily exposed the broken system of award shows becoming the first Black man to win an Academy Award in 1964, and the only one until Denzel Washington almost 40 years later. Poitier was a successful comedy director working with comedians Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975), Stir Crazy (1980), and Ghost Dad (1990).

25.

Malcolm D. Lee


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Malcolm D. Lee might not be as well-known to the general public as his cousin, Spike Lee, but his films have established an exceptional standard in comedy in the Black community. Households everywhere ring out with laughter reciting iconic lines and unforgettable moments from movies like The Best Man (1999), Undercover Brother (2002), Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (2008), and Girls Trip (2017). 

24.

Jordan Peele


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Jordan was a household actor who took the reigns of Dave Chapelle along with his frequent collaborator Keegan-Michael Key and gave us years of comedic gold through the Key & Peele sketch comedy series. He shocked most audiences when he came out of nowhere with his directorial debut, Get Out (2017), earning four Academy Award nominations. All his directed films are written and produced by him, including Us (2019) and Nope, released in the summer of 2022.

23.

Ryan Coogler


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Ryan Coolger is leading the charge of the newest generation of Black directors. As one of the youngest, he’s already on the radar of every prominent film critic and audience everywhere, beginning with his first feature-length film, Fruitvale Station (2013), starring Michael B. Jordan. He continued to work with Jordan in his following films Creed (2013) and Black Panther (2016), which became the highest-grossing films for a Black director.

22.

Ava DuVernay


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Ava DuVernay is the first Black woman nominated for a Golden Globe and Academy Award. As an award-winning filmmaker, DuVernay never shies away from reaching audiences with compelling stories that relate to the neglected stories of the Black community in a racist and unjust society throughout history. Her work spans film and television with Middle of Nowhere (2012), Selma (2014), the documentary feature film, 13th (2016), and When They See Us (2019).

21.

Barry Jenkins


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Barry Jenkins is part of the newest generation of directors establishing a lane for themselves in a profession dominated by people who don’t look like him. Jenkins is a master of staying true to his stories’ historical and realistic nature while adding elements designed for the culture not used in popular cinema. He started with Medicine for Melancholy (2008) and followed up with the Academy Award-winning Moonlight (2016), one of the first major motion pictures to depict the homosexuality of Black men. He directed If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) to more critical acclaim and praise a few years later.

20.

Kasi Lemmons


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Kasi Lemmons originally started as a character actor appearing in supporting roles in major films like The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Candyman (1992), and School Daze (1988). She stepped behind the camera for her directorial debut, Eve’s Bayou (1997), starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, and Jurnee Smollett. She made a few lesser-known films until stepping back into the limelight with the 2019 biographical film, Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo as the abolitionist and American hero, Harriet Tubman.

19.

Ice Cube


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Oshea Jackson, known as Ice Cube, is one of the most accomplished rappers in music history, but his work didn’t stop in the studio. In John Singleton’s directorial debut, Boyz n the Hood, getting in front of the camera opened doors for Jackson to crossover to film production. He continued acting and eventually dropped some of the most popular franchises, including Friday (1995), Barbershop (2002), and Are We There Yet? (2005). He technically only has one feature film directing credit to his name with The Player’s Club (1998), but his overall work is enough to earn him a shoutout.

18.

Mario Van Peebles


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Mario Van Peebles is a prime example of the apple not falling too far from the tree. Peebles followed in his father’s footsteps and became a successful actor, starring in films with his father since he was a little kid. Now, you can catch Mario Van Peebles popping up in TV shows and movies every other year. The directing credits include New Jack City (1991), Posse (1993), Panther (1995), and Baadasssss! (2003), and Armed (2018). 

17.

Antoine Fuqua


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Like many other great Black directors, Antoine Fuqua started directing music videos for artists like Toni Braxton, Prince, and Stevie Wonder. Fuqua’s talents in music video production crossed over into his film directing with high-octane action or thrilling stories of underdogs. His first feature films, The Replacement Killers (1998) and Bait (2000), starring Jamie Foxx, are lesser-known. 2001’s Training Day starring Denzel Washington in his Academy-award performance, put Fuqua on everyone’s radar. Following, he continued dropping hits like Tears of the Sun (2003), Shooter (2007), and 2014’s Equalizer and its sequel. 

16.

Marlon Riggs

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Twitter: @kmendoncafilho / Signifyin’ Works / Via Twitter: @kmendoncafilho

Marlon Riggs is a filmmaker and gay rights activist telling stories of the intersectionality of the Black experience and sexuality. During the height of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, Riggs challenged ridicule and ignorance to present positive images of Black culture and highlight the unfortunate taboo relationship of romance between Black men with his documentary filmmaking. Even today, the culture struggles to find a unified voice on topics involving the Black community and sexuality, as seen in response to artists like Megan Thee Stallion or Lil Nas X. His documentary work includes Ethnic Notions (1987), an examination of the struggles from the antebellum period to the Civil Rights movement, and Tongues Untied (1989), a portrait of the battle of Black gay men within the heterosexual and white gay society.

15.

Julie Dash


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Julie Dash is one of the many great Black filmmakers to study film at UCLA, along with directors like Haile Gerima and Charles Burnett, known as the LA Rebellion. Following several shorts, her feature film Daughters of the Dust (1991) was the first wide-released, full-length film directed by a Black woman. The movie told the stories of women in the southeastern Black community of the United States. She also directed movies for television, including The Rosa Parks Story (2002), Funny Valentines (1999), and the popular ’90s Tracy Chapman music video “Give Me One Reason” (1996).

14.

Gina Prince-Bythewood


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Gina Prince-Bythewood spent years as a writer on popular TV shows like A Different World and South Central before stepping into the directing game with her debut feature, Love & Basketball (2000), a Black love story using the game of Basketball as the backdrop for tumultuous love and reconciliation. She went on to create a few more films and continued to direct and write for television shows like Felicity, The Bernie Mac Show, and Girlfriends. Her films include The Secret Life of Bees (2008), The Old Guard (2020), and the upcoming movie starring Viola Davis as the general of the Dahomey Amazons, The Woman King (2022).

13.

Ernest Dickerson


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Ernest Dickerson is an accomplished cinematographer and frequent collaborator with director Spike Lee since their time as classmates at the Tisch School of the Arts. Lee’s films’ iconic dolly shots and cinematic style are a credit to Dickerson’s skill. Dickerson is known for his blend of action and horror films, including the Black ’90s masterpiece, Juice (1992), Demon Knight (1995), and many episodes of award-winning television like The Wire, Dexter, The Walking Dead, and Godfather of Harlem.

12.

Charles Burnett


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Charles Burnett is not as well-known as other Black directors in Hollywood, but his contribution to the art is nothing short of legendary. Getting his start as an amateur filmmaker with his UCLA classmates, he created feature films, documentaries, shorts, and TV movies, focusing on the emotional themes of the working class Black family and Black liberation. His most famous work includes Killer of Sheep (1978), To Sleep with Anger (1990), The Glass Shield (1994), and the made-for-TV Disney film Selma, Lord, Selma (1999), starring a young Jurnee Smollett.

11.

F. Gary Gray


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F. Gary Gray might not be a household name outside Black neighborhoods, but everyone is familiar with his work. He began as a notable music video director, including “Ms. Jackson” by Outkast, “Waterfalls” by TLC, and “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube. He would team up again with Ice Cube for his directorial debut Friday (1995), which set off decades of successful films like The Italian Job (2003), Law Abiding Citizen (2009), Straight Outta Compton (2015), and one of the highest-grossing films of all time, The Fate of the Furious (2017).

10.

Keenen Ivory Wayans


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Keenen Ivory Wayans is the second oldest of the 10 Wayans siblings (who, for the most part, all work in entertainment), including his brothers Damon, Shawn, and Marlon, his nephew, Damon Jr., and his sister Kim. He is a master of comedy creating In Living Color (1990–94) a variety show similar to Saturday Night Live for people of color. Along with his friend Robert Townsend, he co-wrote Hollywood Shuffle (1987), beginning a legacy of some of the most popular comedies and spoofs in film history, including I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), Scary Movie (2000), and Scary Movie 2 (2001). 

9.

Gordon Parks Jr.


Twitter: @tnpcollection / Everett Collection / Via Twitter: @tnpcollection

Gordon Parks Jr. is the son of celebrated director and photojournalist, Gordon Parks. Jr directed a few films before his untimely death including Superfly (1972), Three The Hard Way (1974), and Aaron Love Angela (1975).

8.

Robert Townsend


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Robert Townsend is an established comedian who produced, wrote, and directed the satirical comedy, Hollywood Shuffle, with fellow funnyman and colleague, Keenen Ivory Wayans. It’s hard to believe that Saturday Night Live could reject a multi-hyphenate of such talent, but that didn’t matter because he went on to direct the iconic stand-up special for the man who got the SNL spot, Eddie Murphy Raw (1987). A few other Townsend gems that are must-sees include The Five Heartbeats (1991), The Meteor Man (1993), B*A*P*S* (1997), and the ’90s TV sitcom, The Parent ‘Hood (1995–99).

7.

Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins’ (1942-1988) film LOSING GROUND (1982) was one of the first narrative feature films directed by a Black woman to be released in the U.S.

@jasminprix interviewed Collins’ daughter, Nina Lorez Collins, about preserving her mother’s legacy: https://t.co/PN1py8SqHN


Black Women Radicals / kathleencollins.org / Via Twitter: @blkwomenradical

Kathleen Collins was a brilliant writer, filmmaker, educator, and civil rights activist who fought for Black voting rights. She authored many types of creative work, including screenplays, poetry, and stage plays, many of which found notoriety after she died from breast cancer in 1988. Collins’s work paved the way for the Black women directors of today. Her features The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy (1980) and Losing Ground (1982) will go down in film history as a stepping stone for the culture and women’s cinema.

6.

John Singleton


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John Singleton is a Los Angeles native director who adapted his own experiences as a Black man to tell a story of a community once ignored by popular cinema. At 25 years old, his first directorial debut with Boyz n the Hood (1991) earned him an Academy Award nomination making him the youngest and first Black person to be nominated. The late John Singleton’s legacy includes the films Poetic Justice (1993), Rosewood (1997), Baby Boy (2001), and the iconic 1992 Michael Jackson music video, “Remember the Time.”

5.

William Greaves


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Williams Greaves is a documentary filmmaker that once studied with the greats like Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, and Julie Harris. He wasn’t here to be put in a box, like most Black actors, and used his creative talents as a way to tell the stories of the Civil Rights movement and the Black community. Through his work, like Emmy-award winning Black Journal, he went from hosting to producing shows for the Black community by the Black community. His avant-garde, non-fiction work set the tone for many to follow with titles such as Wealth of a Nation (1964), Ali, the Fighter (1975), and Frederick Douglass: An American Life (1985).

4.

Melvin Van Peebles


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Melvin Van Peebles could be considered one of the godfathers of Black cinema. He was in the game for over 60 years until his death in 2021. When it was a struggle for a Black director to be taken seriously, Peebles brought attention to the blaxploitation genre. He mastered the adaptation of literature and theater into a film. His decades of work include The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1967), Watermelon Man (1970), Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), and Lilly Done the Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail (2012).

3.

Oscar Micheaux


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Oscar Micheaux is one of the first prominent Black filmmakers in cinematic history. Micheaux is the son of a Kentucky enslaved person, with his film work dating back to the silent film era. In a time critical to exist as a Black man, Micheaux wrote a series of novels speaking of his oppressive experiences in America. His groundbreaking work would become adapted into a film and tell stories of the Black experience commonly ignored or mocked in cinema at this time. His movies like Within Our Gates (1920), Body and Soul (1925), and The House Behind the Cedars (1927) created “controversy” in a time when the existence of Black people in America was at its worst and broke barriers allowing Black creatives to tell the truthful stories of today.

2.

Spike Lee


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Spike Lee is one of the most prolific American directors who pulled no punches when discussing racism, crime, poverty, and colorism in the Black community. His stylistic filmmaking and culturally significant “Spike Lee Joints” became top-rated films in cinematic history. Through his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, he has produced critically acclaimed films, including Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Inside Man (2006), BlacKkKlansman (2018), and Da 5 Bloods (2020).

1.

Gordon Parks


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Gordon Parks Sr. is a revered United States documentary photojournalist with a catalog of the most compelling photographs depicting Black life throughout the 1940s -1970s. Once Parks entered the game of motion pictures, it was over for the mediocre. As one of the first Black producers of motion pictures, he established what would be known as the “blaxploitation” genre. As a director, he is known for Shaft (1971), starring Richard Roundtree. 




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