Study up on classic films from these five Black directors for Black History Month

By Michelle Henry

Elm Staff Writer

Opportunities to direct in mainstream media do not come easily. To shine through the milieu of creatives aiming for success, it is imperative for aspiring directors to have ample talent, a specific voice, and a clear cut vision.

In celebration of Black History Month, we highlighted several exemplary Black directors in the film industry, providing an avenue to discover new stories by Black voices. Some directors listed are not as well-known as others, but each presents their own nuanced voice, stories, and style.

Lee Daniels

Lee Daniels’ films are known for their authentic voice and openness in presenting in-depth character studies.

He directed multiple films, including the Academy Award winning film “Precious.” Released in 2009, the film was adapted from the New York Times-bestselling novel “Push” by Sapphire. Daniels was the first Black man to be nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for the film.

In 2021, Daniels directed “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which won a Golden Globe for best actress in a motion picture — drama.

Ava Duvernay

Ava Duvernay is well known for being the first Black woman to direct a film costing over $100 million with her 2018 film adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Duvernay’s feature film debut, a 2008 documentary titled “This is the Life,” focused on the history of the hip hop movement in Los Angeles. Since then, she went on to direct numerous acclaimed films, including “Middle of Nowhere,” “Selma,” and “13th.”

The filmmaker also directed the Netflix series “When They See Us” in 2019, which details the legal turmoil of the Central Park Five, a group of young Black men falsely accused of sexual assault. The show was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, winning the awards for outstanding lead actor in a limited series and outstanding casting for a limited series.

Regina King

Many television and film viewers recognize director Regina King from her roles in “Watchmen,” “Friday,” and “Poetic Justice,” but her crowning glory, as far as her directorial work goes, was released in 2020.

“One Night in Miami” showcases a historical sporting event that took place in 1964: the battle between heavy-weight boxers Muhammed Ali and Sonny Liston. Historical figures like Malcolm X are humanized past just their careers, allowing the movie to emerge as much more than a sports biopic.

According to Collider, King is set to co-direct a film adaption of Tom Wolfe’s novel “A Man in Full” alongside David E. Kelley. While a release date is not yet known, the limited series will be released on Netflix.

Spike Lee

One of the most eminent Black directors, Spike Lee, moved to Brooklyn, New York as a child, which provided him with experiences that would later inspire his work.

Now, Lee has a filmmaking legacy that goes back decades, incl

Lee continues to document a wide range of subjects of interest, highlighting and exploring the breadth of the modern Black experience. One of Lee’s most recent films, 2016’s “BlacKkKlansman,” won him an Academy Award for outstanding directing.

Kasi Lemmons

Kasi Lemmons has a wide range, directing acclaimed romance, horror, and comedy films.

She is best known for directing “Eve’s Bayou.” Released in 1997, the film is a tale of a Creole community and karma, exploring the dark aspects of a seemingly affluent Black family in 1960s Louisiana.

Set during the social and political unrest of 1960s Washington D.C., Lemmons’s “Talk to Me,” released in 2007, follows the story of controversial deejay Petey Greene. The film’s cast is composed of the most prominent Black actors, including Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Taraji P. Henson.

While these directors are all outstanding in their own rights, there is a plethora of Black directors to discover. We encourage you to make your own list, reaching beyond what you know to find new favorites.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo caption: Celebrated director Ava Duvernay won an Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2017 for “13th,” which details the American prison industrial complex.

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