It's Friday, which means it's time for a FANGRRLS favorite: Female Filmmaker Friday.
Today we're sharing 10 Black women filmmakers for you to follow.
Dee Rees is an award-winning writer and director whose 2017 film Mudbound was the highest-selling option at Sundance in that year. She’s worked in both TV and film, from her much-beloved semi-autobiographical debut Pariah to her episodes of Electric Sheep and Space Force. Rees consistently brings a level of authenticity to her work that audiences respond to. Currently, Rees is working on a futuristic opera for the big screen titled “Kyd’s Exquisite Follies” and it’s definitely on our watch-list.
In 2018, in her breakout film, Little Woods, Nia DaCosta directed FANGRRLS favorite Tessa Thompson to much acclaim. Not long after Little Woods won the Nora Ephron Award for excellence in storytelling by a female director/writer, DaCosta was hired by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions to lead the sequel to one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, Candyman. DaCosta will not only be directing the Candyman follow-up but also co-writing the script as well. In a genre that could really use a new point of view, we’re excited to see what DaCosta comes up with.
Ava DuVernay is a name. She has created films in genres from documentary to historical to science fiction and fantasy, and she has created them with inclusive casting and production. Whether it’s 13th, her documentary on how the Black community went from being enslaved to being subject to mass incarceration, or A Wrinkle in Time, her adaptation of a beloved children’s book, DuVernay brings a necessary perspective. In addition to her work as a film and TV director and producer, DuVernay has been instrumental in actively increasing the presence of Black women and other marginalized creators both in front of and behind the camera through her company Array, whose “work is dedicated to the amplification of independent films by people of color and women filmmakers globally.”
The first black woman to win the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Chukwu wrote and directed the 2019 film Clemency, which gave Alfre Woodard one of her most acclaimed—and underrated—performances. Next up is A Taste of Power, based on the memoir of former Black Panther chairwoman Elaine Brown. Even beyond the greatness she brings to the screen, Chukwu brings it to the people. She volunteered on the media campaign for Tyra Patterson, who served 20 years for a crime she maintains she did not commit and was ultimately released in 2017, and started a program at a women’s prison teaching incarcerated women to make their own short films.
Liesl Tommy has primarily been known as a stage director, staging racially diverse productions of classically white shows like Hamlet and Les Miserables, and earned a Tony for Outstanding Director in 2016 for Eclipsed starring Lupita Nyong'o and written by Danai Gurira. Now she’s making her mark bringing Black stories to the screen, directing the Aretha Franklin biography Respect and Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime (which will reunite her with Nyong’o). As Tommy told Refinery29, “I don't know why we have to filter stories through the same gaze that we have been for decades.” With women like Tommy running the show, we don’t have to.
Unfortunately, it’s 2020 and there are so many barriers that still need to be broken for Black women in filmmaking. Just last year, Mati Diop made history as the first Black female director to have her film premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in France. There, her feature film debut Atlantique, won the Grand Prix in a year when only four films by women were even accepted into the festival. And to think, this was only her feature film debut. We can’t wait to see what will hopefully be a long and successful career from the talented Mati Diop.
Victoria Mahoney made history last year as she became the first woman — and thus first Black woman — to direct a Star Wars movie. Mahoney is an industry veteran who has long worked with incredible women directors like Patti Jenkins and Ava Duvernay; in fact, it was DuVernay who recommended Mahoney for her Star Wars gig. Up next for Mahoney is directing an adaptation of the graphic novel Kill Them All, and we can’t wait to see it.
Gina Prince-Bythewood began her career in television but is best known for her first film Love & Basketball (2000). Since then, she’s made such films as The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014) starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. All of the key crew members on Beyond the Lights were women. Next up, she is set to produce a TV show based on Marvel Comics characters Silver Sable and Black Cat. Prince-Bythewood continues to not only tell stories that need to be heard but also support those who need to tell them.
From her very first film Eve’s Bayou to her most recent work Harriet, which tells the story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Kasi Lemmons has dedicated her career to telling Black stories beginning with Eve’s Bayou, which was inducted into the National Film Registry and is considered to be an important piece of Black American cinema. More recently, Harriet won her awards from both the Black Film Critics Circle and at the Women Film Critics Circle Awards in addition to an Oscar nomination for lead actress Cynthia Erivo. Lemmons also works as a mentor for the next generation of filmmakers through several independent filmmaking labs and giving talks at film schools across the country.
Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan filmmaker and co-founder of AFROBUBBLEGUM, “a media company that supports, creates and commissions fun, fierce and frivolous African art.” Kahiu’s first feature film debuted in 2008 and won five awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. From political films to post-apocalyptic to documentaries to queer stories and children’s books, Kahiu appears to be able to do it all. In 2018, her film Rafiki was the first Kenyan film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. However, the film cannot even be screened in Kenya because the themes are considered controversial. In 2019, Kahiu appeared on the TIME 100 Next List and was named to Queerty’s Pride50 list for “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people." Whatever she puts her mind to, she can accomplish — and we will be there to watch.