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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Black Filmmakers & Film Artists

Not too long ago one of my students expressed gratitude for having seen Lilies of the Field in class. She wanted to know more about Black filmmakers/artists and their films, so I created for her what you might call an introductory list of “Must Sees” that would give her a good base from which to start.

Let’s face it, Hollywood (like most of corporate America) is a decidedly white, male dominated industry. Although we can see on the screen whether or not a film’s cast is representing the wide range of cultures in our world, we are not always aware of the diversity behind the scenes. After all, whatever a filmmaker’s makeup, be it your ethnicity, gender, age or what have you does not dictate an exclusive field of topic for their films (for example, black filmmakers don’t necessarily make films strictly about or aimed at the black community). Yes, F. Gary Gray made Straight Out Of Compton but he also made The Italian Job. And the same white man (Martin Ritt) who made Hud directed Sounder, the first film to have its African-American leading lady nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress (it was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Screenplay).

So, what’s a young film student to do when they want to discover films made by black filmmakers? Well, if they’re smart they ask their classic-film-loving professor. And that’s exactly what the incredibly bright, Aysia did. She asked me. Now, if you’re my age you automatically think of Spike Lee whenever you hear the words, “Black Filmmaker”. Depending on your own age you might think of Ava DuVernay (Selma) on one side of the timeline or Gordon Parks (Shaft) on the other. Regardless, there’s a lot of great films by great black artists out there to keep anyone hooked for a while to whatever screen they maybe using. Of course, I encourage everyone to see films in a theater whenever possible, but that might be a little old school for today’s audiences.

The names below can be googled or looked up on (the Internet Movie Data Base) to see their full resumes. Just know that each and every one has created some of cinema’s most impressive work. Many of the films are considered timeless, others significant, and of course all of them are entertaining. Some of the names will be familiar to any movie fan, and the less recognizable or unknown will come as great discoveries. I created the following list in a stream of consciousness off the top of my head, so I couldn’t help but include many actors as well. I almost began to cull their names from the list when I remembered that many on screen artists have also become behind the scene forces, directing and producing their own projects. So, the list remains intact. I’m sure I’ve inadvertently left someone off the list. No doubt, you’ll come across many other new names to add once you’ve delved into this one. After all, talented people tend to work with other great talents. So in a way, I’ve handed you a list that will go on, and on, and on.

Sidney Poitier (actor/dir)

Malcolm D. Lee (dir)

Melvin Van Peebles (dir)

Oscar Micheaux (dir)

John Singleton (dir)

Ernest Dickerson (dir/dp)

Forest Whitaker (actor/dir)

Tyler Perry (dir)

Ice Cube (actor/dir)

Julie Dash (dir)

Gordon Parks Jr. (dir)

F Gary Gray (dir)

Kasi Lemmons (dir)

Bill Duke (actor/dir)

Spike Lee (dir)

Charles Burnett (dir)

Robert Townsend (dir)

Ryan Coogler (dir)

Antoine Fuque (dir)

Reginald Hudlin (dir)

Tim Story (dir)

Mario Van Peebles (dir)

Angela Robinson (dir)

Gina Prince-Bythewood (dir)

Steve McQueen (dir)

Michael Schultz (dir)

Carl Franklin (dir)

Scatman Crothers (actor)

Whoopi Goldberg (actor)

Richard Roundtree (actor)

Ernie Hudson (actor)

Paul Robeson (actor)

Ben Vereen (actor)

Angela Bassett (actor)

Hattie McDaniel (actor)

Yaphet Kotto (actor)

Delroy Lindo (actor)

Juanita Moore (actor)

Laurence Fishburn (actor)

Cuba Gooding Jr. (actor)

Louis Armstrong (musician)

Lena Horne (actor)

Giancarlo Esposito (actor)

Wesley Snipes (actor)

Dorothy Dandridge (actor)

Martin Lawrence (actor)

Harry Belafonte (actor)

Eddie Murphy (actor)

Pearl Baily (actor)

Gregory Hines (actor)

Brock Peters (actor)

James Earl Jones (actor)

James Edwards (actor)

Diahane Carroll (actor)

Jim Brown (actor)

Bea Richards (actor)

Andre Braugher (actor)

Woody Strode (actor)

Garrett Morris (actor)

Isaac Hayes (composer)

LeVar Burton (actor)

Alfre Woodard (actor)

Ossie Davis (actor)

Sammy Davis Jr. (actor)

Louis Gossett Jr. (actor)

Esther Rolle (actor)

Denzel Washington (actor)

Robert Guillaume (actor)

Will Smith (actor)

The Wayan Brothers (actors/directors)

Ruby Dee (actor)

Billy Dee Williams (actor)

Halle Barry (actor)

Samuel L. Jackson (actor)

Morgan Freeman (actor)

Matthew 'Stymie' Beard

Willie Best (actor)

Bill Robinson (actor)

Carl Weathers (actor)

Cab Calloway (musician)

CCH Pounder (actor)

Roscoe Lee Brown (actor)

Nicholas Brothers (dancers)

Jaime Foxx (actor)

Paul Winfield (actor)

Dooley Wilson (actor)

Kerry Washington (actor)

Pam Grier (actor)

Ethel Waters (actor)

Danny Glover (actor)

Cecily Tyson (actor)

Eddie Robinson (actor)

Richard Pryor (actor)

Canada Lee (actor)

Jennifer Hudson (actor)

Rex Ingram (actor)

Cleavon Little (actor)

Butterfly McQueen (actor)

Oprah Winfrey (actor)

Juano Hernandez (actor)

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