Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

5 Black Directors Who Changed the Course of Moviemaking

Jul 18, 2021 03:00PM ● By Anand Subramanian

There was a period when White filmmakers reigned Hollywood, and every Black perspective was either marginalized or entirely disregarded. As time passed, many Black filmmakers saw prejudice as a challenge and paved the gateway for numerous African American filmmakers to provide a visual message to a culturally ignorant society. Despite financial and systemic obstacles, Black filmmakers have created tales that are bold, creative, impactful, and necessary for our quickly changing culture. Now, Black filmmakers are making advances where their White counterparts have stalled, presenting a diverse range of viewpoints and experiences that are rarely acknowledged by major, American production firms. In this article, we will be celebrating 5 Black filmmakers who changed the course of moviemaking with their unique and daring visuals.

William Greaves 

William Greaves had a five-decade filmmaking career before his death in 2014, and he was in the vanguard of Black independent directors in the United States. His artistic resume includes several short and feature movies about the Civil Rights Movement and Black American life, but he is most known for his most daring and unique film, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, which was finished in 1971 but not shown to the public until 1991. It was about a couple who were going through a sexual and love crisis, which included the endeavor to produce the film. Its frame-breaking methods and frame multiplication reflexivity reveal William's foresight and an intimate film that feels larger than life. Greaves' storytelling was far ahead of his and our times, with a balance of modernity and emotional wrath, as well as a mix of self implication and self-revelation. 

Figure 1 - Portrait of William Greaves. Source - Google 

Julie Dash 

Julie Dash is best known as the director of the iconic and influential film, Daughters of the Dust, which was released in 1991, breaking the fixed line of cinema history. It was the first picture directed by a Black woman to be released in theatres in the United States. Her film depicted a day in the lives of the Gullah - Geechee people off the coast of South Carolina, by alternating between timelines of the past, present, and future. Julie is also recognized as a key figure in the L.A rebellion, a Black anti-Hollywood movement that flourished at UCLA Film School between the 1960s and the 1980s. Her battle to broaden the route for Black filmmakers continues, despite repeated rejections from Hollywood execs. Such criticism did not deter her from directing TV movies such as Funny Valentines, Incognito, Love Song, and The Rosa Parks Story. She is now working on her second feature film, an Angela Davis biography, while continuing to advocate for Black filmmakers. 

 Figure 2 - Portrait of Julie Dash. Source - Google

Spike Lee 

Spike Lee is one of the industry's most prominent filmmakers, whose work has addressed social and political themes such as race relations, colorism in the Black community, poverty, and crime. His ability to bounce from one genre to the next, as well as his desire to tackle controversial and explosive subjects, makes films like BlackKkKlansman, Da 5 Bloods, 25th Hour, Inside Man, 4 Little Girls, and many more stand out and voice the urgency in our society. Lee ensures that his characters are humanized, but not softened, by extending a wide empathy to all of his characters, even racists, while probing their blindness and jabbing at their raw places. No other living director has continuously investigated the difficult issues we confront, which is why Spike Lee is so important.

Figure 3 - Portrait of Spike Lee. Source - Google

Dee Rees

Rees has transitioned from independent films to blockbusters with the kind of success that only a few filmmakers have achieved, and the kind of success that will outlive her lifetime. With her magnificent semi-autobiographical debut picture Pariah, she is responsible for revolutionizing the moviemaking business in terms of LGBTQ+  filmmaking. The film garnered her over a dozen accolades, including the N.A.A.C.P Image for Outstanding Motion Picture, which led to Hollywood taking a step forward when it came to Black, queer stories. Mudbound in 2017 cemented her reputation as a significant director, earning her an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. Rees became the first Black woman to be nominated in the category. Returning to her Pariah roots, Rees is currently working on several ambitious projects, including an unnamed graphic novel, the queer musical fantasy The Kyd's Exquisite Follies, and a new version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess that is more rooted in the lived experience of a different period.  

 Figure 4 - Portrait of Dee Rees. Source - Google

Barry Jenkins

We are immediately taken to his Oscar-winning grand masterpiece, Moonlight, as we hear Barry Jenkins's name. He is well-known for his visually compelling stories that reflect his personal experiences as a racial minority in the United States. Jenkins' commitment to detail and authenticity aids in bringing the Black experiences to life and allowing the spectator to have a deeper understanding of their plight. This dedication is demonstrated by his distinct camera technique and innovative method of placing the audience in the shoes of the protagonist, which generates a sense of connection and leaves a lasting impression on the audience. Jenkins continues to assist in the diversification of Hollywood by portraying the tales of minorities.

Figure 5  - Portrait of Barry Jenkins. Source - Google


 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

5 Historic African American Fashion Photographers You Should Know

5 Historic African American Fashion Photographers You Should Know

Let us honor five historic Black fashion photographers whose work defined Black fashion aesthetics and culture, while also giving voice to oppression. Read More » 

Top 5 Black Contemporary Artists Who Are Making a Cultural Difference

Every form of art has established rules and borders around its genres in the creative spectrum, but contemporary artists have shattered those borders and redefined the meaning of art. Read More » 

Figure 1 - Shark in Natural Habitat Source - Google

Shark Awareness Day - Some Fantastic Facts About Sharks

On Shark Awareness Day, let’s reflect on some of the facts about these magnificent creatures, the consequences of overfishing, and the works of some Black marine biologists. Read More »