6 legendary Black filmmakers to check out during Black History Month

Emily Short

From the Hughes brothers to Ava DuVernay, many Black filmmakers have shared the lives of Black people on the big screen. In celebration of Black History Month, here is a list of popular black filmmakers.

“12 Years of Slave” won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014. (IMDB)

Steve Rodney McQueen is a British director and screenwriter who is best known for films such as “Hunger,” “Shame,” and “12 Years of Slave.”

McQueen studied art in London at Chelsea College of Art and Design and Goldsmiths College. He then went to study at Tisch School of the Arts in New York City but found himself unhappy. Some of his earlier short films included a black and white silent film called “Bear,” in which two naked men fight, and “Exodus,” a film that follows two men carrying a potted palm tree through the crowded streets of London.

McQueen continued to make films, but after some time, he started to get bored. In 2003, he was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and the Manchester International Festival to create a film that honored the British Armed Forces in Iraq. He produced “Queen and Country,” which showed an oak cabinet with pull-outs containing a series of 160 postage stamps, with each sheet block commemorating one soldier.

In 2011, he had released his film “Shame,” which tells the story of a man’s sex addiction. In 2013, McQueen had his third film released called “12 Years of Slave.” The film tells the story of a man named Soloman Northup, a free African American, who was kidnaped and sold to slavery. It won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014. 

“Do the Right Thing” won Lee the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Film that same year. (IMDB)

Spike Lee is an American filmmaker known for his approach to controversial subject matters. 

Lee majored in communications at Atlanta’s Morehouse College where he met his future co-producer, Monty Ross. In 1978, Lee went to New York University’s Graduate Film School where he met another man he would work with, Ernest Dickerson. He gained national attention from his master’s thesis, which earned him the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science award. 

In 1989, he released his film “Do the Right Thing,” inspired by the story of a black man in Queens, New York, who was chased and killed by young white people. This won him the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Film that same year. His next most popular film was “Malcolm X,” a tribute to a controversial Black activist who was a leader in the civil rights movement and a supporter of black nationalism. He won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture. Most of his work deals with head-on issues of race and racism in the United States.

“Stranger Inside” won Dunye an Independent Spirit Producers Award. (IMDB)

Cheryl Dunye is a Liberian-American film director, producer, screenwriter, editor and actress.   Dunye first attended Michigan State University and was in the political theory program due to her desire to make a change and have an impact on the world. She then realized she could use the media as a tool for her political activism, so she ended up going to a filmmaking program at Temple University.  

She began her career with six short films that had been collected onto one DVD titled “The Early Works of  Cheryl Dunye.” Most of the films feature the use of mixed media and explore the issues relating to Dunye’s experience as a black lesbian filmmaker. One of those films was “Janine,” an experimental documentary about a black teenage lesbian’s relationship with a white, upper-class girl. In 2001, Dunye had an HBO television movie produced called “Stranger Inside,” based on the experiences of black lesbians in prison. This film won her an Independent Spirit Producers Award. 

The Hughes brothers came out with their first film “Menace II Society” in 1993 and was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. (IMDB)

Albert and Allen Hughes, better known as the Hughes brothers, are American film directors and producers that are known for their visceral, and often violent movies. 

They dropped out of high school when they were 18 and started to work on music videos for artists like Tone Loc and Tupac Shakur. They then came out with their first film “Menace II Society” in 1993 and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The story is about a young black man named Caine Lawson who wants to change his life after being affiliated with gang activities. It became a box office success and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature. 

Though they often work together, they have their films and shows they’ve worked on. Allen has worked on a few episodes of the American version of “Touching Evil” as well as “Knights of the South Bronx” in 2005. Albert had directed his first solo film called “Alpha” in 2018 and had some shows announced but no further updates on them have been revealed. 

“13” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars in 2016. (IMDB)

Ava Marie DuVernay is an American filmmaker who is known for being the first Black woman to win a directing award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. 

Despite the amount of attention DuVernay received in the film and television industry, she didn’t start her career until she was around 32. She was first interested in journalism, which was influenced by an internship she worked at CBS. She then decided to move to public relations and worked at 20th Century Fox, Savoy Pictures and a few other agencies. In 1999, she opened her public relations firm, “The DuVernay Agency.” Her agency provided marketing and PR services for the entertainment and lifestyle industries. 

In 2016, DuVernay released her documentary “13,” a film that shows the racial inequalities in the U.S. prison system. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary  Feature at the Oscars that same year. In 2018, she worked on a Disney film called “A Wrinkle In Time.” The story is about a young girl who travels through time and space. 

These creators have not only made some of the most popular movies that people still talk about to this day, but they have also shown that almost anyone can make their dreams become a reality with enough work and belief.