Black Women in Film History

As Black History Month 2021 comes to a close, we thought we’d share just some of the films directed by Black women that have made an indelible impact on the cinema landscape. Share these dozen films with your friends using our Instagram Stories bingo card, and spread the word of some must-see movies that ought to be considered among the important titles of modern film history.

  • Sugar Cane Alley (1983) – This French film from Euzhan Palcy portrays the plight of sugarcane field workers in Martinique in the 1930s, and won numerous awards at film festivals throughout the world.
  • Daughters of the Dust (1991) – Julie Dash’s film was the first feature directed by an African-American woman to have theatrical distribution in the United States, telling the story of three generations of Gullah woman. Available on Kanopy.
  • The Watermelon Woman (1996) – This landmark film in New Queer Cinema examines film history itself, and how Black women have often been left out of the narrative. The film is now part of the Museum of Modern Art’s film collection. Available on Showtime. Watch WIF’s Speaker Series interview with filmmaker Cheryl Dunye.
  • Eve’s Bayou (1997) – Kasi Lemmons’ directorial debut has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Available on Hulu and Prime.
  • Love & Basketball (2000) – Two decades before kicking ass with The Old GuardGina Prince-Bythewood gave us a coming of age romance for the generations. Available on Hulu and HBO Max.
  • Pariah (2011) – This gorgeous, sensitive film from Dee Rees explores the life of a teenage poet coming into her own as a lesbian. Available to rent.
  • Middle of Nowhere (2012) – Ava DuVernay’s tale of a woman’s life while grappling with her husband’s incarceration told a story rarely shown on screen. Pair it with last year’s documentary Time from filmmaker Garrett Bradley. Available on Netflix.
  • Rafiki (2018) – This Kenyan film from Wanuri Kahiu is entitled with the Swahili word for “friend,” telling the complicated love story between two young women against a backdrop where homosexuality is illegal. Available on Showtime.
  • Homecoming (2019) – The concert film documenting Beyoncé’s groundbreaking Coachella performance serves as a paean to elements of Black American culture including the grandeur of the HBCU experience and a breathtaking performance of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Available on Netflix.
  • Jezebel (2019) – The feature film debut of Numa Perrier, this film is an adaptation of her own experiences working as a camgirl in the late ‘90s. Available on Netflix.
  • Miss Juneteenth (2020) – This understated and loving film centers a mother at odds with her expectations for herself and her teenage daughter. The film is available to rent.

In addition to revisiting these classics and current favorites, we’re excited to see what’s to come next from Black women filmmakers, including Nia DaCosta‘s Candyman and Captain Marvel II, Chinonye Chukwu‘s Till, and Liesl Tommy‘s Born a Crime.

We also encourage you to check out the work of film scholars and preservationists like Jacqueline Bobo and Pearl Bowser, whose work illuminates the often forgotten genius of Black female creatives in the early 20th Century.