10 Female-Directed Films to Watch for Black History Month – Marilyn Ferdinand reports

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It is cause for celebration that in the last decade or so, several black female directors have broken through to make their indelible mark on film culture. Ava DuVernay, Amma Asante, and Dee Rees are among those who represent a new generation of film directors who have helped to broaden our cultural landscape to reflect the perspectives of women and people of color. Yet, these film industry movers and shakers were not the first black women to work behind the camera to bring their unique stories and points of view to the screen, delving into timely and widely varied topics such as racial injustice in South Africa, the Black Panther Party, love and art among the black intelligentsia, and life in the black deaf community.

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists is proud to highlight the contributions of 10 outstanding black women directors — some quite familiar, others less so — whose accomplishments and distinctive voices deserve a much wider audience. We hope you will enjoy discovering the engaging, thought-provoking, and surprising films conceived and created by these truly exceptional women.

All of these films are currently available on DVD or on demand, and we’ve included the sources. Here’s the list:

I Am Somebody   (1970)
Madeline Anderson (dir.)
A short documentary about a 1969 strike by hundreds of mostly female workers against a hospital in Charleston, S.C.
Available on DVD from Icarus Films
Losing Ground   (1982)
Kathleen Collins (dir.)
The creativity and personal struggles of an African-American professor and her artist husband.
Available on DVD from Milestone Films
Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.   (1992)
Leslie Harris (dir.)
A hip, articulate, black high-school girl in Brooklyn, dreams of medical school, a family, and an escape from the generational poverty and street-corner life her friends seem to have accepted as their lot.
Streaming on Amazon Prime
A Dry White Season   (1989)
Euzhan Palcy
A look at racial injustice in South Africa through the eyes of a white schoolteacher who awakens to the brutality of his society.
Available on DVD from The Criterion Collection
Daughters of the Dust   (1991)
Julie Dash (dir.)
Set in 1902, it tells the story of three generations of Gullah (also known as Geechee) women in the Peazant family on Saint Helena Island as they prepare to migrate to the North on the mainland.
Available on DVD from the Cohen Film Collection and streaming on Amazon Prime
Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100   (1999)
Yvonne Welbon (dir.)
Documentary with narrative recreations about the life and times of Ruth Ellis, the oldest “out” African-American lesbian.
Available on DVD from Sisters in Cinema
Compensation   (1999)
Zeinabu irene Davis (dir.)
The life of a deaf African-American woman in the early 1900s parallels with another living in the 1990s.
Library rental on WorldCat
Talk to Me  (2007)
Kasi Lemmons (dir.)
Biopic of Washington, D.C. radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene, an ex-con who became a popular talk show host and community activist, and Dewey Hughes, his friend and manager.
Available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime
Night Catches Us   (2010)
Tanya Hamilton (dir.)
In 1976, complex political and emotional forces are set in motion when a young man returns to the race-torn Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement.
Available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime
Beyond the Lights   (2014)
Gina Prince-Bythewood (dir.)
The rise of a black British singer and her struggles with fame and love.
Available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime

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Marilyn Ferdinand (Archived Contributor)

Marilyn Ferdinand is the founder of the review and commentary site Ferdy on Films (2005-2018) and the fundraising Love of Films: The Film Preservation Blogathon. She currently writes for Cine-File and has written on film and film preservation for Humanities magazine, Fandor, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. She lives in the Chicago area.