Awards season is over, but there remain scores of filmmakers who are doing important work.
These seven black directors are charting courses for themselves and others as they tell the sometimes sorrowful, sometimes comical stories about life in its varied forms.
Here’s a look at a group of black women who are changing and challenging cultural narratives through their art.
“Jean of the Joneses,” “The Photograph”
After Stella Meghie wrote “Jean of the Joneses,” she realized that she was the best person to direct it. So she did what any committed screenwriter does — she studied directing for a month and helmed the project herself. “Jean of the Joneses” premiered at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival to critical reviews. It’s a quirky, dark-hued comedy about a disheveled writer who tries to rebuild her life after the death of her estranged grandfather and the end of a longtime romantic relationship. The unsanitized tale about her Jamaican American family’s attempt to address the secrets and lies that would otherwise tear them apart is as refreshing as it is relatable. The film launched Meghie’s career, which includes directing “The Photograph,” starring Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield.
Filmmaker Nuotama Bodomo was born in Accra, Ghana, and studied film production at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her 2014 afrofuturist short, “Afronauts,” imagines a world where 17-year-old astronaut Matha Mwamba trains with the Zambia Space Academy in July of 1969 to beat Neil Armstrong to the moon. The film shows a young Matha undergoing buoyancy and weightlessness training — executed by a group of Zambian exiles — in anticipation of her trip aboard the Bantu-7 Rocket. The 14-minute experimental short garnered Bodomo a nomination for the Short Film grand jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Since its debut, she has written and directed for HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness” and is working on the feature film version of “Afronauts.”
The short film “Solace,” written, directed, and produced by Tchaiko Omawale, captures the filmmaker’s own struggles with eating disorders. The film’s opening scene reveals a young woman named Sole gorging on junk food and later regretting it. This is her ritual, as is comparing her body to that of the thinner, fitter dancer who lives across from her. The film’s progression eventually reveals that the “perfect” dancer fights her own legion of destructive demons. “Solace” is one of the numerous short films and video projects Omawale has directed, including the My Black is Beautiful campaign sponsored by P&G. “Solace,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, is being turned into a feature film.
Spanish Town, Jamaica
“Night Catches Us”
The Jamaican-born, Maryland-raised Tanya Hamilton captivated audiences with her 2010 film, “Night Catches Us.” Nominated for the Sundance Film Festival grand jury prize and named best screenplay by the African American Film Critics Association, the movie shows life in a Philadelphia neighborhood in 1976 as residents cope with the aftermath of the imprisonment and murders of Black Panther Party leaders. Starring Kerry Washington and Antony Mackie, the story illustrates what happens when ghosts from the past invade the present. “Night Catches Us” ignited Hamilton’s directing career, which now includes directing credits on O.W.N.'s “Queen Sugar” and Showtime’s “The Chi.”
Imagine walking into an art gallery and quizzically staring at a piece, trying to decode its meaning. As you struggle to unpack the deeper message, your friend approaches and asks what you think of his art. In the comedic short, “Masterpiece,” the London-based writer and director Runyararo Mapfumo shows four London teenagers struggle to understand their friend’s master’s thesis project. “Girls In Film” wrote that the short is “black boy magic that we don’t often see on the screens.” “Masterpiece” was an official selection at the London Comedy Film Festival (2019), among numerous other festivals, and was the first comedy project for Mapfumo. After she released “Masterpiece,” she debuted “Sensational Simmy!,” which released on BBC Arts.
Fort Worth, Texas
June 19, 1865 marked the first Juneteenth celebration in the state of Texas, when enslaved workers learned that they were free — two years after the rest of the country heard the news. Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, the feature film “Miss Juneteenth” documents the economic freedom the black residents of a Fort Worth, Texas, community seek. The film centers on Turquoise, a former Miss Juneteenth pageant winner whose lackluster job and mounting financial debts fail to live up to the glory of her pageant days. Now a single mom, she’s determined to transform her daughter into the next Miss Juneteenth and nab the college scholarship and ensuing success she thinks it promises. “Miss Juneteenth” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is the directorial debut for the USC School of Cinematic Arts MFA graduate.
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Chinonye Chukwu’s first feature film about an estranged pair of Nigerian American siblings was rejected by every single film festival she submitted it to. But after reading about Troy Davis, a black man from Georgia who was executed in 2011 for murdering a police officer, despite evidence of innocence and protests that he be granted clemency, Chukwu knew she wanted to advocate for prison reform. She wrote and directed “Clemency,” starring Alfre Woodard, which portrays Woodard as a warden who starts to question the morality of the death penalty. The film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, gained critical acclaim, and received the U.S. Dramatic grand jury Prize, making Chukwu the first black woman to capture the coveted award in the festival’s 35-year history. Chukwu’s next film, “A Taste of Power,” will recount the life of Elaine Brown, the only woman to lead the Black Panther Party.