Entertainment is powerful, movies are intriguing and beautiful, and directors and writers have the ability to transport people to different worlds with their work. For Black History Month, it only felt right to highlight some of the greatest black directors and writers out there along with shining a light on many underrated ones as well.
- Kemp Powers
Kemp Powers has been a co-director, screenwriter, and playwright in Hollywood since 2012 with his breakout short film, This Day Today. In 2013, he screenwrote for a play called One Night In Miami which was then made into a feature film 7 years later. In 2017, he helped write 5 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery. Not to mention in 2020 he became the first African-American to co-direct a Disney Animated feature with Pixar’s Oscar-nominated Soul (which he also co-screenwrote).
- Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay is a director, producer, and writer who made her feature film debut in 2008 when she wrote and directed This is the Life, a documentary about the way alternative and hip hop music had a worldwide influence on the music industry. Since then, she’s made multiple TV music documentaries. Her first narrative feature film was in 2010 and called I Will Follow which won the African-American Film Critics Association award for best screenplay. Her follow-up movie, Middle of Nowhere (2012), won her the Best Director Prize at Sundance, making her the first black woman to receive the award. You also may know her for Selma (2014), and A Wrinkle in Time (2018).
- Jordan Peele
Jordan Haworth Peele has been a comedian and actor in the industry for years. He got his start on Mad TV in 2003-2008. While on Mad TV, he met Keegan-Michael Key who helped him create the (quite hilarious) sketch comedy, Key and Peele on Comedy Central from 2012-2015. Since then he’s been in a few voice acting roles including Big Mouth and Toy Story 4, but most notably he’s recently come into the spotlight as a director. Peele’s breakout directing role was the horror movie Get Out in 2017 and then his movie Us that closely followed in 2019. He also wrote and produced both of those films.
- Kasi Lemmons
Kasi Lemmons is a film director and actress. She got her start in acting/commercials but made her directorial debut with Eve’s Bayou in 1997. She first started writing the screenplay for it in 1992 by herself. In 1994, she filmed a short feature called Dr. Hugo that included a section of the script for Eve’s Bayou. Eve’s Bayou was not only played at a number of film festivals and was well-received by critics, it also won her an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and was the highest-grossing independent film in 1997. Since then, she’s directed 5 films, including 2019’s, Harriet about the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and 2020’s, Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (which is on Netflix now and features Octavia Spencer!)
- Spike Lee
I couldn’t make this list without mentioning probably one of the most iconic directors out there. Spike Lee has been in the directing game since 1986 with his debut film, She’s Gotta Have It. Since then, he’s directed about a total of 59 films, tv shows, stage shows, and even a video game. He’s most known for Do The Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Jungle Fever (1991), He Got Game (1998), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). In 2019, Lee won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, and has had 165 nominations for other awards with 91 wins. Lee also has had his own production company since 1979 called “40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks” which has been a home for a majority of his film work since then.
- Julie Dash
Julie Dash is a director, producer, and writer who’s now directed a total of 18 films, TV shows, and shorts. She is most well known for her film, Daughters of the Dust (1991), which she starred in in 1975 because she was inspired by her father’s family background of immigrants. Beyonce actually took inspiration from this film and incorporated elements of it in her visual album, Lemonade. This same film also won a New York Film Critic Circle Award in 2016. In 2002 she also directed The Rosa Parks Story which starred famous actress, Angela Bassett. In 2020, she won the Emerging Female Filmmaker award at Sundance Festival.
- John Singleton
John Singleton is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He’s most popular for writing and directing the 1991 film, Boyz n the Hood. The film was a film about John Singleton’s life, where he grew up, and the people he grew up with. It was also his feature directorial debut at the mere age of 24. At the time, he was the youngest person and the very first black director to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards in 1992. He’s directed shows such as Empire (2015) and American Crime Story (2016). He also has directed 9 films in his career including 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and Abduction (2011) which was the very last film he directed before he sadly passed away in 2019.
- Issa Rae
Jo-Issa Rae Diop (Issa Rae) is an actress, writer, and producer. She started her career with a comedy Youtube series called The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. In 2015 she wrote a memoir by the same title which became a New York Times best-seller. Back in 2014, she was the executive producer for 2 short films, Protect and Serve, and Hard Times. However, Rae started to garner more public attention after she co-created, co-wrote, and starred in the HBO television series, Insecure (2016-present). The series has been nominated for multiple Golden Globes Awards and Primetime Emmys. Rae has also starred in films such as The Hate U Give (2018), and more recently, The Photograph and The Lovebirds in 2020. Not to mention, in 2018 Rae was included in Time’s 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
- Charles Burnett
Charles Burnett is a director, producer, writer, editor, and cinematographer. Burnett has been in the industry for a very long time, with his first short coming out in 1969. I also feel it’s also important to mention the important themes he focuses on in his work. He always strived to make films about working-class black people that denounced stereotypes and cliches. His most popular works include To Sleep With Anger (1990), The Glass Shield (1994), and Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation. Although he has been in the industry for a long time, he’s been dubbed by the New York Times as “the nation’s least-known great filmmaker” and has only recently (in 2018) received an Oscar for his works, despite not being on the film promotion trail since 2007.
- Euzhan Palcy
Euzhan Palcy is an American film director, writer, and producer. In 1989, she was recognized for being the first black woman director of a film by a major Hollywood Studio (MGM) for her film, A Dry White Season. In 2001, she directed and produced a film called The Killing Yard for Paramount/Showtime Studios. Her most recent project was a short film she produced in 2011 called Molly. She’s also won 14 out of her 17 award nominations throughout her career.
Honorable Mentions: Carl Franklin, Philip Youmans, Michael Schultz, Radha Blank, Ernest Dickerson, Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Sidney Poitier, Roger Ross Williams, Octavia Spencer, Whoopi Goldberg, Dees Rees, Denzel Washington, Gordon Parks, Samuel L. Jackson, Barry Jenkins, Oscar Micheaux, Chadwick Boseman, and many many more.