Now, more important than ever, it’s critical for Black creators—and the stories they tell—to be highlighted atop the lists of the critically-acclaimed.

Hollywood banks on Black originality at the box office, but perennially continues to sleep on today’s stars of tomorrow. For many veteran and up-and-coming superstars, the final straw has been broken. They are building their own production companies, directing their own stories, and cinema-lovers are standing up to advocate with their dollars and sense in the name of Black cinema. In addition to citizens stepping out onto the front lines to stand up for the lives of Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and far too many other victims of police brutality, films have become another way to focus the demands of widespread protesters and educate viewers about the art, impact, and originality that lies within the Black filmmaking community.

This year’s crop of filmmakers want all the smoke. They are bold, brilliant, funny, fierce, and ready to tell the stories that will define the next generation of classic films. In no ranking order, ESSENCE’s 15 Directors to Watch in 2021 don’t just represent this year, they’re a sign of where the future storytellers might be hiding. This crop of directors is rewriting the playbook and evolving how the world reacts to the new purveyors of the culture.


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