According to a study done by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, in 2016, women made up just 17 percent of all writers, directors, producers, executive producers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. And, only seven percent of the 17 were directors, a two percent decline from 2015’s study.
These are upsetting numbers, especially when considering that black women are even less likely to helm buzz-worthy films.
Still, despite the lack of opportunities being presented, there are black women in Hollywood doing incredible work. Here are five important films helmed by black women that are definitely worth watching.
1. Middle of Nowhere – Ava DuVernay
Her second feature film, Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere examines a woman’s life after her husband goes to jail. The film took home the Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic Film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Discussing the movie, DuVernay told The Daily Beast, “This is a story I know very well. I’m from Los Angeles and I know countless women who live this kind of life every day, year after year. You see women struggling to keep it all together while a loved one is in jail. But we don’t hear about them or their struggles in a way that resonates with others. Their stories are so compelling.”
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2. Mississippi Damned – Tina Mabry
The 2009 film tells the story of three black kids growing up in Mississippi, struggling with violence, abuse, and poverty. Director Tina Mabry’s feature film debut, Mississippi Damned received tons of praise from critics and was made available to stream through Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY.
3. Pariah – Dee Rees
Dee Rees’ Pariah follows a 17-year-old Black girl coming to terms with her identity and embracing her sexuality. It’s ther perfect coming-of-age story about a young woman seeking the freedom to express herself and her identity as a lesbian. Rees told Bust, “In this world, I really wanted to make it specific and make it — push people in and not explain, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to be a trip to the zoo, so it’s not supposed to be this kind of outsider, like, ‘Let’s look at the black lesbians, see how they interact!’ I wanted to give the audience credit and let people be smart, and by developing the characters and letting them know who these people are … they would have a sense of the characters as people and not just kind of like this third party.”
4. Yelling to the Sky – Victoria Mahoney
Starring Zoë Kravitz, Gabourey Sidibe, and Sonequa Martin-Green, Yelling to the Sky is a visceral look at life for a teen who’s left to figure it all out on her own. It’s Mahoney’s debut and a semi-autobiographical story that landed the director a Golden Bear nomination at the Berlin Film Festival and Audience Award nom at SXSW.
5. Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache – Nailah Jefferson
Released through Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY, the poignant documentary tells the story of a town struggling to survive in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Director Nailah Jefferson closely examines how an overlooked town took matters into their own hands after the spill ruined crops and the economy. Jefferson told the International Documentary Association, “I want people to know that Gulf Coast recovery is an ongoing story and that things have not gotten better for the fisherfolk of Pointe à la Hache; in fact, they’ve gotten worse. Because of these circumstances, we want Vanishing Pearls to be more than a film, but rather, the springboard for a movement to help save these communities.”