This year’s awards season, which will kick off with the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, coincides with a time of critical social upheaval in this country. Every day, issues into which we’ve put our hearts are central to the news; and though the path we’re walking can be painful, there is hope. The Senate victories in Georgia; the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President; and ongoing public examinations of issues such as police brutality indicate potential for real social progress. But we have to keep the conversation going.
Now more than ever, it’s necessary to shine a light on independent Black filmmakers who are using their creativity to make sure police violence, women’s rights, systemic racism, and LGBTQ issues remain at the forefront of our minds. Their works explore specific stories beyond the headlines and inspire us to make change on local, national, and even global levels. They open our eyes not only to the injustices that exist in this world but to the abundance of opportunities to eradicate them. Here’s a look at seven independent Black filmmakers we have our eyes on right now.
Monét received her B.A. from Spelman College and her M.F.A. in Film and Television from New York University. Her films pose questions about identity, society, race, and culture.
Monét’s award-winning short film Q.U.E.E.N. screened at more than a dozen festivals before being shown on Magic Johnson’s ASPiRE channel. In 2019, Monét was one of the inaugural directors chosen for the Queen Collective—a partnership between Queen Latifah, Procter & Gamble, and Tribeca Studios to showcase filmmakers with a passion for highlighting underrepresented stories.
“This past year has been heartbreaking for us all,” says Monét. “Unfortunately, it has exposed evils we as Black people have known for far too long about this country. Our skin is revered and seen as powerless, at the same time. However, my hope is that our work is not in vain. We are laying the groundwork for future generations, in the hopes that they will reap the benefits we’re all striving for.”
Monét’s latest short documentary, Ballet After Dark, follows Tyde-Courtney Edwards, a young woman who turned to dance for her survival after being brutally attacked—and then offered the same healing to others in need. The film is now available on BET.
Nia Malika Dixon
Born and raised in Baltimore, MD, Dixon strives to amplify diverse stories from underrepresented communities—particularly Black Muslim women—in her work. Her first short film, Temporary Loss of Power, was named Audience Favorite at the Baltimore Women’s Film Festival; and she received the Best Urban Web Series and Best TV/Web Series awards in several festivals for The Trap Web Series.
Most recently, Dixon produced the comedy feature Love Supreme: Anatomy of Gratitude, which won the Audience Award for Features at the 2020 Global Muslim Film Festival. Her writing on Powderkeg’s East of La Brea, which she co-created, helped the series win Best Original Web Series at the UrbanWorld Film Festival. Her next project will be a feature film, The Trap, based on one of her successful series.
“My goal has always been to create opportunities for my people and to find ways to self-actualize and affirm through storytelling,” says Dixon. “I’ve found my medium in writing and film—to create while building community connections and disrupting the status quo of underrepresentation, negative stereotypes, and outright false images of who we are. Though the present times meet us with overwhelming challenges, I’m looking forward to continuing my work.”
Based in L.A., Boniface has directed and written 16 short films. In February 2018, she won the national Next Visionary Filmmaker award, presented by Walt Disney Studios, Nissan, and Ava Duvernay.
Boniface works in the sci-fi/horror realm, striving to shine a light on social and Southern-based issues and to provide representation for Black women in that genre. In 2019, her short film Skintight launched on Gunpowder and Sky’s horror platform ALTER, which aims to give a voice to emerging horror filmmakers.
“This year I hope to continue to explore genre and to create worlds, in sci-fi and horror, that put Black women at the forefront with authenticity and care,” Boniface says. “Whether I’m working on TV pilots or feature films, my goal is always to write us in and create content for us, by us.”
Born in Astoria, Queens, Bleuz began her filmmaking career in 2014 as a video producer with Global Action Project, a social justice media arts leadership program. She has gone on to write, direct, and act in six short films—including Over Stigmatized, which has been screened and broadcast across the United States.
After generating media attention as an up-and-coming trans filmmaker, Bleuz won a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2018; this helped her create her own production company, Trans Resistance Through Media. With TRTM, she directed her first feature-length film, Over Stigmatized 2: The Stigma Stops Here.
“It’s important for us, as filmmakers, to address BLM issues in our work—to give people awareness and help make change in the hearts and minds of others,” says Bluez.
In September 2019, Bluez won a GLAAD Rising Stars grant, presented by Netflix.
Numa Perrier was born in Haiti and raised in small-town USA. She cofounded the streaming platform Black&Sexy TV, serving as a co-creator, director, and showrunner for over a dozen series, including Roomieloverfriends (produced by Issa Rae) and Hello Cupid (co-created by Lena Waithe). Her 2019 feature-film directorial debut, Jezebel, in which she also co-starred, was distributed on Netflix via Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY.
Based on Perrier’s own experience, Jezebel tells the story of a woman and her sister surviving on the margins of society as they navigate the politics of Black female sexuality and womanhood.
“Being a filmmaker and actor at this time feels like a tremendous and delicate responsibility,” Perrier says. “What excites me most is centering Black Women in my work, in front of and behind the camera, and bringing understanding to the misunderstood. If we are not seen, how can we be understood? If our stories aren’t explored, how can anyone come to know us? At this moment, I know without a doubt that it is my purpose to create and usher in our beauty, our humor, our sensuality, our danger, and our power, through the films I make and the roles I choose.”
Perrier recently signed on with Netflix to direct her first studio film, The Perfect Find, starring Gabrielle Union.
Lawrence “Law” Watford
Brooklyn-based Watford began his career with an interest in romantic comedies, but the Hampton University graduate has responded to this moment in our history by focusing on his passion for social justice. His most recent film, Catharsis, has received buzz for its portrayal of a Black mother confronting the legal system after her son is killed by an NYPD officer. The film was recently singled out for praise by actor and political commentator D. L. Hughley: “Keep making these films that make people aware,” Hughley urged the filmmaker.
“I believe we all have a responsibility to use our gifts in service of causes beyond our own individual success,” Watford says. “So as filmmakers, we’re uniquely positioned and morally obligated to use our talents to push people to reconsider the ways in which we see the world and empathize with folks outside of our bubbles.”
Prior to Catharsis, Watford directed Flipped via Tyler Street Films, a production company created by two other Hampton University graduates. The film cleverly portrays a white teen in a majority-Black environment—where white boys wear hoodies at their own risk and white mothers pray each day that their sons make it home alive.
Documentarian Maliyamungu Muhande began life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before moving to South Africa and then to New York City, in 2019, to pursue an M.F.A. in Film at the New School. Her short documentary Nine Days a Week, about Black street photographer Louis Mendes, premiered in the DOC NYC film festival in 2020 and won a National Board of Review student grant.
Muhande is a member of the Brown Girls Doc Mafia, a collective of female and nonbinary filmmakers of color advocating for representation in the documentary field. She is currently working on a feature-length version of Nine Days a Week.
“In my own life, arts education and artistic expression have empowered me with the tools to understand myself and process trauma,” says Muhande—who in the summer of 2020 organized and ran a publicly funded filmmaking program for underprivileged and predominantly Black teens in upstate New York, the results of which she is shaping, along with her students, into a completed documentary. “Everyone deserves access to these tools and the power to tell their own story.”