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Behind the Camera: 5 Female Directors to Watch

I’ve shared my love for Ava DuVernay and her 2015 film Selma on this blog before, and it’s great to see that she’s gained some terrific accolades since then — including having her documentary 13th nominated for an Academy Award this year as well as earning praise for her TV show Queen Sugar. And she’s in the process of filming a new adaptation of my favorite kid’s book A Wrinkle in Time. This lady is clearly on a roll!

It’s also heartening to see that after her snub last year the Academy realized that it had a diversity problem; this year (for the first time) there are people of color nominated in every major acting category and in the director’s category. This is likely the result of a diversified voting pool this year which leads to a more diverse selection of nominees. While this is certainly progress, there still has never been a female Black director nominated for an Oscar. So, instead of focusing on this year’s nominees (love you, Moonlight) I’m going to focus on a handful of films directed by African-American women that you should definitely seek out.

Julie Dash’s landmark 1991 film Daughters of the Dust has gained a resurgence in popularity after Beyonce name-dropped it as a major inspiration for her visual album Lemonade. It’s a beautiful, lyrical film about the Gullah, who have maintained a traditional culture on the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Although Dash has not directed a film since 2002’s TV Movie The Rosa Parks Story, her work has blazed the trail for many talented Black women who have followed in her footsteps.

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 2014 film Beyond the Lights should have been her major breakout. While a minor success, it did not (in my humble opinion) find the audience or attention it deserved. Although the premise is pretty cornball on paper — a troubled Rihanna-like pop star falls in love with a good-natured cop and complications ensue — it’s much more thoughtful and personal in execution. The lead actors are great, and so is the music.

Amma Asante’s theatrical release A United Kingdom is currently garnering rave review. If you can’t make it to the cinema I highly recommend checking out her first feature Belle. The film tells the true story of a mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral; she faces many obstacles while living in eighteenth-century England with her adopted, aristocratic family. It also stars the lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw (also the lead in Beyond the Lights) who is fantastic in both films.

Dee Rees is currently working on a high-profile mini-series called When We Rise, about the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the gay rights movement in the United States. If (like me) you’re eagerly awaiting this series you can check out her wonderful debut feature, Pariah. The film is a quiet and thoughtful portrait of Alike, a teenager who is starting to question her sexuality and embrace her new queer identity, but is unsure how her more traditional family will react when they find out.

Bonus: It may not be a movie, but I’m a huge fan of Issa Rae’s HBO show Insecure, and the library will definitely be offering this for check out in the future.

What about you? What do you think of this year’s Oscar nominations?

Happy viewing,


Tara is a Librarian in the Music, Film & Audio Department, and loves to make film & book recommendations. Some of her interests include gardening, cookbooks, foreign films, comedy albums and devastating literary fiction.

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