5 Black Women Filmmakers Who Made History

March 15th 2019

Women's History Month is still in full effect, so we have to give our Black female history makers their flowers. There are so many Black women in Hollywood to thank, including Black women filmmakers who dare to tear down walls and break glass ceilings. Here are five of those filmmakers we all need to thank.

1) Cheryl Dunye

We have Cheryl Dunye to thank for paving the way for other LGBTQ directors and creators like Lena Waithe. Dunye's magnum opus, 1996's The Watermelon Woman, became the first film written by a Black lesbian exploring Black lesbianism in film. The movie cemented Dunye's power in both the Black and LGBTQ spheres. Her work became huge inspirations within the New Queer Cinema movement and continues to influence creators today. In 2019, you can watch her directorial work on OWN's David Makes Man and Queen Sugar as the producing director.

2) Victoria Mahoney 

There's been a lot said about Star Wars' inability to put a Black woman in a major role successfully (this includes Thandie Newton's role in Solo: A Star Wars Story because *SPOILER* she gets killed almost as soon as we see her on screen). But maybe the franchise is trying to make it up to us by giving us the first woman to direct a Star Wars film, Victoria Mahoney.

Mahoney was hired as second-unit director for the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX, and we'll soon be able to see her work when the film hits theaters later this year. She's breaking a glass ceiling for both gender and race. Finally, Black women are putting their stamp on the franchise.

3) Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay is a part of the $100 million club thanks to 2018's A Wrinkle in Time. The Disney film starring Storm Reid and Oprah Winfrey grossed $100,000,127 domestically and $132,101,086 worldwide, making her the 13th Black director and the first Black female director to make a movie that grossed over $100 million. She's so damn powerful that she's got a whole movement named after her called The Ava Effect, which highlights the boost in career opportunities for women directors thanks to Ava hiring all-women directors for every episode of her hit OWN show Queen Sugar, now in its fourth season.

4) Julie Dash

Daughters of the Dust always continues to be a part of the contemporary film conversation, despite its debut happening 28 years ago. But there's a reason for that—its director, Julie Dash, became the first Black woman to direct a feature film that was nationally distributed theatrically in the U.S. Because of her achievement, scores of viewers have been able to become familiar with Gullah Geechee culture and West African traditions that survived the Middle Passage. Ava played a role in the revitalization of Dash's career when Dash was brought on to helm an episode of Queen Sugar. Now, Dash is helming the highly anticipated Angela Davis biopic, which she exclusively announced to Shadow and Act at Sundance.

5) Euzhan Palcy

A Dry White Season, a 1989 apartheid-set drama starring Marlon Brando, Donald Sutherland, Winston Ntshona, Susan Sarandon and Zakes Mokae, earned major nominations during the 1990 awards season. Much of the film's success goes to the direction of Euzhan Palcy, who became the first Black woman to direct a movie that was produced by a major Hollywood studio.

Not only was the film produced by MGM, but Marlon Brando came out of retirement to take part in it after hearing about Palcy's commitment to research, which included her going undercover in Soweto to learn more about the apartheid riots.

What directors would you add to the list?

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Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images, George Pimentel/Getty Images, laven Vlasic/Getty Images 

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