(From left to right) Ava Duvernay, Spike Lee, Jordan Peele
The films that started the entertainment industry at the turn of the 20th century were created by white filmmakers for white audiences.
It took decades for black directors to break into the industry, changing how Hollywood acted behind and in front of the camera and how it viewed black content. Oscar Micheaux headed the prosecution and opened his own studio in 1919.
Directors such as Melvin van Peebles and Gordon Parks put black narratives at the forefront of their storytelling in the 1970s, creating a sub-genre known as "blaxploitation". These films used black stereotypes about poverty and substance abuse to put black actors at the center of the action.
In the '80s and' 90s, Spike Lee and John Singleton used their films to explore urban and racial tensions and bring more nuanced black characters to a mainstream audience.
"I have been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of blacks who otherwise have no access to power and media," Lee wrote in a companion novel to "Do the Right Thing," published in 1989 to take advantage of this while I am still bankable . "
During this time, black women filmmakers made progress. Kathleen Collins' work in the 80s paved the way for Julie Dash to become the first black woman to release a movie in 1991.
Each of these directors helped break down barriers and inspire a new generation of black filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Tyler Perry and Barry Jenkins, who were recognized not only for their work but also commercially at the global box office.
While black filmmakers perform and be celebrated more frequently in Hollywood in the 21st century, much remains to be done.
2020 was a banner year for black ensemble films. "One Night in Miami", "Da 5 Bloods", "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Judas and the Black Messiah" amazed the critics. However, none of these films were nominated for Best Picture or Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes. The Academy Awards will be nominated in March.
Here's a look at 20 black directors who changed Hollywood:
Oscar Micheaux was hailed as the first great black filmmaker, directing and producing 42 feature films between 1919 and 1948.
He was a writer and filmmaker and started his career in the film industry with his first novel "The Homesteader". During this time, Micheaux's content was classified as "racing film," a genre of films made during the Jim Crow era and made for and by black people.
Many of his films featured exclusively black actors, and his characters weren't stereotypical, unlike the blackface cartoons that have featured in more mainstream white films. In his work, he dealt with topics such as racist violence, rape, economic oppression and discrimination.
He died in 1951 but was posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and honored with the Golden Jubilee Special Directorial Award from the Directors Guild of America.
A lobby card for the silent film & # 39; The Gunsaulus Mystery & # 39; from 1921. "The poster shows Oscar Micheaux, who was the writer and director of the film. He is considered the first great African American filmmaker. The film belongs to a genre called racing films, which were produced for an all-black audience in 1921.
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William Greaves, an influential independent documentary filmmaker, has produced and directed more than 100 films. His films captured social issues as well as key African American characters such as Muhammad Ali and Ida B. Wells.
In the late 1960s, Greaves attracted attention for his experimental film "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One". The avant-garde film records a fictional documentary entitled "Over the Cliff" directed by Greaves who plays in it. The documentary focuses on actors preparing to audition for a dramatic play. Greaves used three sets of camera crews: one documented the audition process and the actors, the second documented the first film team, and the third documented the actors and the other two film teams.
The metadocumentation, as it was called, included a documentary film, a documentary film about a documentary film, and a documentary film documenting a documentary film about a documentary film.
Greaves, who passed away in 2014, is a member of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association.
Director William Greaves speaks at the press conference for the film "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2" at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2005 in New York City.
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Gordon Parks began his career as a prolific and famous photographer before turning to filmmaking. He began as a consultant for various Hollywood productions in the 1950s before making a number of documentaries about urban black life for national educational television.
Parks became Hollywood's first great black director and in 1971 brought the icon "Shaft" into theaters. The film spawned a number of follow-ups and helped spark a subgenre known as blaxploitation. The genre was one in which images of lower-class blacks involved in drugs and violence were used to make commercially successful films.
While this genre played on black stereotypes, it also cast black actors in lead roles rather than supporting characters or buddies.
Director Gordon Parks and Actor Richard Roundtree on-set of the Film, "Shaft & # 39; s Big Score!", Circa 1972.
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Melvin van Peebles
Melvin van Peebles has made more than a dozen films during his Hollywood career, but is best known for the 1971 film "Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song" in which he wrote, directed and starred.
"Sweetback" tells the story of a black man who was chosen as patsy for a murder by white police officers. The man kills the police, is the target of a massive manhunt and flees to Mexico. It became one of the top hit movies of 1971 and grossed over $ 15 million in box office sales.
The film proved that a story with a strong African American lead character could succeed at the box office and ushered in a new wave of black cinema.
Actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, writer and composer Melvin Van Peebles was photographed in 1972.
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Kathleen Collins, a poet, playwright, and filmmaker, helped break down barriers for women directors in Hollywood. She had two big movies: "The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy" and "Losing Ground" which were released in the early 80s.
Although denied a large-scale exhibition, Losing Ground was among the first films by a black woman to be made full-length and for popular consumption. Collins helped pave the way for future black women filmmakers to have their films commercially distributed nationwide.
Collins died of breast cancer in 1988. At the time, most of her work was unpublished and left to her daughter. In 2006, Nina Collins began searching her mother's archives and having them published, restored and reprinted.
In the mid-1980s, Spike Lee appeared in the film industry with "She & # 39; s Gotta Have It", a film about the love life of a contemporary black woman. For the next 40 years, Lee became known for his research into racial relations, colorism in the black community, and urban crime and poverty. He has released a film almost every year since 1986.
He was one of the few black filmmakers who made films for a large audience during this period, and while his films did not break box office records, they did garner critical attention.
Lee was nominated for Best Documentary in 1998 for "4 Little Girls" and Best Original Screenplay in 1990 for "Do the Right Thing". In 2016 he received an honorary Oscar for his achievements as a director. In 2019, Lee finally received his first Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on "BlacKkKlansman".
Its most recent feature was "Da 5 Bloods," which was released on Netflix last year. The film received a number of major critical awards, including Best Picture by the National Board of Review and one of the American Film Institute's Ten Best Picture of the Year.
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Marlon Riggs was an American filmmaker, poet, and gay rights activist in the 1980s and 1990s. Before his untimely death in 1994 due to AIDS complications, he produced and directed a number of documentaries including "Tongues Untied", "Ethnic Notions" and "Color Adjustment".
Riggs used film to examine past and present representations of race and sexuality in the United States. One of his most controversial documentaries was "Tongues Untied". It dealt with black gay male culture during the AIDS crisis and featured a kiss between two black men that hadn't been featured in the mainstream media. It was selected by PBS for its "POV" series.
The documentary was funded in part by tax dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts, leading some conservatives to use it in long-term attempts to disappoint PBS and the NEA.
Although Riggs & # 39; work was controversial, it became a lightning rod for the cultural war between Conservatives and Liberals that raged during this period.
Just three years after Collins's death, Julie Dash released "Daughters of the Dust". It was the first full-length film directed by an African American woman and received wide theatrical release in the 1991 US Dash film, which was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2004.
Dash has made music videos, commercials, short films, and episodic television throughout her career. She was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for "The Rosa Parks Story," which was published in 2002.
Renowned filmmaker Julie Dash, who wrote and directed the acclaimed film Daughters of the Dust, teaches filmmaking at Howard University.
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At the age of 24, John Singleton became the youngest person to ever be nominated for best director at the Academy Awards and the first ever African American. He was nominated for his movie Boyz n the Hood, a 1991 coming-of-age drama that also earned Singleton Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars.
Many of Singleton's films examined urban and racial tensions, including "Poetic Justice" and "Higher Learning," which were released in the 1990s. He also made the movie "2 Fast 2 Furious".
Prior to his death in 2019, Singleton wrote, directed, or produced a number of television shows including "Snowfall", "Rebel", "Empire" and "Billions".
View of director John Singleton in sunglasses and a beret on the set of his movie & # 39; Poetic Justice & # 39 ;, Los Angeles, CA, 1993.
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F. Gary Gray
F. Gary Gray began his career directing critically acclaimed and award-winning music videos for artists such as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Outkast. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that he made his feature film debut.
In the following years, Gray released blockbuster hits and award-winning films such as "The Italian Job", "Law Abiding Citizen", "Straight Outta Compton" and "The Fate of the Furious".
Gray has made 10 films in the past three decades and has ticket sales of more than $ 2.2 billion. He is the first black director to have a film at the global box office with gross sales of more than $ 1 billion. "The Fate of the Furious" was worth $ 1.2 billion in 2017.
Honoree F. Gary Gray accepts the Excellence in the Arts award on stage during the BET Presents the American Black Film Festival Honors on February 17, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)
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Like Gray, Antoine Fuqua started out in the industry directing music videos. He worked with artists such as Toni Braxton, Coolio, Prince and Stevie Wonder before starting feature films in 1998.
Known for directing action and thriller films, Fuqua has a consistent record of success at the box office. His 2001 film "Training Day" earned actor Denzel Washington an Oscar.
His films "King Arthur", "Shooter", "Olympus Has Fallen", "The Equalizer" and "Southpaw" have raised more than 1.3 billion US dollars at the global box office. His most recent work was a 2019 documentary entitled "What & # 39; s My Name: Muhammad Ali".
Executive producer and director Antoine Fuqua attends the Tribeca premiere "What & # 39; s My Name | Muhammad Ali" on April 28, 2019 in New York City.
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Tyler Perry built a multimillion dollar brand by creating content for audiences that Hollywood often ignored. While some have ridiculed the filmmaker for reinforcing negative or stereotypical images of black identity, especially with his Madea films, he continues to showcase A-list and emerging black talent in his work.
After the box office success of his debut "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" in 2005, Perry secured a lucrative first-look deal with Lionsgate until 2014. Perry's two dozen theatrical releases have grossed more than $ 1.1 billion worldwide.
Perry runs one of three major studios in Georgia, where he films his film and television projects and rents space to other filmmakers. With his studio, Perry has helped promote the state's film industry. He's even partnered with Georgia Film Academy to attract interns from the school to productions.
Tyler Perry accepts the People's Champion Award on stage for the 2020 E! The People & # 39; s Choice Awards will be presented at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California and will air on Sunday, November 15, 2020.
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Tim Story is one of the most commercially successful black filmmakers. He made his directorial debut in 2002 with "Barbershop", a comedy film that resulted in two other films.
He also directed "Fantastic Four" from 2005 and its sequel "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," which raised more than $ 600 million at the global box office.
Overall, Stories films, which include 2019's Think Like a Man, Ride Along, and Shaft, have grossed more than $ 1.2 billion worldwide.
Director Tim Story attends the premiere of Showtime & # 39; s "White Famous" at the Jeremy Hotel on September 27, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta / FilmMagic)
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No, not the American actor. This Steve McQueen is a British filmmaker best known for his Oscar winning film "12 Years a Slave".
London-born McQueen made short films in the 1990s before making his first feature film "Hunger" about the Irish hunger strike of 1981 at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.
In 2011 he released Shame, a drama about an executive struggling with sex addiction. Two years later he received the Oscar for best picture with "12 Years a Slave", making him the first black filmmaker to ever win the award.
He later adapted a British television series called "Widows" into an American film and released "Small Ax," a collection of five films shot in the West Indian community of London between the 1960s and 1980s.
For his work, McQueen received the Turner Prize, the highest distinction given to a British visual artist. He was also appointed commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Director Steve McQueen attends the red carpet for the film "Soul" during the 15th Rome Film Festival on October 15, 2020 in Rome, Italy.
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Barry Jenkins made two short films before making his 2008 debut Medicine for Melancholy. The film received a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature.
After an eight-year hiatus from film, Jenkins returned to Hollywood with "Moonlight," an independent LGBT drama that won numerous awards, including an Oscar for best picture. Jenkins was the fourth black person to be nominated for best director and the second to win an Oscar for best picture.
His third directorial film, "If Beale Street Could Talk," came out in 2018 and earned him nominations for Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
Jenkins was most recently selected by Disney to direct a second live action film, "Lion King".
Barry Jenkins honored for Best Director for If Beale Street Could Talk on Stage at the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards on February 23, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images)
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Dee Rees, student and mentee of director Spike Lee, graduated from New York University and got to work straight away. In the mid-twentieth century she interned Lee's "Inside Man" and "When the Levees Broke" and used that time to write a screenplay that would later be developed into her first feature film, "Pariah" from 2011.
Her third directorial film "Mudbound" received three Academy Award nominations, including a nod for Best Screenplay for Rees. Rees was the first black woman to be nominated for a writing award at the Oscars since Suzanne de Passe in 1973. "Mudbound" also led Rachel Morrison to become the first woman ever to be nominated for Best Cinematography.
Rees has also written and directed television series for such shows as "Empire", "When We Rise" and "Philip K. Dicks Electric Dreams".
Dee Rees speaks on stage during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Awards night ceremony at Basin Recreation Field House on February 1, 2020 in Park City, Utah.
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Ava DuVernay made a name for herself in Hollywood in 2012 with her film "Middle of Nowhere". The film earned her the directorial award at the United States Dramatic Competition in Sundance. She was the first black woman to win this award.
Two years later, "Selma" helped DuVernay become the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for best director and the first black woman director to be nominated for best picture. In 2017 she was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary for her film "13th".
While her 2018 Disney fantasy film "A Wrinkle in Time" ultimately lost money at the box office and was a flop with critics, it still grossed more than $ 100 million domestically. DuVernay was the first black woman to hit this benchmark.
More recently, DuVernay had a successful run on television. Her limited Netflix series "When They See Us" told the story of five Harlem teenagers who were falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. It received critical recognition and 16 Emmy nominations. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series.
Last year, DuVernay was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as part of the directors' division.
DuVernay also formed a film collective called Array in 2010. The company is dedicated to strengthening colored people and directors in the film industry.
Filmmaker Ava Duvernay attends the screening of "When They See Us" at the Lincoln Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on May 21, 2019 in New York City.
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"Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler has become a household name in less than a decade. In 2013 he gained critical acclaim and attention for his debut film "Fruitvale Station", which led him to direct "Creed", a spin-off of the Rocky Films.
For his third film, Disney gave him a $ 200 million budget to bring the black superhero Black Panther to the big screen. The film grossed a record-breaking US $ 235 million on the opening weekend and had ticket sales of more than US $ 1.3 billion worldwide. He is the second black director to have a $ 1 billion movie in the world.
In early February, Disney announced that Coogler and his company Proximity Media had signed a five-year contract to create television programs exclusively for Disney. Already assigned to write and direct a second Black Panther film, he will now be creating a TV series for Disney + in the fictional world of Wakanda.
Director Ryan Coogler attends the BFI preview of & # 39; Black Panther & # 39; which took place on February 9, 2018 in London, England at the BFI Southbank.
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Jordan Peele was identified for many years with the comedy show "Key & Peele", on which the filmmaker appeared alongside his comedian colleague Keegan-Michael Key. In 2017, however, Peele delivered an Oscar-winning feature film called "Get Out".
The film was a horror film about racism that became a breakout hit and received critical acclaim. Domestic sales exceeded $ 100 million in the first three weeks of cinema. This made Peele the first black writer and director to reach this mark with his debut film.
"Get Out" was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best actor, and best screenplay. Peele won the award for best screenplay.
Peele's second film, Us, also received critical and commercial success. He is currently working on his third feature. In the meantime he has been an active producer of television shows such as "Hunters", "Lovecraft Country" and "The Twilight Zone", as well as films such as "Candyman" and "BlacKkKlansman".
Writer / director Jordan Peele attends the New York Premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on March 19, 2019.
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For the past decade, Victoria Mahoney has worked mostly on television. She has directed episodes of "Queen Sugar", "Grey's Anatomy", "American Crime", "Lovecraft Country", "Power" and "You".
She was also made by J.J. Abrams is directing the second unit of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker". This makes her the first woman to direct a Star Wars film in the more than 40-year history of the franchise.
Director Victoria Mahoney arrives to record the "Queen Sugar After-Show" on the OWN Oprah Winfrey Network on November 7, 2017 in West Hollywood, California.
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