The black cinematic experience is changing and not just by the hands of straight poc but also queer poc. The reinvention of black films in the last ten years has reached new levels of success, dominating the box office earning millions worldwide, gaining critical acclaim and winning prestigious awards in the top categories for film. With 2019 around the corner, I wanted to highlight the five queer PoC filmmakers I think are reinventing the meaning of the word ‘film’.
1. Justin Simien
Justin Simien is a name familiar to many. Best known for his 2014 debut feature film Dear White People which starred Tessa Thompson. Justin’s depiction of racism and discrimination has rightfully earned him a spot in Hollywood. 2014 was a great year for Justin. Not only did he debut his first feature film Dear White People at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, he also took the opportunity to officially come out as gay during the premier. Turning Dear White People into a original comedy series just three years after the film debut, Netflix gave Justin creative control over the series as the creator, director, producer and writer, heading the show into it’s third series which will be coming in 2019.
Capturing the attention of many, Justin is often compared to legendary film director Spike Lee. Speaking to The Root back in 2014 he said, “I’m not the next Spike Lee. I’m the next Justin Simien. He opened my mind and let me know I could make movies like this…but in Do the Right Thing he talks about how racism works, and in Dear White People what I wanted to talk about is identity”.
2. Dee Rees
With films in her catalogue like Pariah & Bessie, Dee Rees is pushing boundaries for queer black female directors everywhere. In 2017, her period drama film Mudbound, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival was praised for it’s screenplay, direction and cast’s performances earning two nominations at the 75th Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song. The film, which starred Mary J. Blige & Carey Mulligan impressively earned four Oscar nominations earlier this year for Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song and Best Cinematography.
This wasn’t Dee’s first film to win big. Her 2011 film Pariah not only premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival but was also awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award. It also won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film and the Outstanding Independent Motion Picture award at the 44th NAACP Image Awards.
3. Cheryl Dunye
Cheryl Dunye has been representing black lesbians on film since 1990. Her debut film The Watermelon Woman which she directed, wrote, edited and starred in is about a young black lesbian working a day job in a video store trying to make a film about a black actress from the 1930s known for playing the stereotypical mammy roles relegated to black actresses during that time period. It was the first ever feature film to be directed by a black lesbian. Released in 1996, the film received critical acclaim winning Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Her directing style is centred around race, sexuality, gender and issues/themes relating to black lesbians. After the release of The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl went on to direct Stranger Inside, a television drama film made for HBO about the experiences of African-American lesbians in prison. She also went on to direct feature film My Baby’s Daddy and episodes of popular television shows Queen Sugar (2017) and Claws (2018).
4. Angela Robinson
Angela Robinson has been providing the world with some of the best LGBT+ short films and feature films since 1995. In 2003, her big break came when she released a short film named D.E.B.S. which became one of the most awarded queer short films in history. Debuting film festival including Sundance Film Festival, L.A. Outfest and New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival earning Angela a total of seven film festival awards. The success of the short film led to it becoming a full length action-comedy feature film in 2004 starring Meagan Good, Jordana Brewster and Devon Aoki. Despite a few negative reviews, the film was a success going on to receive a nomination in 2005 from the Black Movie Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Writing.
Angela’s success continued becoming a writer, director and producer for Showtime’s hit show The L Word from 2004 to 2009. Angela went on to direct the 2005 comedy film Herbie: Fully Reloaded, write episodes for the hit TV show True Blood in 2012 and direct/write Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman film in 2015.
5. Yance Ford
Yance Ford is a name you need to remember. Not only was he the first openly transgender man to be nominated for any Academy Award he is the first openly transgender director to be nominated. Yance’s achievements don’t just stop there. He is also the first openly transgender man and the first black openly transgender person to win an Emmy award, as well as the first openly transgender filmmaker to win a Creative Arts Emmy. Excellence at it’s finest. Named one of Filmmaker magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film back in 2011, Yance has proven since then that he earned that title from his fantastic work as a director and producer.
In 2017, his documentary Strong Island about the murder of his brother William Ford premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival receiving critical acclaim winning the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Documentary in 2017. It was also nominated for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.