Black Lives Matter, and art has a role to play in centering and celebrating the experiences of black people. These films focus on the dreams, struggles, desires, and art of black characters and real-life subjects. From rediscovered gems by mavericks of early African American cinema like Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams, to independent-film landmarks by Charles Burnett and Julie Dash, to documentary portraits of black artists by white filmmakers Les Blank and Shirley Clarke, to innovative contemporary work by Khalik Allah, these films offer an invitation to reflect on the resilience and creativity of black individuals and communities in the United States and beyond.
Body and Soul
Directed by Oscar Micheaux • 1925 • United States
Starring Paul Robeson, Mercedes Gilbert, Lawrence Chenault
Although the 1920s brought him acclaim as a stage actor and singer, Paul Robeson still had to prove himself as a viable screen performer. Mainstream avenues were limited, however, and his...
Directed by Ousmane Sembène • 1966 • Senegal
Starring M’Bissine Thérèse Diop
Ousmane Sembène was one of the greatest and most groundbreaking filmmakers who ever lived, as well as the most renowned African director of the twentieth century—and yet his name still deserves to be better known in ...
Portrait of Jason
Directed by Shirley Clarke • 1967 • United States
Starring Jason Holliday
On the night of December 2, 1966, Shirley Clarke and a tiny crew convened in her apartment at the Hotel Chelsea to make a film. For twelve straight hours, they filmed the one-and-only Jason Holliday as he spun tales, sang,...
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One
Directed by William Greaves • 1968 • United States
Starring William Greaves, Patricia Ree Gilbert, Don Fellows
In his one-of-a-kind fiction/documentary hybrid SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM TAKE ONE, director William Greaves presides over a beleaguered film crew in New York’s Central Park, leaving them t...
Directed by Charles Burnett • 1969 • United States
Charles Burnett’s first film already displays the director’s neorealist, poetry-of-the-everyday style as it follows a group of friends over the course of an aimless day in Los Angeles.
Directed by Agnès Varda • 1970 • United States
Agnès Varda turns her camera on an Oakland demonstration against the imprisonment of activist and Black Panthers cofounder Huey P. Newton. In addition to evincing Varda’s fascination with her adopted surroundings and her empathy, this perceptive sho...
A Well Spent Life
Directed by Les Blank • 1971 • United States
A deeply moving tribute to the Texas songster, Mance Lipscomb, considered by many to be the greatest guitarist of all time.
Directed by Kathleen Collins • 1982 • United States
Starring Seret Scott, Bill Gunn, Duane Jones
One of the first feature films directed by an African American woman, Kathleen Collins’s LOSING GROUND tells the story of a marriage between two remarkable people, both at a crossroads in their lives...
Directed by Camille Billops and James Hatch • 1982 • United States
One of the many films that Camille Billops and James Hatch made centering on Billops’s family, SUZANNE, SUZANNE presents a devastating portrait of the artist’s niece, haunted by the abuse she suffered as a child and the passivity...
Directed by Horace Jenkins • 1982 • United States
Starring Richard Romain, Tommye Myrick, Carol Sutton
Written, produced, and directed by the late, trailblazing director Horace B. Jenkins and crafted by an entirely African American cast and crew, this luminous, recently rediscovered landmark of ...
My Brother's Wedding
Directed by Charles Burnett • 1983 • United States
Starring Everett Silas, Jessie Holmes, Gaye Shannon-Burnett
Recut and restored twenty-five years after its ill-fated premiere, Charles Burnett’s second feature is an eye-opening revelation—wise, funny, heartbreaking, and timeless. Pierce Mundy w...
Bless Their Little Hearts
Directed by Billy Woodberry • 1984 • United States
Starring Nate Hardman, Kaycee Moore, Angela Burnett
Scripted and shot by Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry’s slice-of-life revelation is a key masterpiece of the LA Rebellion, the black independent-cinema renaissance that emerged from UCLA’s film...
When it Rains
Directed by Charles Burnett • 1995 • United States
Charles Burnett paints a jazz- and poetry-inflected portrait of African American community and resilience via the story of a mother who enlists a musician’s help when she is evicted on New Year’s Day.
The Final Insult
Directed by Charles Burnett • 1997 • United States
Charles Burnett cannily blends documentary and dramatic action with this searing, savagely ironic tale of a bank employee reduced to living out of his car, in a character study that doubles as a compassionate portrait of Los Angeles’s homeless c...
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 1/2
Quiet as Kept
Directed by Charles Burnett • 2007 • United States
A squabble reveals the anxieties and generational differences within a New Orleans family displaced by Hurricane Katrina in this alternately comedic and casually profound video work.
A Walk with Charles Burnett
Charles Burnett is an unsung master of American cinema who led the way for black independent filmmakers to tell their stories on-screen with poetic-realist revelations like KILLER OF SHEEP and TO SLEEP WITH ANGER. In this original documentary, Burnett joins another trailblazing African American d...