Black Independent Films

Tuesday, April 12 by C.T. Wright

Originally excluded from the traditional Hollywood machine, Black independent films grew out of a desire for a group of people to see themselves on screen. Ever since the birth on the American movie business a separate cinema has existed where African-American’s wrote, directed, produced, and acted in films of their own making. The movies on this are just some among the many to enjoy.

  1. “She's Gotta Have It”(1986). Director Spike Lee's black and white "joint, " as he likes to call them, ushered in the modern age of black independent film. This little-picture-that-could grossed ten times what it cost to make and proved to be a critical success. It also gave rise to a new generation of African-American filmmakers.
  2. “Precious” (2009). This groundbreaking black independent film received tons of attention during its award season run. It netted a Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for Mo’nique, as well as a Best Screenplay Oscar for Geoffrey Fletcher, the first African-American ever to win the award. Though hard to watch for its gritty depiction of teenage sexual and physical abuse, it introduced talented actress Gabourey Sidibe to the world.
  3. “Menace II Society” (1993). A harrowing ride through the mean streets of Los Angeles, this black independent film made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival when it was released. Directed by then 21 year-old wunderkind Hughe Brothers, the movie was a critical and commercial success.
  4. “Yelling to the Sky” (2011). Making a splash at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals upon its debut, this film stars Zoe Kravitz, daughter of rock n’ roller Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet. Similar to “Precious” in its tale of teen-age abuse, this independent film has a more hopeful outcome.
  5. “Pariah” (2011). Not only is this independent film a portrait of black life in Brooklyn but a powerful example of LGBT cinema. Freshman director Dee Rees paints an artistic tale of a young black girl trying to “come out.” Textured and full of nuance it represents the best of black independent film.
  6. “Daughter's of the Dust” (1991). Told from the viewpoint of an unborn child, the story is truly independent in its vision. The tale of three generations of women from the Gullah Islands, off the coast of the United States, tells a story seldom seen on screen. The movie was voted into the U.S. National Film Registry as being culturally and historically relevant.
  7. “Mississippi Damned” (2010).This independent film portrays the lives of black residents of a small Mississippi town. Based on true events it covers teen lesbianism, multitudinous sexual abuses and lower socio-economic marital dynamics. It received a James Baldwin Fellow from the United States Artist Fellowship.
  8. “Before I Self Destruct” (2009). Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, writes, directs and co-produces this movie.  An honest entrance in the black independent film category, “Fifty” stars as a hit man trying to do right by his little brother.
  9. “Hollywood Shuffle” (1987).This comedy classic from the late '80's parodies the struggles a black actor has to put up with in Hollywood. Laugh-out-loud funny at the time of its release, it exposed many of the inner workings of Hollywood typecasting. Director and star Robert Townsend financed it himself running up $100,000 on his credit cards.
  10. “Straight out of Brooklyn” (1991). Directed by, then 19 year-old wunderkind, Matty Rich, this independent film was made for less than half a million dollars. Coming on the heels of Spike’s Lee’s groundbreaking work, it focused on youths in Brooklyn’s RedHook projects.
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