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‘Why Can’t Black Filmmakers Make…?’ And Other Worrisome Questions About Black Filmmakers

'Why Can't Black Filmmakers Make...?' And Other Worrisome Questions About Black Filmmakers

This is something I've been thinking about lately and how I would approach it on this blog; I wanted to think about it some more to properly gather my thoughts, but I reached the conclusion that I'd just put it out there and see what kind of discussion follows.

Often when we post what we (and other people who read this blog) consider very good films about black people, but that are written and directed by non-black filmmakers (usually white filmmakers), or films in genres that black filmmakers don't dabble in as much as others (like fantasy, sci-fi, horror, speculative fiction, etc), again, directed by non-black filmmakers, there's almost always inevitably a comment or two (or more) asking why we (black people, specifically black filmmakers) can't make films like those; and then the conversation expands, and the general feeling I get from them suggests that many of us don't think black filmmakers are capable of making really great films, or films that are in genres other than the usual dramas and comedies. 

That bothers me, because it implies that there's something wrong with us and our abilities, or that there's some kind of inferiority in black film talent, or that we're just not as creative when it comes to telling stories on film; and there's often a shock or surprise when we make *superb* cinema, or genre films with black people in them (as in, wow, I can't believe a black filmmaker made that; or I've even read some people say that they assumed a filmmaker wasn't black when a certain kind of film is posted on this site).

I feel like the wrong questions are being asked in those instances. It's unsettling to think that some of us believe that the same race of people who begat the many music styles celebrated globally today, as well as dance, and who come from the tradition of the griot, having written a long history of great novels, and continue to produce great literary work, telling wonderfully rich and varied stories about us, all over the world, and in various eras (in some cases, alternate universes, and timelines), are, for some reason, limited or even inept, when it comes to cinema.

I think the question to ask, or the discussions to have should focus on what forces might be getting in the way of that great, imaginative, space opera starring black people; or why none of Octavia Butler's novels has ever made it to the the big screen; and more.

As for the "quality' issue, there are lots of black filmmakers making technically sound films; or what you call "quality" films. We write about them on this site regularly. The films may not immediately appeal to you, but you might want to give some of those films and filmmakers a closer look, even if you don't care for the stories they are telling. They may not all be as prolific as Tyler Perry, but they're working, often in silence. 

But I'm interested in reading what you guys think about what I'm saying here. Does anyone out there actually, truly believe that black filmmakers are somehow "behind" or have some talent deficiency that's getting in the way? Or that black filmmakers aren't imaginative or creative enough to think up some fantastical idea of a story and put in on film?

And for all you black filmmakers out there, how do you react or respond to this?

Am I making sense? I hope so. I'm working this through… maybe you can help.

This Article is related to: Features


M. J. Smith

Dear Sir,
I have read your article and appreciate it. I will share my thoughts and conclusions with you.
First, there have always been ample "qualified blacks" in any area of expertise, it's true. The problem is whether their expertise is researched, accepted, and then financed. Often, they are known only to experts in a given area. Rest assured that there is ample talent in black filming on any given subject, but financing is an issue. Hollywood is profit driven and not in the business of equal employment or equal opportunity. Moreover, Hollywood is still hanging on to stereotypes about black people, black actors, and anything that blacks participate in. To remedy this, black film makers must receive the support of black people. There are enough of us to make any film financially successful.
"Birth of a Nation", established the five stereotype roles for blacks in Hollywood:Tom's' mammy' mallatto's, buck's, and coon's. Unfortunately, every black is analyzed in this manner, black film maker's included. As an aside, I read that the "Matrix" was originally written by a black woman. Not being given credit, she litigated and "won" her case against the producers of the film. Genius is not limited to any given group of people. But if you want something done, you'll have to do it yourself. Once Hollywood sees the "profits", Hollywood will come begging like they came begging Tyler Perry: Hollywood literally begged him for years.
No, blacks are not talent deficient, as with every endeavor in America, we are simply under-funded. I suggest that you keep in mind that "film making" is a "high-rollers" profession, and will take time. Please take time and wait for a good and fair contract.
Remember, Hollywood for what it is: the industry that would not let blacks kiss whites (until Belafonte kissed one on TV, the industry that said there was no money in black films(until Sweet Sweet Back Bad Ass Song), Shirley Temple and Step and Fetchit (I always admired Shirley because Steppin was working(Uncle Toming", while other blacks were out of work. That gave Nat King Cole a 15 minute weekly program with instruction to stare "over the heads of white women in the audience". The industry is extremely conservative, I mean to the right of Attilla the Hun.
One final point, segregation has financial benefits: the more blacks that are not included, the better job security for those left to make films. Blacks will be excluded and a foreign film maker will be hired (only in America).


Tell better stories.
Do something new
Work with white actors
as well as black. Don't just make
black films.


From an audience perspective: Conservatism, social realism, an under-developed critical culture and money. I think these things apply to both ourselves and white audiences. A black character cannot be too crazy (that's racist) or good (that's unrealistic); nobody knows how to deal with black film because although it's evident that the structures of criticism that work for white cinema do not work for us, nobody has worked out a way of doing something else; the burden of social realism means that black cinema is always couched in social issues – it never becomes unselfconscious so that we can focus on abstract issues (which is the mark of universality); lack of proper funds, which is fifty-percent blatant racism (i.e, "black cinema" as a genre within general (read: white) cinema, not an entity in itself) and fifty-percent conservatism (i.e, boring ass films about struggle that don't try to be innovative, unusual or interesting.) I would add that although community endorsement and support is really important, it can't be relied upon. In a bullish arrogant culture, black filmmakers need to be bullish and arrogant. You don't have to kill your parents and sell your children, but you have to have a singular vision, you have to disregard what people think, and you have to be a little outlandish. From what I can see, that's the nature of the industry, and the only way to change it is to dominate it. If anything, black filmmakers are too nice.


I'm tired of the same ole same ole when it comes to black films. I'm looking to break the mold soon and crush the proverbial box we put ourselves in when it comes to making movies.

Eric Middleton

How can any Black filmaker comment on, put together, or elaborate on any life style that some blacks go through unless they actually went through it themselves. Today, many fakes are making it as rappers, talking about struggles that they never even went through. But, real gangsters, dope dealers, and killers know who they are. Eventually, they sooner or later must face the music. Some wind up as Illuminatti puppets! Personally, what I would like to see is a DVD made about the struggles of a Black Man in todays society. Unemployment went down for whites but, skyrocketted for all Black Men only. Talk about how black women always say, "We have the Black Man's Syndrome". Talk about how, we are left out, unaccounted for, don't have a voice, but God still makes a way out of no way at all, because we are faithfull to the very end!! Eric in Victorville, Ca.

Jesse Swift Jr.

I think it's because we as black people have always kept ourselves very, very limited. The average black work ( whether literary or cinematic) has a black person as either "too black" ( gangstas, pimps, crackheads, etc.) or basically a Tom. There's no in between. White people prosper in all aspects of entertainment because they can be depicted as anything. Hell, The Last Samurai starred Tom Cruise. When we as a people realize that 2pac and Bill Cosby aren't the only 2 black archetypes, we'll be able to tell more diverse stories.

Daniel Garrett

Maybe the most useful thing to do is do discuss the good films that have been made by African-Americans, and those of African descent, whether as actors, producers, or directors.

Here is a piece I wrote, not long ago, on an African-American film canon:

Notes on an African-American Canon in Cinema:

and some other pieces of mine:

Bro Asili

Why can't they make 2000 Season by Ayi Kwei Armah. Oh, and yeah I agree with everything you said.


I'm just now getting into filmmaking and having trouble as where im located people don't seem to understand that you can pursue a dream despite what the majority say. Everything has to be practical and bring in a check right away otherwise its not understood. This is at least true within my circles. I think it's a cultural issue personally. Blacks are not encouraged enough to follow creative pursuits. Many are born into poverty or close to it. So success, especially in today's economy, is getting a secure job one that pays more than min. wage and taking care of the family. There's lack of aspiration and no drive to branch out. Part of it is tradition, what they've come from and their parents and what they're exposed to. I was exposed to anime, fantasy novels & games through friends (who happened to be white). No one else in my family knew of those things or didn't partake since they're friends didn't i guess. TV helped a lot with other genres. I loved tv, it was my way of escaping and that's a major part of why I dream the stuff i do now i guess. Then again tv's come a long way as to being more diverse. I see more ethnic blending of cultures and breaking the traditions of stereotypes, but at the same time there's still (within my community) a lot who perpetuate stereotypes. Its almost as if blacks don't know they are allowed to dream. Or their ideas of success are based off mainstream media, where black is the norm (Sports/Music). Exposure to other art forms, genres is key i think in expanding creative pursuits in the black community, as well as encouragement.


As an African American Indy Film consultant, I think that the answer to this question is not as complex as many would expect. Actually, it's quite simple. I have had the pleasure of viewing many film by Black Filmmakers. Many of which were great, but most of them were sub-par. The reason for this is simple. Most Black independent filmmakers don't bother about taking the time to study the science of filmmaking. Science being; what makes an audience laugh, cry, become angry, scared, anxious, worried etc.
We tend to think that it's all in the dialogue. We get a camera, aim it at the two people having the conversation and press record. Then do the same from another angle, and hope that we will have a great piece to edit. We do not take the time to study what should be in the frame, what kind of score would be needed to drive the scene, what kind of camera movement will sell the audience on the dialogue, when is a cut necessary, what pace should the film take on. Why foley is important, why ADR is essential etc…
There are so many factors to making a great or even a good film. We just seem to be focused on the simpler of all ingredients…. The resources for learning these traits are free. You can go on Youtube and get professional instruction on ALL of these thing. You can simply watch a good Hollywood movie and practice techniques. From there you can learn to create your own filming techniques. We just have to have enough of a desire to make a film that impcts instead of just making a film… There is so much more to this discussion. I appreciate the healthy conversation.



I wish I would have gotten in on this discussion earlier. A lot of insightful comments. I share the perspective that black filmmakers are going to have to train the black audience, the white audience, and the international audience, to expect an intense and compelling experience whenever they see our films. I was raised with the ethic of being twice as good to be considered equal as many of you were. The crux of the matter is that film is seen as business which pushes black filmmakers to contain their creativity in the cylinder of perceived market forces. The only way out is to change the dynamics. I have been inspired by seeing individuals on this sight discuss coming together to use their resources to make films. We have to be able to demonstrate our excellence without much financial support. As a former MC, hip hop was a recent example of our ability to accomplish this, but it requires us to see this black film thing more as movement and less as commerce. Because the early sci-fi or fantasy films may not make much money, perhaps, no money. So sweat equity and passion for our craft is really the only key to those who wish to travel on the filmmaking frontiers. I have seen many excellent films done where people chose to use their limitations to inspire their art. How many of us live in or near run down areas? How about a black post apocalyptic film? I know I am making it seem simple. But throughout every genre of creativity, there have always been people who took those risks. We need to think about how we help peoples tastes to evolve. I think it will take a number of films which are of an excellent quality to eventually turn the tide. I don't know how many but since Hollywood won't much help, I think we are going to have to develop a more useful way of defining what the nature of the problem really is.

Sabine Mondestin

It is a very interesting topic . I think the film industry is more open to white people. As a actor and a filmmaker I find that the gate keeper of this industry will be more open to any other culture than black . I am bitter about it because I understand that I have to work harder to succeed ( specially because I am Canadian black woman ) but my point is we as black filmmaker we have to work harder and sometime some of us just give up …It sad but it's true.


Interesting article. I remember asking my father this same question years ago. I never understood why we blacks don't put out any creative cinematic works outside of the usual drama genre we're accustomed to making movies on and it would be good to have some blacks who have the courage and creative talent to take a break from these kinds of movies to make something other than a drama movie like sci-fi thriller, or action adventure flick that can compete with all the blockbuster movies Hollywood makes every year. I agree wholeheartedly that money is a major factor behind the lack of effort toward making these kinds of films since it takes a great deal of it, especially to make a decent sci-fi movie but I think the second major factor is the whole "white" mentality that's still prevalent among black people who think that making black movies outside of the usual drama or comedy centered on black culture and stereotypes is somehow "white" and lame when I never thought that way. Then again, it simply boils down to what works for them(the black producers and the ignorant blacks) and what they like. They don't really see a need for movies like that to be made since they know that our people will shell out our money to go see the same old usual tropes and stereotypical black culture movies no matter how cliched or redundant the plots and themes are. That, and they don't want to take the risk of making something only to have it become a box-office flop. Hell, the phenomena is the same for all the rappers who rap about money, cars, hoes, guns, and etc. instead of taking a break from the usual topics to try something new and stand out from all the other rappers since they know rap about those topics make money.

As for me, I'm a black avid cartoon/anime fan I've already got ideas for swimming around in my head for animated sci-fi/fantasy series' I hope to make someday. I wish there were more blacks into the animation industry that would put out such works, but I know they exist and I'll definitely support them. There's still no excuse whatsoever for the lack of black sci-fi, fantasy, action adventure, or animated films created by blacks since we should have have had more than enough influence and creative inspiration from our culture and the works of non-blacks to produce them. I just hope in due time, more blacks would come forward with the courage and money to produce something other than another social drama flick all of us are starting to get tired of seeing.

Belle Allen

I think the issue is financing and the fact that Hollywood has no interest in giving these filmakers a chance if their stories don't perpetuate certain stereotypes. Money is an issue but even as a struggling black actress ,I would work on a low budget film for free if it got some of these talented people exposure.


There are many Black-focused screenplays, graphic novels, and books in existence. Years worth piling on top of each other. The stumbling block is access to distribution and financing. But as with the early days of rap music that predated the Internet, the content creators found their audiences. It's hard, but it can be done. I watched a little movie called Primer about time travel that consisted of two guys, a storage room, and a trunk. Very low budget, but it found a following. Many fantastic works exist in the public domain that can be adapted into low-budget productions starring Black casts. No need for permission.


And as much as you're disrespecting Tyler, he is also in the game at a way higher plateau than almost all of the filmmakers mentioned on S&A.

Oh lorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd! No you didn't. His game sure is high. Making black sistas like crazy baby drama mama's (Daddy's little girls) or angry mean just don't understand wife's (Good Deeds). I can't wait to see 6ft 5 Madea in the christmas spectacular. Lordsssssy Lord. How come when I watch a Tyler Perry movie I feel like I'm watching a episode of Jerry Springer?

And that Nicholl Fellowship sounds promising. I'm sure they'll embrace a black character screenplay. The past winners look like the republican party. A sprinkling of black in a sea of white. Oh damn, I gotta use that in my writing. Even chris tucker said , "Damnnnnnnnnnnn."


The harsh reality is, what will people pay to see? Will white audiences pay to see stories with a majority black cast in the usual drama and comedy genres? I think that history says, "no". (BTW – I saw "Middle of Nowhere" in a mainstream theatre with 3 other people. It featured for 1 week.) Would white audiences pay money to see to an excellent sci-fi movie where the main characters happened to be black? I hope that the answer to this question is yes. Another important question is, would black audiences pay money to see an excellent black sci-fi film? Unfortunately (and I'm just being honest here), I think the answer is no. So, I'm stuck with a maybe on the white audiences, and a no on the black audiences. I don't see movie industry executives having a bidding war over this kind of film. We can make them but who is going to pay to see them? Jury prizes are great. Ticket sales pay bills. I don't think that it's hopeless. Someone has the find the sweet spot between art and commerce for black films. Of course, it's easier said then done.


Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi is great but you have to start somewhere. Ava may be limited to black social drama's , but she's in the game and she's making quality movies. Tyler makes his melodramatic movies and he gets paid well for it. Gotta start somewhere.


My best friend and I have watched so many anime and we've been asking this same question amongst ourselves for like forever….I'm coming from the comic, book sci fi, magic and fairie type background so when I read octavia butler's work and L.A. Banks's, rest her soul, work I was like these would make some kick ass films…Over the years though I do understand that the industry DOESN'T want to see black people in any other roles besides the one's we see today. Maybe a few will get through to do something but overall…not really. For instance, Marvel comics came out with a backstory behind the Captain America soldier serum…To cut a long story short, the first captain america was black,, but the film or animated series will never be made. Not by mainstream film makers..

In saying that though, With so many Black millionares and movie makers and the like it would be easy to make the movies we want to see but it always looks like we don't want to see them. Only complain when someone else makes it. With so many sheroes and heroes you would think that it would be a no brainer but…

I'm starting to ramble so I'll end it there. Hopefully mindsets will change and we'll start to ulphold the legacy we don't seem to want to carry.



Lots of great points in the article and the comments section.
I think that the biggest problem is that over the last 40 years or so, there was never a Real, Consistent Infrastructure made in Black Hollywood or outside of it that cultivated film making; One generation helping another succeed. Often times we would either get an amazing 'black' film with whites behind the scenes, (The Color Purple) or cross over A Listers, Eddie Murphy/ Will Smith, to a lesser extent (arguably) The Rock, that would succeed but it seems to end with them. It's sad to watch new actors and directors have such a hard time getting projects off the ground. I know SO many components have to come together and work in order for a film to not just be completed, but good. And then for the ones that have 'made it' to not reach back properly and mentor the next generation is just… it creates this stagnant environment where you have to write articles like the one above.
I think the solution is def. going to be the internet. I know a lot of people laugh at web series etc. but it's really the wave of the future. For someone savvy enough, they could make a mint with a independent film/series Netflix type of programming. Properly marketed of course. But so many people, including myself are tired of Hollywood and its BS. It's time for the next wave.


Black folks make horror films! Check this out! Folks around the world are digging it since I put it online. Also been featured several times here on S&A——->

Nadine Barnett Cosby

I have to agree whole-heartedly with Soulwize. I don't think it's a question of the creativity or originality. There are many great black filmmakers out here doing work that would be considered very much "out of the box." The issues have already been referenced: accessibility, finance, marketing…and most of all, audience support. We tend to immediately assume that audience support means from our own community. However, the sad fact is that black audiences alone won't sustain a film (with the exception of the likes of filmmakers mentioned, Spike and TP…but they of course, already have built that following). Therefore, it's incumbent among black filmmakers (myself included) to not only create works that delve into genres that are generally atypical among our sect, but to also bring the same kind of diversity into those projects that we would like to see in mainstream movies. We need to take steps, albeit baby steps in the right direction. So if a black filmmaker is making a sci-fi film, it doesn't necessarily need to consist of an all black cast as well. Diversity will attract a wider audience and build that filmmaker's recognition as a great filmmaker, not only a great black filmmaker


I'm baffled by most of these comments. Do you all realize how many sci-fi/horror flicks are released compared to every other genre? And how many of them are actually good? And then factor in the amount of black creators who are working in the mainstream right now. It has nothing to do with black people's incapability or lack of creativity. It has everything to do with access, which is not an excuse. It's a big fucking reality facing all filmmakers with an added emphasis on people of color. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BLACK PEOPLE. There is everything wrong with the system we operate under. And I think we've done pretty damn well for ourselves in the history of cinema considering.


I want to be one of the few who are venturing outside of the proverbial black film box. I'm working on a horror movie featuring primarily people of color none of which are dying in the first 5 minutes of the movie. I've seen black horror movies and do not want to even be close to that. I'm trying to take it to the next level and hopefully in the near future after the rewrites I will have found a black director on the same page and get the ball rolling.


Such a rich topic of discussion and insights presented here. Thank you for posting. As a Black content creator across media platforms, I concur with alot of the points here: Money, Distribution and what was touched upon: CREATIVITY. We large in part have a herd mentality. Anything outside the comfort zone of the Black American experience is often frowned upon or is ironically accepted once validated by mainstream/white culture. We can look at our greatest artists across the realm of music/art/film/ books and see that their genius was augmented by MANY influences. We as a people often battle with herd vs. individual thinking or grapple with whether something is "Black Enough"…Black enough according to whom? We all come from different experiences but are bound by common threads. WE ARE NOT MONOLITHIC PEOPLE we ARE POLYRYTHMIC. The Afro-Punk documentary and subsequent movement brought light to this mental hang up. David Hammons (born 1943) an African-American artist mostly known for his works in and around New York City during the 1970s and 1980s (and for those of you who have been to the Studio Museum of Harlem and seen it's Red/Black/Green American Flag_-that's his joint. He said, I paraphrase , "I don't make Black Art, whatever I do is going to be Black art, cause I am Black". So it is imperative I think that we must BROADEN our definition of what we think we can do or can't do and must go out of our way to find /expand/challenge our creative range. It's not easy and nothing good/worthwhile ever is…


Aside from the gatekeepers/financing/marketing/distribution/creative/commerce argument is that, as with any entertainment experience, people are creatures of habit and exposure. If you've not been exposed to new things then you won't seek out new things. Because of our numbers, as it relates to education, finances, etc., there aren't as many black people interested in indie films as whites. I don't know if Ava D. was interviewed by the likes of Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner or Michael Baisden on their respective radio programs. If she had been, then maybe the revenue for "Middle of Nowhere" would have been higher in the heavily black populated cities where the movie played. I don't know because I live in a very heavily white populated city and state, so I haven't gotten to see the movie either. And a lot of movies and industry news that are discussed on this site aren't things that the average black moviegoer is interested in or knows about. I think filmmakers have to be smart and fearless like Spike and Ava. They're finding a way to make it work. And they're telling the stories they want to tell, regardless, of how many people are coming to see the work. And I don't think filmmakers can solely rely on social media to get the word out about their films. I think one can use guerilla marketing tactics, but you have to be smart. TP went to his audience — which was, mainly, younger and middle-aged black women who love church. And I think social media is so over-hyped when it comes to marketing and reaching consumer audiences. If social media was or is such a great tool, then wouldn't, for example, the numbers for MON be higher? But there not. So there's something else going on there. And part of what that something else is, I think, is cultural. Taste. And, I'm somewhat generalizing, but for a large swath of blacks, it's difficult to step outside of their comfort zone and experience something that is unknown, be it "Seinfeld," or a Red Wings hockey game. …TP's stuff is like comfort food. That's why his audience flocks to it and that's why Alex Cross tanked. So filmmakers, make the film that YOU want and please yourself. OR make a commercial film and make some bucks. Do what feels right for you and you'll always be a success.


I must admit. I read the article. I read the comments. And I am still confused. Shadow & Act showcases some of the most diverse content I've seen created by black filmmakers around the world — both commercial and independent. It's becoming my go-to source to find out what's emerging both on the internet, theatrically and at festivals. In fact, (to me that is) S&A delivers almost daily the strongest case that black filmmakers ARE doing cutting edge, diverse, fresh stories in different genres. Now, granted we are not releasing big budget horror and sci-fi movies (yet)– but, we already know why (financing and distribution). However, we are doing these kinds of genres on smaller scales (there are several sci-fi web series featuring and/or starring black leads that immediately come to mind). So the essential question is how do we move to the big leagues in these genres? Easy — follow the example of this guy. There are no more excuses. And, if you can't get the link, google: Fede Alvarez


A fantastic question. We are a very creative and imaginative people. Except in very rare instances, it doesn't show in our filmmaking. I would challenge more filmmakers of color to take more risks when telling their stories and use their imagination and study film of all caliber. Film is a risky business and too often, cameras and distribution end up in the hands of people who are in it for the money and haven't really made film their life's work, while people who have fantastic ideas cant get them past the script phase. Now that technology has brought us to the point where anyone can make ILM quality special effects on their desktop, there's no excuse for us to keep recycling the same three ideas. If you can't execute your idea as a feature, make a short or do it as a graphic novel. Be creative and use your imagination. Trust that there are enough people to support your vision if you craft it well.


" Does anyone out there actually, truly believe that black filmmakers are somehow "behind" or have some talent deficiency that's getting in the way?"

I do.. I feel a great majority of us are in it to be famous…point blank. We are more concerned with going out and doing as apposed to learning and then doing. Great if you go out and do your thing however if you don't know what your doing then whats the point. We do not put in nearly the focus or energy a musician does when learning their craft. Ask any real good artist out there and they can speak a language ordinary folk are not familiar with in addition musical influences and genres that we may never heard of..we need that same level of focus in film. They are outlets for these individuals to hone in on their craft at a early age like church or band at school. In film we lack the outlets at a early age that does not require money. By time we realize that this is what we want to do we meet our white counter parts in these settings(College) and learn that they have been honing their craft at an early age via nepotism or paid film lessons not privy to mass public. Now this does not mean that they are better artistically or that we cannot match the efforts that they put out. Its just that we need to create outlets(pre-college) for young up comers to excel in cinema. Not just directing and acting but cinematography, editing, composing, producing etc.

Boris A Harris

I totally agree black filmmakers are black sheeped in a lot of ways and it bothers the heck out of me. I think black artists are always in competition with each other,we don't want to collaborate with each other. I think every black filmmaker has a good story to tell. But ittime for us to start our own distribution companies, like movie theaters and studios. Plus the black audience needs to come out and support these good films and stop supporting these slave, Aunt Jemina, Mangingo, stereotypical films thats taking us back 200 years. Us as Screenwriters and filmmakers have the power of the pen to write what we want.


Let's start with how many working, in English, Black feature filmmakers there are. We're talking maybe 600 since the beginning of the film age, compared to 200,000 in the general population. The more Black filmmakers we have, the more good Black films will be made!


Well it sure isn't our writing capability. I mean it's 2012 and if the cast is 99% black, the movie isn't marketable? Were still living in some ridiculous times I tell you that. So we got the black president, but when it comes to motion pictures were still not fully accepted. We can come up with stories just like any other human being.

Thirteen years ago flight wasn't written for Denzel Washington. It was probably written for a George Clooney or who knows maybe Val Kilmer. And 'think like a man' wasn't open in all theaters in the USA, because they didn't think it would make as much money as it did.
It all comes down to a few things that are important and we all must do in order to get our projects greenlighted.

1) You have to have the best SCREENPLAY you can have. The script is it! I read over at a website, that you shouldn't hand the script to a professional till the tenth draft. Yes, the tenth. And I don't mean a professional person in a studio. I'm talking about a professional reader that will tell you what is good about the script and what can be approved. Ten drafts is pushing it, but there is just so much to screenwriting.

2)Entering the script in screenplay contests is a sure way to meet people and get feedback on what you wrote. Right now I'm avoiding the ones with the big pay out prizes. I so badly want to win one next year, but hey I'm a beginner. I'll be lucky to be a semi-finalist. They'll hook you up with a manager. And you get to talk with managers. (Managers deal with less clients; Agents can have hundreds). Also going to film festivals is a sure chance to meet connections. I read in script meetups, that producers, directors, and writers at the Austin Film Festival, are approachable and will talk to you when their hanging out downtown.
I want to rack a managers brain and tell him my attentions about BLACK cinema. And if they ask who are you thinking for these roles, I'd tell them Sanaa Lathan or Taye Diggs.
And having one script isn't enough. A manager will ask, 'what else have you written?'
Having a drama, a comedy, and maybe a SCI-FI script under your belt is ideal. But to save on some of that writing there is 'pitching.' And that's a art in itself.

3)And there is another…
Anyone heard of Devon Franklin? Vice President of production with Columbia Pictures? You want to talk about $$$ and sci-fi? Look him up on youtube, especially the video, 'If you write a good script we'll find it.' There are brotha's in power and like he said he'll find it! I hope so Devon!

In general, there is a lot we writers/filmmakers can do and there is plenty 'hollywood' can do. And don't forget Bass Reeves, a story Morgan Freeman has been talking about for years. Marshall Reeves was a very successful, 'tall', Afro-American back in the 1870's who became a US Marshal and had great success arresting criminals. (Way before Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive). Hello! Western! I bet someone has the rights to it. And if so, what's taking so long? They sure don't mention him in the history books.


Many of Octavia Butler's books have been under continuous option, meaning no one can adapt her work and hope to sell it without the option-holder's permission or until they allow the option to lapse. Butler, herself, seemed indifferent whether or not an adaptation of her works made it to screen (or stage or television or graphic novel), as long as she continued to receive the checks.


When it comes to many of the black respondents on this site, I think it usually boils down to two things:

1.) A lack of knowledge and appreciation for the rich and vast canon of Pan- African cinema that exists outside of the confines of market driven mainstream Hollywood.

2.) Self- hatred.

I think this blog is doing a wonderful job addressing the first issue. The second one…if you can figure out a cure for that problem, you’ll become a billionaire.


First, let's define some facts. 1.) On a whole are black films inferior to their white counter parts? Well, on a "whole" the answer is a resounding yes they are. 2.) Do blacks, as a whole, spend an inordinate amount of time discussing, blaming, pointing a finger at whites, and/or worrying about how they perceive us and our art? Well, if whites are used as a comparison ( the amount of time they spend doing the same) the answer again is a resounding yes. Those who disagree with those answers, may be experiencing some type of denial or wishful thinking, imo. Nevertheless, in regards to Courtney's questions of "why do we do the things we do in the film world" I believe the answers can be narrowed down to 3 basic starting points. 1.) If a person or a group of people do not believe they have a "problem", then it's unlikely they will go the extra mile to elevate or address the problems. Another way to look at it… habits are hard to break, esp when said habit is working for the person or persons ( in their mind) 2) Money and education/knowledge are key factors in many endeavors. In the area of film-making, blacks are relatively new to the game and most of our money is new money. The end result, less money and less education and less knowledge means, well… it's going to take time to grow. Whites have been doing this for a loooooong time and they've always had the money to do whatever they wish. 3 ) Complaining and blaming is very popular. There's generally someone around who would love nothing more than to engage in that activity. I mean, although I believe we can agree that it's a lazy and cheap form of conversation, but without question, it will get a conversation poppin', and draw a crowd. So, in short, the question of "why do we lag behind the white man and why do we spend so much time discussing him"… 1. We were behind from the jump, and… From the beginning we have habitually complained about the white man, and… If it ain't broke (no apparent dire consequences) then why fix it?

willie dynamite

In know a multitude of filmmakers of color that constantly think out the box and want to tell stories that are groundbreaking and totally out of the box. The problem starts with what Monique said, Money. If they are fortunate enough to get financed and shoot the film, then they have to deal with an even tougher obstacle, distribution. Any filmmaker that has done a film and gotten distribution knows how marginalized their film is when it is geared to the African American audience. This happens on two fronts, the distributor does it then the audience does it. Distributors calculate a glass ceiling for films targeted to people of color, they don't see those films as highly profitable. Every now and then an anomaly occurs but it is always an exception, never the rule. The audience component is sometimes even worse. If a film is too far out there the black audience will not get behind it. Most asked question by black people when a movie comes out…Who are the stars? We are a celebrity driven people and gage a film's value on the star power in it. That's why a bad movie with familiar faces gets love while a great film with talented unknown actors gets ignored. Distributors are aware of the fickle nature of the African American audience and treat films accordingly. Filmmakers are aware of this trickle down affect and affects why a lot of great films are never made or seen.
The success of Beasts of a Southern Wild is not due to the African American audience. The indie/art house crowd got behind that film. Films that are not typical like Oversimplification of her Beauty have to rely on an entirely different audience to thrive. I can't wait to see it but there is simply not enough of an African American audience that supports films like this. Getting a film made is tough. Getting a film distributed is even tougher. To combat that dilemma filmmakers of color have begun to diversify their casts to broaden the appeal of their films.


The writer of this article said 2 things that i think answers at least part of the question 1. "I think the question to ask, or the discussions to have should focus on what forces might be getting in the way of that great, imaginative, space opera starring black people" and "As for the "quality' issue, there are lots of black filmmakers making technically sound films; or what you call "quality" films. We write about them on this site regularly. The films may not immediately appeal to you, but you might want to give some of those films and filmmakers a closer look, even if you don't care for the stories they are telling. They may not all be as prolific as Tyler Perry, but they're working, often in silence. "

Also I think reference hurts us as well. of course you can make a good film about the same subjects that have been covered and beat to death already (see "the town" vs "set it off" =same movie"), but growing up i remember not liking seinfeld because i just didn't get the jokes in it, CHEERS or FRAISER. I cancelled them out as "WHITE PEOPLE STUFF". And growing up, a lot of us (would i be killed for saying that the vast majority of us) come from a very limited background reference wise, a certain type of background and there for are only going to make movies about certain things, and therefore will not appeal to an oscar nominated type of movie goer. but I think there are 2 different questions 1 is why cant we make a "different" kind of film and 2. why aren't the films that we are making that are different being shown. Also there IS a cap on what WE go and support and what WE are allowed to make, based on what WE go and support. PARIAH, WONDERFUL MOVIE!!! HOW MANY PEOPLE KNOW/KNEW about it when it was out? And ON TOP OF THAT, how many of US, giving the precieved subject matter, would have gone to see it anyway. At first I didn't want to, but by the time the movie was done, I was ashamed of myself for even thinking that way. So anyway, rant over but I just wanted to add my two cents.
I am an actor, who is also a budding film maker and these questions i think about EVERY SINGLE DAY! I wish you all the best in your quest to answer them…

Tau I. Robinson-Farrar

In my opinion, the reason why so many black film makers haven't made science fiction and horror films is because of the fear that no one will watch their movies. You have to remember that film is a business and not just an art. All of this is about making money. Tyler Perry is so famous because he found an audience, middle age black women, who love and want to see the stories he tells. Personally, 80% of his movies suck. I feel this way because I don't personally like the type of movies he makes and I am a black man. If there is going to be black film maker who is famous for making science fiction films for black people then there needs to be a large enough audience. If this person cannot find that audience then he/she needs to cater to a different group of people.

Besides that, I hope one day I can be one of those black film makers that everyone is happy about because he makes really professional science fiction films. I am in college right now studying animation in up state New York and I am always thinking about my thesis film. The biggest issue I am facing right now is who am I making the film for. I'm afraid that black people won't support me enough to make films on the level of district 9 or cloud atlas. What do you guys think?

Artemus Jenkins

Personally as a filmmaker, I think it is a self imposed struggle of constantly wondering who will accept what and what audience will be drawn to a specific topic. So the idea of creating something fiscally and critically successful probably does get in the way of a many artists process. Creativity and commerce really don't occupy the same space. Commerce as a result of creativity is honestly the best case scenario because you just don't know when people will like a particular thing, even if it is technically sound.

If it's good and maybe even great then there will be an audience for it. There are so many ways to reach people, I think we should focus more on identifying those 10K or so people who will always like what we do and are genuinely fans and reaching them. At some point let everyone else come around and then build from there.

As a community I think we should give things another year or two to see what will come from the minds of black artists. Somehow we do manage to be a bit behind in some creative arenas I think just based on what we are exposed to coming up, but the reception of a film like "Oversimplification of Her Beauty" shows other artists it's okay to still make a dramatic love story a different way. People just need to be fearless in their approach and believe in themselves.


Great discussion topic! I'm a film festival exhibitor/producer and when I've programmed films by Black filmmakers that are science fiction, experimental, speculative, and/or horror, I can almost see the collective question marks coming from the audience. (I try to include a range of films for a range of film-goers, so this can be frustrating.) One short film I screened over the summer dealt with Hurricane Katrina in a fantasy/science fiction narrative that used time travel, reincarnation, etc. as a plotline (heady stuff), so I prefaced the film with a short introduction and how to look for "clues" in the film and how the film could be interpreted many ways. Following the film, I opened the floor to the audience and asked, "Did anyone else see how Hurricane Katrina and loss tied into the storyline." Dial tone. One man even shook his head side to side really hard and said, "NO. I don't see THAT at all." I asked what did he see? His response, "I didn't see THAT." No explanation. (And my audiences are pretty sophisticated, so I was stumped.) It was frustrating because over the course of ten years, I've had similar feedback to non-traditional films and sometimes I feel that the audience –not the filmmaker or the film– is ready to break from dramas and comedies. It was similar to when I hosted an opening for BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. Black people who did show up REALLY liked the film, but when I and they tried to explain it to others in our community, there was a distrust because it wasn't a Black filmmaker. Maybe another discussion should be what are our audiences expecting in a film-going experience and maybe film exhibitors and filmmakers collaborating to invest in the the more adventurous film goers who could be ambassadors for films that aren't on the drama/comedy/non-mainstream path. (Ava DuVernay is one of many good examples of using social media to outreach to younger, more adventurous movie goers.)

Kia Barbee

Black filmmakers are definitely creating within the science fiction, fantasy and supernatural genre. My immediate feeling is marketing those stories to the right audience. That may or may not be exclusively African Americans. In addition, the mediums that those stories can thrive are changing (READ: web TV). It's easier for those filmmakers, like myself, to create content on a smaller scale, build an audience and transfer over to theatrical, whether that's in an actual theater or VOD–doesn't matter. Find the audience and bring the project to them.


I think that black people are too pre-occupied with what white people are gonna say/do/think when it comes to our lives – and especially our art. I hope that we can learn to love or hate and to pursue and make things at our own behest and not just to get an approving (or nonthreatening) gaze from a beige person.

I also think we put too much pressure on black artists to 'uplift' the race to the detriment of telling the truth about our WHOLE experiences – and the only critiques that are championed consistently are usually racial ones.

Monique A. Williams

I would love to see Black sci-fi flicks. I know the potential and talent is there, it's a money factor. Those aren't cheap to make and who will fund them? It's a hard road…


I was just saying the other day how I'd love to make one of Octavia Butler's novels in to a movie. A black heroine in a Sci-Fi movie would be EPIC. I think we as black filmmakers have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and not cater to audience that we think are bankable. I'm thinking of making a horror film, which is my favorite genre. So there are a few of us plotting and planning for future projects.

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