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At Least Five Oscar-Qualifying Documentaries This Year Were Directed by Black Women – Are You Watching?

At Least Five Oscar-Qualifying Documentaries This Year Were Directed by Black Women - Are You Watching?

Woefully underreported by major news outlets to date is the fact that this year, there are at least five feature documentaries directed by black women qualifying for Academy Award consideration, including Gideon’s Army by Dawn PorterFree Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola LynchValentine Road by Marta Cunningham; The New Black by Yoruba Richenand American Promise by Michele Stephenson

I’ve written often here on S&A about the work being done in the documentary world and how it tends to fly under the radar. Even critically acclaimed docs tend to receive less attention, understandably, as they come with smaller budgets, limited distribution (if they make it to theaters at all), and center on issues that are often more serious and less “sexy” than their counterparts on the scripted film side. 

Still, black documentary filmmakers – and black women in particular – are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space. The films listed above have been awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit, but many are still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration. 

As advances in digital filmmaking have made documentaries far more affordable and accessible, these filmmakers are thriving in terms of output and achievement, but are still hankering for attention. 

So as we see a noteworthy number of black female doc directors qualifying for Oscars this year, it makes sense to highlight these films, if only in hopes that more voting members will be watching and taking note. 

We’ve covered most of these projects at length on this site, but consider this a handy recap for those just tuning in: 

FREE ANGELA AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS

Director: Shola Lynch 

This in-depth profile of activist Angela Davis premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and attracted the support of executive producers Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jay-Z. 

S&A Review HERE

S&A Interview with Shola Lynch HERE


VALENTINE ROAD

Director: Marta Cunningham 

This HBO Documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and explores the lives of two middle schoolers – an out transgender student and the classmate convicted of his murder. 

GIDEON’S ARMY

Director: Dawn Porter

A profile of three young, idealistic public defenders in the Deep South. This New York Times Critic Pick won the Editing award at Sundance 2013. 

S&A Review HERE

AMERICAN PROMISE

Directors: Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster

Won the Documentary Special Jury Prize for Achievement in Filmmaking at Sundance 2013. Follows the 13-year educational journeys of two African American boys at an elite college prep school. 

S&A Review HERE 

S&A interview with Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster HERE


THE NEW BLACK

Director: Yoruba Richen 

This explosive documentary on race, sexuality, and the black church premiered at LA Film Festival and picked up the Best Documentary award at Urbanworld Film Festival. 


*Many thanks to Thom Powers and our friends in the doc world for lending their thoughts to this discussion. 

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