“I think canons end up being defined as much by what they leave out as by what they let in,” Criterion president Peter Becker tells The New York Times in an interview in which he admits the film collection has not done right by Black filmmakers. The Times reports that of the 1,034 films currently in the Criterion Collection, there are only 9 titles directed by Black filmmakers. Of the Black directors that have made the Criterion cut, four are from America (Charles Burnett, William Greaves, Spike Lee, who has two films, and Oscar Micheaux) and four are from outside the U.S. (Steve McQueen, Djibril Diop Mambéty, Ousmane Sembène, Euzhan Palcy).
“There’s nothing I can say about it that will make it OK,” Becker said about the lack of Black directors in the Criterion Collection. “The fact that things are missing, and specifically that Black voices are missing, is harmful, and that’s clear. We have to fix that.”
“You always wanted as a filmmaker to be part of the Criterion Collection, you’re always hoping for that call,” director Gina Prince-Bythewood told The Times. “Every month, they put out an alert about their films coming out, and every month, I open it to see if they’re going to highlight any Black filmmakers. And it never happens.”
Ava DuVernay told The Times that by mostly shutting Black directors out of the Criterion Collection, the company has contributed to “cinema segregation in the art-house circuit.” The filmmaker added, “There are all these gates that are closed to Black filmmakers. It’s a minimizing of the Black film canon. But also it’s a minimizing of the audience, to think that they wouldn’t be interested in Haile Gerima’s ‘Sankofa,’ or ‘Ashes and Embers,’ or would not want to see all the work of Julie Dash.”
Becker is vowing to increase diversity within in the Criterion Collection and is assembling a “curatorial advisory group” that will “work with him to identify acquisition targets and prevent the exclusion of the next Julie Dash or Barry Jenkins.” The Times reports: “He also plans to hire more Black employees; there are none currently at leadership levels.” Becker said the company is “beginning senior leadership coaching for all of our management teams in terms of antiracist hiring practices.”
Head over to The New York Times’ website to read the full report on the Criterion’s lack of Black filmmakers.