Stills for Sisters in Cinema: African American Women Filmmakers

Programmed by Brittany Williams

Essay by Brittany Williams

Some of the first films to portray African American women in the early 20th century were riddled with racism and misogyny. Even as more African American filmmakers have risen to prominence in the present day, the presence of black women in film-or lack thereof- has left something to be desired. In an attempt to increase the visibility of the black woman and expand upon their often one-dimensional and stereotypical roles, this series addresses many issues that African American women face in their day-to-day lives-racism, femininity, gender expression, love and sexuality.

For instance, Pariah (2011, Dee Rees) explores the hardships of a bright young girl struggling to understand her sexuality in an overbearing and homophobic household. The Watermelon Woman (1996, Cheryl Dunye) follows a woman, named after and played by the director, as she attempts to understand the racist mammy character that became a fixture of many films in the early 20th century. Along the way, Cheryl becomes conflicted as she finds herself falling in love with a white woman. She attempts to reconcile this newfound love despite the racial tension it exposes as she delves deeper into the history of the mammy archetype. Similarly, Middle of Nowhere ( 2012, Ava DuVernay) follows a young woman as she navigates her life in light of her husband's recent incarceration. She struggles to find a balance between the independence in living a life without her husband, while simultaneously supporting him.

In addition to starring African American women, all of the films are also directed by black women. The directors of these titles, spanning over the last 30 years, all take very different approachs in depicting the lives of black women through a wide range of times and settings that is both innovative and compelling.



2014-01-09 @ 7:00 PM

Love and Basketball

(Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000) · Childhood friends Quincy and Monica go one-on-one in this sports romance that balances a love of the game with the game of love. Monica is a "tomboy" - she wears baggy clothes and snapbacks, and she plays ball. Though he's initially threatened by her acumen on the court, Quincy, a ladies man, finds himself falling for Monica. "Love and Basketball" continued the late 90's trend of depicting a middle-class African American life that Hollywood had ignored.

runtime: 124 min format: 35mm


2014-01-16 @ 7:00 PM

A Different Image

(Alile Sharon Larkin, 1982) · A young, beautiful African American woman yearns to be recognized as more than a sex object and discover her heritage. Through her humorous relationship with a male office-mate, the film packs a punch in under an hour, making provocative connections between racism and sexism. "A Different Image" will be preceded by a showing of "Your Children Come Back to You", Larkin's half-hour long meditation on the interplay of motherhood and motherland.

runtime: 61 min format: 16mm, Restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive


2014-01-23 @ 7:00 PM

Daughters of the Dust

(Julie Dash, 1991) · Told from the perspective of an unborn child, Daughters of the Dust recounts the story of the Gullah women of the Peazant Family. The world around them changes, and they journey from St. Helena, an island off of South Carolina, home to their family for generations, to the mainland. U of C alum Lorenzo Dow Turner showed in a 1949 acedemic work that the Gullah dialect retained aspects of African languages despite the dislocation of slavery and time.

runtime: 112 min format: 35mm, Restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive


2014-01-30 @ 7:00 PM

The Watermelon Woman

(Cheryl Dunye, 1996) · Cheryl Dunye is a filmmaker? Well, she has a videotaping business and she works at a video store, so she's working on being a filmmaker. She decides her first film will be about Fae Richards, a Black actress credited with the role of "The Watermelon Woman" in a 1930's film, "Plantation Memories". In this charming work of metafiction, Cheryl draws parallels between herself, a new breed of filmmaker, and her documentary subject, a reductive cliche.

runtime: 90 min format: 16mm


2014-02-06 @ 7:00 PM

Losing Ground

(Kathleen Collins, 1982) · Sara, a philosophy professor, is loved and appreciated by her students, but she does not receive the same attention from her husband Victor, a painter. So absorbed in the pursuit of his artistic dreams, Victor leaves Sara to contemplate the reconciliation of her artistry, intellect, and agency. In Sara's quest for ecstasy, Collins paved the way for future films from a black female perspective, focusing on a real woman who seeks self-affirmation.

runtime: 86 min format: Blu-Ray


2014-02-13 @ 7:00 PM

Eve's Bayou

(Kasi Lemmons, 1997) · In rural Louisiana, young Eve leads a charmed life, with her mother a great beauty and her father (Samuel Jackson) a local hero. But when her father fails her, she puts a death hex on him with ramifications beyond her comprehension. This Southern Gothic drama was Kasi Lemmons' directorial debut and leaves a feminine stamp on territory trodden by the likes of Williams and Faulkner. Sensuality and magic ooze in this tale of childhood wonder and terror.

runtime: 109 min format: 35mm


2014-02-20 @ 7:00 PM


Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive

(Cauleen Smith, 1998) · Former Arts Incubator resident Cauleen Smith's acclaimed feature film debut follows a young woman from Oakland, CA who sets out on a mission to photograph the young black men around her, whom she considers an endangered species. Her obsessive Polaroid snapshots lead her to encounter many eccentric neighborhood characters who force her to reevaluate her own life and art. A powerful meditation on the beauty and vulnerability of everyday life.

runtime: 92 min format: 16mm


2014-02-27 @ 7:00 PM

Something New

(Sanaa Hamri, 2006) · Kenya McQueen is a successful black businesswoman whose friends urge her to try 'something new' and go on a blind date with a white landscaper. The two strike up a friendship and eventually a relationship after Kenya commissions Brian to do some landscaping work around her new home. As their interracial romance blossoms, however, Kenya's anxieties about her friends' and family's perceptions of their relationship threaten to ruin everything.

runtime: 99 min format: 35mm


2014-03-06 @ 7:00 PM


(Dee Rees, 2012) · A stirring coming-of-age story about Alike, a lesbian teenager in Brooklyn whose conflicting identities risk heartbreak and threaten her ties with friends and family in her desperate search for sexual expression. Investors dismissed the film as "too black and too gay", but Rees self-funded her semi-autobiographical first feature, going so far as to sell her own apartment. Breakout star Adepero Oduye can also be seen later this week in "12 Years A Slave".

runtime: 86 min format: 35mm


2014-03-13 @ 7:00 PM

Middle of Nowhere

(Ava DuVernay, 2012) · Ruby is forced to put med school on hold when her husband is sentenced to eight years in prison. At the same time, volatile emotional fault lines among Ruby, her mother Ruth, and her sister Rosie set the stage for some of the year's best big-screen acting in this often untold story of the sacrifices of the incarcerated's loved ones. As Ruby writes in the film's third act, "The past has disappeared. And the future, it doesn't exist until we get there."

runtime: 97 min format: 35mm


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