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The 50 Greatest Movies By Black Directors

Fruitvale Station

It’s not enough to use the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in order to draw attention to the historic underrepresenation of African-American directors in Hollywood. Pushing Hollywood to open the gates for women and people of color to tell stories is crucial, but so is looking back and appreciating the films that deserve recognition.

Over at Slate, Aisha Harris and Dan Kois created a list of “The 50 Greatest Movies By Black Directors” in order to draw attention to films which warrant inclusion in the canon of great films. As the two point out, when Sight & Sound delivers its once-a-decade critics’ poll or the American Film Institute shares its 100 Years… lists, black-directed films rarely appear.

As Harris and Kois write, “These lists are important: They affect the types of movies that self-proclaimed cinephiles and casual viewers alike seek out and watch, and they help define our ideas about whose perspectives matter. The exclusion of blackness from these film canons shapes our expectations about what constitutes greatness in film. And it helps cement the expectation that whiteness is somehow as ‘universal’ in art as so many believe it to be in life.”

To compile their list, Slate polled more than 20 prominent filmmakers, critics, and scholars — including Ava DuVernay, Robert Townsend, Charles Burnett, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Wesley Morris, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. — for their favorite movies by filmmakers of color. The list can be sorted by title, year, genre or even gender of the director. The site conveniently links to sites where the films can be streamed.

From Oscar Michaux’s groundbreaking Within Our Gates in 1920 to Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America in 2016, the list spans nearly 100 years of black filmmaking. Of course, there are some obvious picks, like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989), but other lesser known films such as Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us (starring Kerry Washington) and Halle Gerima’s Ashes and Embers (1982) also make the list.

Check out the supercut of the 50 selected films below and then check out the full list here.

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