Black History Month: Contemporary Black Directors Part 1

Part of working at a university library is accumulating and highlighting diverse creators in our collections. For Black History Month, I didn’t just want to just slap a list of Black Films up on our blog and call it a day. Instead, this will be the first of two posts featuring contemporary Black Directors, and highlighting their films in our collection.

Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay is quickly becoming on of the most talked-about directors in Hollywood, and she isn’t shying away from the platform she’s built for herself. After directing the critically lauded Selma, DuVernay went on to direct the Netflix documentary 13th, which, while we don’t own it, is definitely worth a watch. With her 2018 film A Wrinkle in Time, she also became the first black woman to direct a film with a blockbuster budget.

By usbotschaftberlin -
photos/usbotschaftberlin/1631629515, Public Domain,

Most of the DuVernay films we have in our collection are her indie earlier works like I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere, which are intimate portraits of black women. Likewise, Queen Sugar, though a tv series, follows two black sisters and their brother after they inherit their family’s sugarcane farm. The series, produced by Oprah, was also the first television series to hire women directors for every single episode.

Ava DuVernay films in our collection:

  • Selma (DVD 12221)
  • I Will Follow (DVD 11965)
  • Middle of Nowhere (DVD 12024)
  • Queen Sugar (DVD 14844)

Spike Lee

Spike Lee may be the most prolific director on this list. He’s directed twenty-six feature films since 1983, plus eight short films, twelve documentaries, seven tv shows, nineteen music videos, and three plays, not to mention acting in several of his own movies. Though he’s known as a provocateur in Hollywood, his films chronicle the lives of black Americans, and force movie audiences to confront uncomfortable truths they’d happily avoid.

By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

After winning the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Lee’s most recent film BlacKkKlansman, is currently nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. Lee is nominated in the Best Director category, and Adam Driver for Best Supporting Actor. We’ve ordered a copy for Media Services, but it’s stuck in processing limbo. Hopefully we’ll get it in soon.

A (Selected) List of Spike Lee’s films in our collection:

  • Miracle at St. Anna (DVD 11290)
  • Do the Right Thing (DVD 38)
  • She’s Gotta Have It (DVD 4008)
  • Red Hook Summer (DVD 10904)
  • Malcolm X (DVD 165)
  • Jungle Fever (DVD 1153)
  • Clockers (DVD 162)
  • 4 Little Girls (DVD 1888)
  • When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (DVD 8531)

Amma Asante

Amma Asante is a British-Ghanaian director most famous for her film Belle, a sumptuous period drama that chronicles the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido was the illegitimate daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman, and Sir John Lindsay, a British Naval Officer. While Dido was born a slave, her father eventually took her back to England, where he entrusted her to his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice. Belle follows Dido while she navigates racist English society, her own family’s assumptions, and the burgeoning abolitionist movement.

By MiamiFilmFestival, cc-by-sa-2.0

Although Asante has only directed four films, she’s definitely a director to watch. In addition to Belle, she directed A United Kingdom, which starred David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, and Where Hands Touch, which starred Amandla Stenberg.

Amma Asante films in our collection:

  • Belle (DVD 12617)
  • A United Kingdom (Streaming through InfoBase)

Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler burst onto the scene with his first feature film Fruitvale Station at the ripe old age of twenty-seven. Fruitvale Station, tells the story of Oscar Grant’s last 24 hours, and stars Michael B. Jordan. Oscar Grant was murdered by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009, and his death sparked protests in the Bay Area and beyond. Coogler tackled this tough subject for his debut film, which won awards everywhere from Sundance to Cannes.

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Ryan Coogler, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Coogler followed up Fruitvale Station with Creed, a Rocky spin-off that he co-wrote as well as directed, and which starred Michael B. Jordan. This film drew audiences and pleased critics, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Marvel offered him Black Panther. Again, Coogler co-wrote the script… and got Michael B. Jordan to star as Eric Kilmonger, the rival for the Wakandan throne. Despite its February release date, Black Panther is the highest grossing film directed by an African-American, and the fifth largest opening weekend box office take of all time. It’s also just a straight up spectacular film, and if you haven’t seen it, you need to correct that immediately. We have THREE copies here at Media Services, so you don’t have any excuse. I’ll even give you the call number: DVD 16090. All you have to do is walk up to the desk and ask for it.

Ryan Coogler films in our collection:

  • Fruitvale Station (DVD 11125)
  • Black Panther (DVD 16090)
  • Creed (DVD 13127)
Posted in Black History Month, Directors.