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African-American Filmmakers
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African-American Filmmakers - 1/15


On Martin Luther King Jr., Day the nation commemorates the birthday of the great civil rights leader and his fight for justice in helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965. To honor Dr. King on that date, TCM presents an evening of groundbreaking films directed by African-Americans.

Shaft (1971) is directed by Gordon Parks (1912-2006), a multi-talented filmmaker/photographer/musician/writer/poet/composer/painter who was born in Kansas and grew up in Minnesota and Chicago. After establishing himself as a photographer, Parks became Hollywood's first black film director with The Learning Tree (1969) before creating the "blaxploitation" genre with Shaft, which starred Richard Roundtree as a supercool detective tracking down the kidnapped daughter of a Harlem racketeer. Parks won countless awards and honors during his lifetime and in 1989 created a ballet called Martin that was dedicated to Dr. King.

A Warm December (1972) is directed by Sidney Poitier (born 1927), who became the first black actor to emerge as a leading man in mainstream American movies. Poitier starred in some of the most successful films of the 1960s including Lilies of the Field (1963), which brought him a Best Actor OscarĀ®. He had three hits in 1967 alone: To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Poitier has directed nine feature films including A Warm December, a warmly romantic film in which he also starred alongside Jamaican actress Esther Anderson as an African princess with whom his character falls in love.

Trouble Man (1972) is directed by Ivan Dixon (1931-2008), a native of New York City who gained fame as a television actor and director. He is particularly remembered for his starring role in the 1964 feature Nothing But a Man, and for playing POW "Kinch" Kinchlow in the CBS sitcom Hogan's Heroes (1965-70). Trouble Man, a "blaxploitation" thriller starring Robert Hooks as a tough private detective known as "Mr. T," was Dixon's debut as a director of feature films. At one time Dixon was Chairman of the Expansion Arts Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Losing Ground (1982) is written and directed by Kathleen Collins (1942-1988), who also worked as playwright, educator and civil rights activist. Born in Jersey City, NJ, Collins was a pioneer filmmaker at a time when black women were a rarity in the industry. Losing Ground is recognized as the first feature-length dramatic film to be directed by an African-American female. In semi-autobiographical fashion, it tells the story of a philosophy professor (Seret Scott) and her troubled marriage to an artist (Bill Gunn). Collins wrote several other screenplays and plays, and a collection of her short stories was published posthumously.

Daughters of the Dust (1991) is written, produced and directed by Julie Dash (born 1952), who creates for television and music videos as well as feature films. Born in New York City, Dash received her MFA in 1985 at the UCLA Film School. Daughters of the Dust was introduced at the Sundance Film Festival and distributed through Kino International. It is the first full-length film directed by a black woman to be given a general theatrical release in the U.S. It tells the story of three generations of Gullah women as they prepare to migrate to the mainland from Saint Helena Island. The film won several honors and was selected by the National Film Registry in 2004.

Roger Fristoe

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