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1990-2000: A Fruitful Decade For Black Women Filmmakers

Last Friday, Netflix debuted a superhero movie called The Old Guard, and I was listening to an interview with the director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, that mentioned her debut feature from the year 2000, Love & Basketball, is seen by some as sort of a watershed moment for black films and filmmakers, basically because of how it presents its characters as just people living their lives after years of movies about gangs and drugs.


It’s a lovely, low-key, achingly romantic film. And it may well be that watershed moment, but Love & Basketball also marked the end of a surprisingly fruitful decade for black women filmmakers. Now: no decade has been truly fruitful for women in film, and certainly not black women, but here’s a tiny bit of what I mean:


1991 saw the very first movie directed by a black woman to get theatrical release in the U.S. It was Daughters of the Dust, by Julie Dash, which depicts the lives of the Gullah people in 1902, and is one of the most extraordinary things you’ll ever see—lush, dreamlike, steeped in tradition and folklore, making us feel like we’re truly visiting a world now gone forever.


Between Julie Dash and Gina Prince-Bythewood is Kasi Lemmons, who directed Eve’s Bayou in 1997, following a family in 1960s Louisiana and a young girl dealing with some very adult challenges, in sometimes mystical ways. None other than Roger Ebert called it the very best of the year. 


And part of what’s significant about these movies is not just their provenance, but the fact that they tell stories about black people having complex lives, not shown simply as they relate to white people, which had thus far been the role of so many black characters. They aren’t unique in this regard, but they are important, and that they were made by trailblazing black women is yet another reason to celebrate them.


Love & Basketball, Daughters of the Dust, and Eve’s Bayou are all easily found through major streaming services.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.