The Greatest African-American Directors

by z_ingle | created - 9 months ago | updated - 5 months ago | Public

1. Spike Lee

Director | Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee was born Shelton Jackson Lee on March 20, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia. At a very young age, he moved from pre-civil rights Georgia, to Brooklyn, New York. Lee came from artistic, education-grounded background; his father was a jazz musician, and his mother, a schoolteacher. He attended ...

2. Oscar Micheaux

Writer | Within Our Gates

Oscar Micheaux, the first African-American to produce a feature-length film (The Homesteader (1919)) and a sound feature-length film (The Exile (1931)), is not only a major figure in American film for these milestones, but because his oeuvre is a window into the American history and psyche ...

3. Tyler Perry

Writer | Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Perry was born and raised in New Orleans, to Willie Maxine (Campbell) and Emmitt Perry, Sr. His mother was a church-goer and took Perry along with her once a week. His father was a carpenter and they had a very strained and abusive relationship, which led Perry to suffer from depression as a ...

4. Kevin Willmott

Writer | BlacKkKlansman

Kevin Willmott wrote and directed the critically acclaimed feature film C.S.A: Confederate States Of America, about America, had the South won the Civil War. After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, IFC Films purchased the film for domestic theatrical distribution. CSA was released ...

5. John Singleton

Writer | Boyz n the Hood

Son of Danny Singleton, a mortgage broker, and Sheila Ward, a pharmaceutical company sales executive, and raised in separate households by his unmarried parents, John Singleton attended the Film Writing Program at USC, after graduating from high school in 1986. While studying there, he won three ...

6. Sidney Poitier

Actor | In the Heat of the Night

A native of Cat Island, The Bahamas (although born, two months prematurely, in Miami during a visit by his parents), Poitier grew up in poverty as the son of farmers Evelyn (nee Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, who also drove a cab. He had little formal education and at the age of 15 was sent to...

7. Allen Hughes

Director | The Book of Eli

Albert and Allen Hughes began making movies at age 12, but their formal film education began their freshman year of high school when Allen took a TV production class. They soon made a short film entitled How To Be A Burglar and people began to take notice. Their next work, Uncensored videos, was ...

8. Albert Hughes

Director | The Book of Eli

Albert and Allen Hughes began making movies at age 12, but their formal film education began their freshman year of high school when Allen took a TV production class. They soon made a short film entitled How To Be A Burglar and people began to take notice. Their next work, Uncensored videos, was ...

9. Gordon Parks

Director | The Learning Tree

The pre-eminent American photojournalist of sub-Saharan descent. An acclaimed photographer for Life magazine from the late 40s through late 60s, he turned to directing films, his second of which, the blaxploitation movie Shaft (1971), achieved success at the box office. In 1989 his first film ...

10. Mario Van Peebles

Actor | Heartbreak Ridge

Mario Van Peebles is a highly regarded director, actor, producer and writer. His directorial skills can be seen in the retelling of the epic mini-series "Roots" starring Forest Whitaker and Matthew Goode. Van Pebbles has directed award-winning shows such as the recent hit "Empire" and "The Last ...

11. Antoine Fuqua

Producer | The Magnificent Seven

Antoine Fuqua is an American film director, known for his work in the film Training Day as well as The Replacement Killers, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Shooter, Brooklyn's Finest, Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer.

He has directed music videos for such artists as Arrested Development, Prince, ...

12. Spencer Williams

Actor | Juke Joint

American actor, writer, director, and producer whose early pioneering work in African-American or "race" films was eclipsed in fame by his role as one of the title characters in the equally pioneering and also controversial 1950s sitcom The Amos 'n Andy Show (1951). A native of Vidalia, Louisiana, ...

13. Forest Whitaker

Actor | The Last King of Scotland

Forest Steven Whitaker has packaged a king-size talent into his hulking 6' 2", 220 lb. frame. He won an Academy Award for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland (2006), and has also won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. He is the fourth African-American male to...

14. Ernest R. Dickerson

Cinematographer | Do the Right Thing

Ernest Roscoe Dickerson A.S.C., aka. Ernest R. Dickerson, is an American film director and cinematographer. As a cinematographer, he is known for his frequent collaborations with Spike Lee. As a director, he is known for films such as Juice (1992), Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995), Bones (...

15. Michael Schultz

Director | Cooley High

Michael Schultz was born on November 10, 1938 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. He is a director and producer, known for Cooley High (1975), Car Wash (1976) and Krush Groove (1985). He has been married to Lauren Jones since December 6, 1965. They have two children.

16. Robert Townsend

Producer | Hollywood Shuffle

Robert Townsend transcends any medium he touches whether he's performing stand up, acting, writing, directing, producing, or running a television network. A Chicago native, Townsend is often referred to as one of the "Godfathers" of the Independent Film World." With over 30 years in the business, ...

17. Julie Dash

Director | Daughters of the Dust

Julie Dash was born on October 22, 1952 in Queens, New York, USA. She is a director and producer, known for Daughters of the Dust (1991), The Rosa Parks Story (2002) and Funny Valentines (1999).

18. F. Gary Gray

Director | Set It Off

F. Gary Gray was born on July 17, 1969 in New York City, New York, USA as Felix Gary Gray. He is a director and producer, known for Set It Off (1996), The Italian Job (2003) and The Negotiator (1998).

19. Ava DuVernay

Producer | Selma

A director, producer, writer, marketer and film distributor, Ava DuVernay made her feature film debut with the documentary This in the Life (2008), a history on hip hop movement that flourished in Los Angeles in the 1990's. This was followed by series of television music documentaries which ...

21. Charles Burnett

Director | Killer of Sheep

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on April 13, 1944, Charles Burnett moved with his family to the Watts area of Los Angeles at an early age. He describes the community of having a robust mythical connection with the South as a result of having so many Southern transplants, an atmosphere which has ...

22. Melvin Van Peebles

Actor | The Shining

Melvin Van Peebles was born on August 21, 1932 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He is an actor and writer, known for The Shining (1997), Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) and Bellyful (2000).

23. Carl Franklin

Director | Out of Time

Carl Franklin studied history and dramatic arts at UC Berkeley. After several years as a television actor with guest shots, roles in TV movies, miniseries, and appearing as a regular on a few unsuccessful series, he returned to school and received his master's degree in directing from the American ...

24. Barry Jenkins

Director | If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins was born on November 19, 1979 in Miami, Florida, USA. He is a director and writer, known for If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), Moonlight (2016) and Medicine for Melancholy (2008).

25. Kasi Lemmons

Actress | The Silence of the Lambs

Kasi Lemmons was born on February 24, 1961 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA as Karen Lemmons. She is an actress, known for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Candyman (1992) and Hard Target (1993). She has been married to Vondie Curtis-Hall since 1995. They have two children.

26. Keenen Ivory Wayans

Writer | In Living Color

The trail-blazing linchpin of a sprawling African-American family of comic entertainers, it was multi-talented writer/director/producer Keenen Ivory Wayans (born June 8, 1958, in New York City) who was the first to achieve national prominence by successfully creating, launching and hosting a ...

27. Ryan Coogler

Director | Black Panther

Ryan Coogler was born on May 23, 1986 in Oakland, California, USA as Ryan Kyle Coogler. He is a director and writer, known for Black Panther (2018), Creed (2015) and Fruitvale Station (2013). He has been married to Zinzi Evans since 2016.

28. Denzel Washington

Actor | Fences

Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. was born on December 28, 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York. He is the middle of three children of a beautician mother, Lennis, from Georgia, and a Pentecostal minister father, Denzel Washington, Sr., from Virginia. After graduating from high school, Denzel enrolled at ...

29. Lee Daniels

Producer | Precious

Lee Daniels gave his parents an early Christmas present when he entered the world on December 24, 1959; unfortunately, the Philadelphia native was to have a difficult relationship with his police officer father who later reacted violently to his son's sexuality. Despite the brutality of his ...

30. Tim Story

Director | Fantastic Four

Timothy Kevin Story was born on March 13, 1970 in Los Angeles, California. Attended Westchester High School in Los Angeles, California with jazz pianist Eric Reed and actresses Regina King and Nia Long. Graduated from USC film school.

31. Ossie Davis

Actor | Do the Right Thing

Ossie Davis was born on December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia, USA as Raiford Chatman Davis. He was an actor and writer, known for Do the Right Thing (1989), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) and Grumpy Old Men (1993). He was married to Ruby Dee. He died on February 4, 2005 in Miami Beach, Florida, USA.

32. Charles Stone III

Director | Drumline

Charles Stone III was born in 1966. He is a director and actor, known for Drumline (2002), Mr 3000 (2004) and Paid in Full (2002).

33. Malcolm D. Lee

Director | Girls Trip

Malcolm D. Lee was born on January 11, 1970 in the USA. He is a director and producer, known for Girls Trip (2017), Undercover Brother (2002) and The Best Man Holiday (2013).

34. George Tillman Jr.

Producer | The Hate U Give

After seeing the films, COOLEY HIGH and TAXI DRIVER, Milwaukee, Wisconsin native George Tillman, Jr. became inspired to make films of his own. In 1994, George wrote and directed his first feature film, SCENES FOR THE SOUL. It was shot entirely in Chicago, using local talent and resources. The film,...

35. Reginald Hudlin

Director | House Party

Reginald Hudlin was born on December 15, 1961 in Centerville, Illinois, USA as Reginald Alan Hudlin. He is a producer and director, known for House Party (1990), Django Unchained (2012) and Marshall (2017). He has been married to Chrisette Suter since November 30, 2002. They have two children.

36. Gina Prince-Bythewood

Writer | Shots Fired

Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote and directed the widely acclaimed feature film Love & Basketball (2000) which premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. She won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and a Humanitas Prize for her work on the film. Her other directing credits include ...

37. Bill Duke

Actor | Predator

Duke Media Entertainment, led by actor, director, producer, writer and humanitarian, Bill Duke, is dedicated to bringing quality Edutainment to audiences around the globe. Formerly Yagya Productions, Duke Media has successfully produced critically acclaimed film and television content for more than...

38. Leslie Harris

Producer | Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Leslie Harris is a producer and director, known for Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992), Bessie Coleman's Dream to Fly (1993) and New York Conversations (2010).

39. Kathleen Collins

Writer | The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy

She was the first Black American woman to make and release a feature film.

40. Clark Johnson

Actor | S.W.A.T.

Clark Johnson was born on September 10, 1954 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He is an actor and director, known for S.W.A.T. (2003), Homicide: Life on the Street (1993) and The Sentinel (2006). He was previously married to Heather Salmon.

41. Darnell Martin

Director | I Like It Like That

Darnell Martin was born on January 7, 1964 in Bronx, New York, USA. She is a director and writer, known for I Like It Like That (1994), Cadillac Records (2008) and Do the Right Thing (1989). She is married to Giuseppe Ducrot.

42. Marlon Riggs

Director | Color Adjustment

Marlon Riggs was born on February 3, 1957 in Texas, USA. He was a director and producer, known for Color Adjustment (1992), Black Is... Black Ain't (1994) and Tongues Untied (1989). He died on April 5, 1994 in Oakland, California, USA.

43. Cheryl Dunye

Director | The Watermelon Woman

Cheryl Dunye was born on May 13, 1966 in Liberia. She is a director and producer, known for The Watermelon Woman (1996), The Owls (2010) and Stranger Inside (2001).

44. Zeinabu irene Davis

Director | Compensation

Zeinabu irene Davis was born on April 13, 1961 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. She is a director and producer, known for Compensation (1999), Spirits of Rebellion: Black Cinema at UCLA (2016) and A Powerful Thang (1991). She has been married to Marc Arthur Chéry since August 24, 1996. They have...

45. Dee Rees

Director | Mudbound

Writer/Director Dee Rees is an alumna of New York University's graduate film program and a Sundance Screenwriting & Directing Lab Fellow.

In 2018, Dee became the first Black woman nominated for an Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for her highly-acclaimed film Mudbound (2017). The film, ...

46. Ayoka Chenzira

Director | Alma's Rainbow

Ayoka Chenzira is an award-winning filmmaker and a recognized pioneer in Black independent cinema. She is part of a generation of African American filmmakers who helped create a genre of filmmaking now identified as Black independent cinema. Her distinctive body of work spans fiction, documentary, ...

47. Alile Sharon Larkin

Director | The Kitchen

Alile Sharon Larkin was born on May 13, 1951 in Los Angeles, California, USA as Sharon Larkin. She is a director and writer, known for The Kitchen (1975), Your Children Come Back to You (1979) and Dreadlocks and the Three Bears (1991).



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