By Ava DuVernay
I've said it before, and I'll write it again here, "There's never been a better time to be a black filmmaker."
Yes, I write this statement after a year that saw less than ten theatrical releases about black people, directed by black people. I know, it seems crazy. And still, I stand by the notion that this is an excellent era to make black film.
Know why? Because momentum is on our side. There is an accelerant at work among black independent filmmakers that is pulsing through our community with a beautiful velocity. It seems to be too muscular for Hollywood, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Actually, I believe Hollywood’s blind eye is the accelerant itself. What a turn of events.
It’s happened before. Michaeux. Parks. Gerima.
And it's happening now. With new names you may not have heard of. Artists that I’m proud to stand beside. Dosunmu, Mahoney, Jenkins, Hamilton, Chatmon, Rees, Cherry, Mabry, Evans, Polk, Wright, Nance, Green, Djansi, Chukwu, Doughrity, Davis, Stapleton, Allen, Lynch, Smith, Murray, Candis, Nguvu and more. Have you heard of us? And those are just the directors! Let’s not talk about the cinematographers like Bradford Young, Hans Charles, Tommy Maddox, and Richard Vialet, or the producers like Tilane Jones, Nekisa Cooper, Morgan Stiff and Datari Turner. Its happening now. A renaissance of new black cinema is unfolding right before our eyes.
There are more than two dozen black independent filmmakers – women and men in near equal numbers – who are currently making their first or second feature at this moment. Outside of the studio system. Unaffiliated. Independent. Bold. And brave.
When I made my first documentary with $18k in 2007, I did so because no one would ever greenlight that film, but me. A circle of beautiful artists formed around the project and THIS IS THE LIFE went onto air on Showtime after a successful festival circuit run, and is now licensed for broadcast in Japan, Germany and South Africa. I had to bet on myself first. And with that momentum, I moved forward…
Our second film was my narrative directorial debut, I WILL FOLLOW. I financed the picture myself with personal savings of less than $50k. It was a collaboration of like-minded artists – from our gracious lead actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield to a passionate, ready-for-anything crew. The film went on to a 22-city theatrical release through the black film distribution collective AFFRM, which I founded. Then onto DVD. And this year, it will begin a dual network cable broadcast. With that momentum, I moved forward…
Our third film, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, we shot just three months after I WILL FOLLOW debuted in theaters. While the iron was hot, we struck. My film family and I held hands and made another film against the odds. MIDDLE OF NOWHERE debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival this past January in U.S. Dramatic Competition. A beautiful start for our new picture. With that momentum, we move forward…
This is what is happening. Black filmmakers, on both coasts, women and men, in their 20s, 30s and 40s, doing what needs to be done to make black cinematic art. We are not waiting on corporate entities to give us permission. We are not waiting for Hollywood to tell us its okay. We are rolling up our selves and making it happen where we are, with what we have. And we are trusting that our people and others will want to see what we have to share.
The barriers to entry are more wide open than they’ve ever been. Technology levels the playing field. I don’t have the same challenges that the iconic sister filmmaker Julie Dash had when she crafted the majestic “Daughters of the Dust,” with her cinematographer Arthur Jafa. I can get a good camera in 24 hours and edit on my laptop if necessary. And you know what Malcolm said. We take a cue from those that came before us and make these films by any means. We’re just fortunate that the means are much more available and flexible in 2012. And with that momentum, we move forward….
Yes, there's never been a better time to be a black filmmaker. I hope black film lovers out there will agree through their support of these artists and our work. We need you. You are what we are moving toward. Please meet us half-way.
Filmmaker/Founder of AFFRM | Forward Movement Films
Los Angeles, CA