The Black feminist voice in today’s media isn’t very loud or pronounced, particularly in terms of films. Yes, we’re still humming from a post-Oprah world, but that doesn’t sway the fact that African American feminist movies, directors and characters are less prevalent, now, than they’ve been in the past twenty years or so. While Black female roles are being praised in films such as “The Help,” Black women aren’t contributing to the production of cerebrally or culturally-desirable characters and films, it’s being left to hands of men and women who know nothing about the life of a Black women, their passions or their struggles. Luckily, for the future of Black feminist filmmakers and actresses, there is a well of knowledge to be used as a resource when creating Black feminist films. The 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s gave birth to a variety of entertaining titles, which were either manifested by black women or were movies that surrendered to Black feminist themes.
The Color Purple (1985): Though the film is directed by male Jewish director Stephen Spielberg, the movie, based on the book by the same name, written by Alice Walker, is a cinematic masterpiece. The Color Purple showcases the resilience of a woman, and women of her generation. The film also through her ability to overcome the inherent isolation of being a young Black woman in the South, and abuse that she suffered at the hand of her father and, later on, her husband. The movie does a terrific job of painting the portrait of a woman determined by the need to live life on her own terms.
Eve’s Bayou (1997): Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou is a movie about love, loss and, most importantly, power. The beautifully directed movie, which is fused with magical realism, follows the life of the title character, Eve. On the surface, the movie deals in the regrets of “being careful what you wish for,” but below there is a story about a community of women, and the power that they each possess. Some are able to flex their sexuality or power of persuasion to gain control; while others, like Eve, her aunt or the witch use magic to get what they want.
Watermelon Woman (1996): Starring and directed by Cheryl Dunye, Watermelon Woman is a movie about a quest to put a name and sense of history to the an non-credited Black actress featured in a film called Plantation Memories. While on her quest, Dunye uncovers details of the actresses’ life, discovering vivid facts about the woman’s sexual history, and in the process of learning about this dynamic woman, she becomes more and more intertwined with the legend of the Watermelon Woman.
Civil Brand (2002): This prison drama, written by Joyce Lewis and Preston A. Whitmore II and directed by Neema Barnette, is about a group of women who became frustrated by the systematic abuse, exploitation and violence that they suffered at the hands of police officials. Together, the band of women gather to undermine the system and strike back using every resource available to them.
Some other movies that have established themselves in the Black feminist film arena are Pariah (2011), Born in Flames (1983), Daughters of Dust (1991) and Praise House (1991).