The 50 Greatest Movies by Black Directors by Slate

"Despite everything, black filmmakers have produced art on screen that is just as daring, original, influential, and essential as the heralded works of Welles, Coppola, Antonioni, Kurosawa, and other nonblack directors. Films like Daughters of the Dust, Killer of Sheep, Tongues Untied, and Fruitvale Station deserve to be considered alongside the artistic masterpieces of the past century in cinema."

Aisha Harris and Dan Kois

Weight: 100

Films (50)

1. O.J.: Made in America

Directed by Ezra Edelman | Rated TV-MA | 467 min | 2016

A chronicle of the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson, whose high-profile murder trial exposed the extent of American racial tensions, revealing a fractured and divided nation.

2. Bessie

Directed by Dee Rees | Rated TV-MA | 132 min | 2015

The story of legendary blues performer Bessie Smith, who rose to fame during the 1920s and '30s.

3. Creed

Directed by Ryan Coogler | Rated PG-13 | 133 min | 2015

The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

4. Selma

Directed by Ava DuVernay | Rated PG-13 | 128 min | 2014

A chronicle of Martin Luther King's campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

5. Timbuktu

Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako | Rated PG-13 | 97 min | 2014

A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives -- which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith -- abruptly disturbed.

6. 12 Years a Slave

Directed by Steve McQueen | Rated R | 134 min | 2013

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

7. Belle

Directed by Amma Asante | Rated PG | 100 min | 2013

The mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle in 18th century England.

8. Fruitvale Station

Directed by Ryan Coogler | Rated R | 85 min | 2013

The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

9. Middle of Nowhere

Directed by Ava DuVernay | Rated R | 97 min | 2012

When her husband is sentenced to eight years in prison, Ruby drops out of medical school in order to focus on her husband's well-being while he's incarcerated - leading her on a journey of self-discovery in the process.

10. Pariah

Directed by Dee Rees | Rated R | 86 min | 2011

A Brooklyn teenager juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression.

11. Night Catches Us

Directed by Tanya Hamilton | Rated R | 90 min | 2010

In 1976, complex political and emotional forces are set in motion when a young man returns to the race-torn Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement.

12. Medicine for Melancholy

Directed by Barry Jenkins | Rated N/A | 88 min | 2008

Twenty-four hours in the tentative relationship of two young San Franciscans also dealing with the conundrum of being a minority in a rapidly gentrifying city.

13. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Directed by N/A | Rated TV-MA | 255 min | 2006

An examination of the U.S. government's role and its response to Hurricane Katrina.

14. Their Eyes Were Watching God

Directed by Darnell Martin | Rated N/A | 113 min | 2005

A drama set in the 1920s, where free-spirited Janie Crawford's search for happiness leads her through several different marriages, challenging the morals of her small town. Based on the novel by Zora Neale Hurston.

15. 25th Hour

Directed by Spike Lee | Rated R | 135 min | 2002

Cornered by the DEA, convicted New York drug dealer Montgomery Brogan reevaluates his life in the 24 remaining hours before facing a seven-year jail term.

16. Love & Basketball

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood | Rated PG-13 | 124 min | 2000

In 1981 in L.A., Monica moves in next door to Quincy. They're 11, and both want to play in the NBA, just like Quincy's dad. Their love-hate relationship lasts into high school, with ...

17. Eve's Bayou

Directed by Kasi Lemmons | Rated R | 109 min | 1997

The story is set in 1962 Louisiana. The Batiste family is headed by charming doctor Louis. Though he is married to beautiful Roz, he has a weakness for attractive female patients. One night...

18. The Watermelon Woman

Directed by Cheryl Dunye | 90 min | 1996

Cheryl is young, Black, and lesbian, working in Philadelphia with her best friend Tamara and consumed by a film project: to make a video about her search for a Black actress from Philly who...

19. Devil in a Blue Dress

Directed by Carl Franklin | Rated R | 102 min | 1995

An African-American man is hired to find a woman, and gets mixed up in a murderous political scandal.

20. Friday

Directed by F. Gary Gray | Rated R | 91 min | 1995

Two homies, Smokey and Craig, smoke a dope dealer's weed and try to figure a way to get the $200 they owe to the dealer by 10 p.m. that same night.

21. Waiting to Exhale

Directed by Forest Whitaker | Rated R | 124 min | 1995

Based on Terry McMillan's novel, this film follows four very different African-American women and their relationships with the male gender.

22. Crooklyn

Directed by Spike Lee | Rated PG-13 | 115 min | 1994

Spike Lee's vibrant semi-autobiographical portrait of a school teacher, her stubborn jazz musician husband and their five kids living in Brooklyn in 1973.

23. I Like It Like That

Directed by Darnell Martin | Rated R | 104 min | 1994

Lisette and husband Chino face marital difficulties. She is fed up with the kids, while he has job troubles. His mother Rosaria hates Lisette and the neighborhood tramp has designs on Chino...

24. Sankofa

Directed by Haile Gerima | Rated N/A | 125 min | 1993

A self-absorbed Black American fashion model on a photo shoot in Africa is spiritually transported back to a plantation in the West Indies where she experiences first-hand the physical and ...

25. Juice

Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson | Rated R | 95 min | 1992

Four inner-city teenagers get caught up in the pursuit of power and happiness, which they refer to as "the juice".

26. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Directed by Leslie Harris | Rated R | 92 min | 1992

Chantel Mitchell (Ariyan Johnson), a hip, articulate, black high-school girl in Brooklyn, is determined not to become "just another girl on the IRT" (the IRT is one of NYC's subway lines). ...

27. Malcolm X

Directed by Spike Lee | Rated PG-13 | 202 min | 1992

Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.

28. Boyz n the Hood

Directed by John Singleton | Rated R | 112 min | 1991

Follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence and future prospects.

29. Daughters of the Dust

Directed by Julie Dash | Rated TV-PG | 112 min | 1991

Languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where African folk-ways were maintained well into the 20th Century and was one of the last ...

30. House Party

Directed by Reginald Hudlin | Rated R | 100 min | 1990

Young Kid has been invited to a party at his friend Play's house. But after a fight at school, Kid's father grounds him. None the less, Kid sneaks out when his father falls asleep. But Kid ...

31. Mo' Better Blues

Directed by Spike Lee | Rated R | 130 min | 1990

Jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam makes questionable decisions in his professional and romantic lives.

32. To Sleep with Anger

Directed by Charles Burnett | Rated PG | 102 min | 1990

Harry Mention, an enigmatic drifter from the South, comes to visit an old acquaintance named Gideon, who now lives in South-Central Los Angeles. Harry's charming, down-home manner hides a ...

33. Do the Right Thing

Directed by Spike Lee | Rated R | 120 min | 1989

On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone's hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.

34. Tongues Untied

Directed by Marlon Riggs | Rated N/A | 55 min | 1989

Marlon Riggs, with assistance from other gay Black men, especially poet Essex Hemphill, celebrates Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act. The film intercuts footage of Hemphill ...

35. Hollywood Shuffle

Directed by Robert Townsend | Rated R | 78 min | 1987

An actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his ethnicity, dreams of making it big as a highly respected performer. As he makes his rounds, the film takes a satiric look at African American actors in Hollywood.

36. Black Shack Alley

Directed by Euzhan Palcy | Rated PG | 103 min | 1983

Martinique, in the early 1930s. Young José and his grandmother live in a small village. Nearly everyone works cutting cane and barely earning a living. The overseer can fine a worker for ...

37. Ashes and Embers

Directed by Haile Gerima | Rated N/A | 120 min | 1982

A troubled Vietnam veteran hoping to forget the war and reconnect with American life struggles with disillusionment, self-worth, and cynicism.

38. Losing Ground

Directed by Kathleen Collins | Rated N/A | 86 min | 1982

A comedy-drama about a Black American female philosophy professor and her insensitive, philandering, and flamboyant artist husband who are having a marital crisis. When the wife goes off on...

39. Killer of Sheep

Directed by Charles Burnett | Rated N/A | 83 min | 1978

Stan works in drudgery at a slaughterhouse. His personal life is drab. Dissatisfaction and ennui keep him unresponsive to the needs of his adoring wife, and he must struggle against ...

40. Car Wash

Directed by Michael Schultz | Rated PG | 97 min | 1976

Car Wash is about a close-knit group of employees who one day have all manner of strange visitors coming onto their forecourt, including Richard Pryor as a preaching 'wonder-man' who is ...

41. Cooley High

Directed by Michael Schultz | Rated PG | 107 min | 1975

In 1964, a group of high school friends who live on the Near North Side of Chicago enjoy life to the fullest...parties, hanging out, meeting new friends. Then life changes for two of the ...

42. The Spook Who Sat by the Door

Directed by Ivan Dixon | Rated PG | 102 min | 1973

A black man plays Uncle Tom in order to gain access to CIA training, then uses that knowledge to plot a new American Revolution.

43. Touki Bouki

Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty | 85 min | 1973

Mory, a cowherd, and Anta, a university student, try to make money in order to go to Paris and leave their boring past behind.

44. Super Fly

Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. | Rated R | 93 min | 1972

The daily routine of cocaine dealer Priest who wants to score one more super deal and retire.

45. Shaft

Directed by Gordon Parks | Rated R | 100 min | 1971

Cool black private eye John Shaft is hired by a crime lord to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter.

46. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

Directed by Melvin Van Peebles | Rated R | 97 min | 1971

After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from "the man" with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.

47. The Learning Tree

Directed by Gordon Parks | Rated M | 107 min | 1969

The story, set in Kansas during the 1920s, covers less than a year in the life of a black teenager, and documents the veritable deluge of events which force him into sudden manhood. The ...

48. Black Girl

Directed by Ousmane Sembene | 65 min | 1966

A black girl from Senegal becomes a servant in France.

49. The Blood of Jesus

Directed by Spencer Williams | 57 min | 1941

An atheist accidentally shoots his Baptist wife. She dies and goes to a crossroads, where the devil tries to lead her astray.

50. Within Our Gates

Directed by Oscar Micheaux | Rated N/A | 79 min | 1920

Abandoned by her fiancé, an educated black woman with a shocking past dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished black youths.