From the time filmmaker Spike Lee first rose to prominence in the 1980s, his work has come to define the state of Black filmmaking in the United States. That’s all to his credit as one of the most exciting filmmakers of our time; there is no question that his ability to both get his films made—under circumstances not always friendly to Black filmmakers—and to market himself, have proven inspirational to artists of color everywhere. But his achievements have sometimes overshadowed the contributions of other notable Black directors, past, present and future. Let’s not forget pioneers such as Oscar Micheaux, Gordon Parks, Kathleen Collins, Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and others. And today, there is fortunately a robust generation of African American directors whose work offers a great variety of perspectives on life in general and the Black experience in particular. Lee and other forerunners paved the way for a new era of filmmakers who explore everything from the tragic legacy of slavery to the ordinary struggles of everyday life in a range of genres, from documentary to romantic comedy to drama.

In the wake of the nation’s recent and ongoing reckoning with its history of entrenched racism, now seems as good a time as any to examine four relatively recent films from some of this current cohort of creative artists, all born after 1970, who are helping to define contemporary Black cinema. Join us as we watch and discuss Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, 2008), Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011), Middle of Nowhere (Ava DuVernay, 2012) and Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013). Individual descriptions of each film follow below.


(2012, directed by Ava Duvernay, 97 min.)

Presented by Christopher Llewellyn Reed, chair, Film & Moving Image Department, Stevenson University

Ava Duvernay has become quite the one-woman juggernaut, heading up the distribution company ARRAY, which promotes Black and female directors, as well as Forward Movement, a film and television production unit. Prior to becoming a director/producer, she worked on marketing campaigns for studio movies like Spy Kids, The Terminal and Dreamgirls. Today she is best known for her 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma, her 2016 Netflix documentary 13th, which tells the sordid tale of how the American prison industrial complex unfairly targets Black citizens, and the (so far) four-season OWN series Queen Sugar, among many other projects. Her first narrative feature as a director was the 2010 I Will Follow, with Middle of Nowhere her second. This sophomore effort stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick and David Oyelowo as the members of a fraught love triangle. Gently exploring generational and marital conflicts, along with the pain of a long imprisonment, Middle of Nowhere reveals why DuVernay is a cinematic force to be reckoned with.

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