15 Black Female Movie Directors That Make Great Movies
Whether you’re the type to post up on your couch and binge-watch a television series or watch a movie on the big screen, you can thank the talented directors for bringing their vision to your screen.
Being a director has been a predominantly male-dominated field in Hollywood, but times are changing. More and more women are breaking the glass ceiling and paving the way for females in the field. If you want to show your support, here are some of our favorite black female directors you need to check out.
Place of Birth: Chicago, Illinois
Most Notable Work: Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19, How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal
Shonda Rhimes is possibly one of the most famous television directors, writers, and producers out there right now. She’s most well-known for her work writing and producing the hit show Grey’s Anatomy for over a decade. With the success of her several shows, they call the empire Shondaland.
Before launching her career, Shonda attended Dartmouth College for English and film studies before getting her master’s from USC in Cinematic Arts. She received an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth in 2014.
Upon receiving this honorary doctorate, she gave a commencement speech at the university, which was nothing but inspiring. She’s the mother of three daughters, one of whom she adopted back in 2002.
Besides her success with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and other tv shows, she’s dabbled in directing films. The first project she directed was Blossom and Veils, a short film starring Jada-Pinkett Smith.
Her success in the film and television industry in the realm of producing, writing, and creating has paved the way for her to direct in the future.
Place of Birth: New York, New York
Most Notable Work: Whitney
Angela Bassett is an American actress, producer, and director that’s been around in Hollywood since the 1980s. While she’s acted in several amazing shows and films like American Horror Story, 911, and The Rosa Parks Story, she’s branched into the directing world.
Bassett is from New York, New York, born to a social worker and preacher. Before she was the star we know today, she grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and attended Yale University. After college, she packed up and moved back to New York to pursue acting.
She’s filmed several movies and tv shows over the years, but most people know her best from her various roles on American Horror Story (AHS) and 911 as Sergeant Athena Grant. Her acting experience on AHS allowed her to direct several episodes, including Episode 6 of Roanoke and “Drink the Kool-Aid” on AHS Cult.
While she’s well-known in the television world, she’s filmed movies and directed some too. She directed the film Whitney in 2015. Bassett has stated that while she’s only officially directed one movie, she’s not opposed to doing more in the future.
Place of Birth: Cincinnati, Ohio
Most Notable Work: Being Mary Jane and One Night in Miami
If the name Regina King sounds familiar, it should! This talented woman broke into the industry in 1985 when she landed her first acting gig on a television series. Long before she became the famous woman we know and love, she was a little girl born in Cincinnati, Ohio.
While she was born in the midwest, she grew up in Los Angeles, surrounded by celebrities. She went to college at the University of Southern California for a few years before dropping out to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.
She’s been in several movies and television shows over the years, but some of the ones that she’s most known for include Legally Blonde Two, A Cinderella Story, Miss Congeniality 2, and Shameless.
She got her start directing in 2010 when she directed a music video for the song Finding My Way Back by Jaheim. Since then, she’s directed several episodes of television shows like Shameless, This is Us, and The Good Doctor.
In 2020, she directed her first full-length movie, One Night in Miami.
Place of Birth: Toronto, Canada
Most Notable Work: God’s Plan
Karena Evans is a young and budding actress and director. This Canadian director is only 26 years old but has already gained plenty of recognition as a director. She got her start directing when she directed the music video for superstar Drake’s song, God’s Plan.
Evans got her start in the showbiz industry by working as an intern for Director X. From there, she signed with his production company and began directing music videos for artists. She’s not just a music video director, though.
In addition to music videos, she’s directed commercials for Nike. She continued directing music videos for Donald Glover and several others for Drake. She’s acted in several indie films but directing is her passion.
Recently, she’s directed several episodes of the new adaptation of Gossip Girl and Snowfall. At only 26 years old, she has a lengthy list of director credits, and we’re sure she’ll have more projects under her belt as she progresses through life and her career.
Place of Birth: New York, New York
Most Notable Work: The Cosby Show, 7th Heaven, and Gilmore Girls
Even if you’ve never heard her name, Neema Barnette is an American director whose work you’ve most likely seen. She began directing in the 1980s before launching her production company, Harlem Girls Production, in 1990.
She is the first African American woman to obtain a three-picture deal with Sony. This is a huge accomplishment for her, women, and the black community that needs to be celebrated. The first television show she directed was in 1984, One More Hurdle.
She went on to direct several others that you know and love. She’s directed on The Cosby Show, Gilmore Girls, and 7th Heaven. She also has director credits on Super Sweet 16: The Movie, All You’ve Got, and Zora is My Name!
Like many other black female directors, Neema is known for her work on Queen Sugar too. If you want to learn more about this talented woman, there are several videos online where she talks about directing on the set of Queen Sugar.
Place of Birth: Long Beach, California
Most Notable Work: A Wrinkle in Time and Selma
Ava DuVernay is yet another fantastic American filmmaker paving the way for other African Americans in the film industry, specifically directing. While most people know her as a director, she’s also a film producer and writer.
Before she was in the film industry, she was a journalist who covered the O.J. Simpson trial. While raised in California, her family has roots in Alabama and Louisiana. Her family’s Alabama roots influenced her when making Selma.
DuVernay is the first black woman to have a budget over $100 million to direct with and the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. This is yet another major accomplishment for the black community. After the success of Selma, she was approached about directing Black Panther but passed the opportunity.
She was the director of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, one of her most well-known works. She also directed an episode for Shonda Rhimes’ show Scandal in 2013. Ava’s become a powerhouse in the film industry, and there’s no sign of her slowing down anytime soon.
Place of Birth: Unknown
Most Notable Work: This Is Us
Most people fell in love with the heartwarming and emotional show This is Us from the moment it premiered. Kay Oyegun is a writer, producer, and director who’s most known for her writing on the hit show. While writing is one of her passions, her time on the show allowed her to make her directorial debut.
Kay Oyegun’s directorial debut came when she directed an episode of This is Us dedicated to Randall’s birth story. Before she was a famous television writer, producer, and director, Oyegun attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a degree in journalism. She then went on to get her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern California.
Her career in the film industry began when she started writing for Ava DuVernay’s show, Queen Sugar. She also has directional credits on A Luv Tale: The Series.
While her focus is still mainly on writing scripts, we know that what she’s already directed won’t be the only projects she does this for in the future. She’s stated that she loves directing on This Is Us and will take the opportunity to direct more for the show if possible.
Place of Birth: Long Island City, New York, New York
Most Notable Work: Daughters of the Dust
Julie Dash is a writer, producer, and director. She’s originally from New York, and before launching her career, she attended college for filmmaking after switching her major from psychology. Following her undergraduate degree, she moved out west to California, where she began pursuing her dreams.
She obtained her master’s from the UCLA Film School. Graduating from this program earned her a spot in the new generation of African and African American filmmakers called the L.A. Rebellion.
Her first directional credit was Working Models of Success in 1976, and her career only went up from there. In 1975, she began working on a film that depicted her father’s Gullah family background, Daughters of the Dust. The film went into production in 1988 when it received almost $100 million in funding.
Dash went on to direct several music videos, The Rosa Parks Story, and other television show episodes. With decades of experience under her belt, she’s definitely figured out how she can give viewers an “aha” moment when watching her films. If you haven’t watched anything by her, you’ll understand that “aha” moment once you do.
Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
Most Notable Work: Star Trek and Criminal Minds
Hanelle Culpepper is an excellent filmmaker from Birmingham, Alabama. According to Culpepper, she originally wanted to be an actress when she grew up, but her parents said that she might be more suited for directing since she was always bossing her siblings around. Based on her success, it’s safe to say her parents were right.
She first started directing in high school when she directed a play. After high school, she went to Chicago to study economics, but she was involved in the theater too. Then she went on to get her master’s in communication.
Culpepper is credited with directing several episodes of popular television shows like Criminal Minds, 90210, Big Sky, Quantico, and more. While directing these shows is an accomplishment, one that’s worth doing is when she was hired to direct Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
She’s the first black director in the Star Trek franchise. Being the first black director to work on a Star Trek film is monumental and one she’s very proud of.
Place of Birth: Honolulu, Hawaii
Most Notable Work: Pose
Janet Mock is a famous writer, producer, director, and activist for the LGBTQIA community. Janet was assigned male at birth and began her transition in high school, and underwent gender reassignment surgery when she was 18. The challenges surrounding transitioning and her own experience are why she’s so passionate about advocating for other transgender individuals.
She went to the University of Hawaii. Here she got a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising before moving to New York City, where she earned her master’s in journalism. She publicly came out in 20011 via an article in Marie Claire.
Besides being a best-selling author, she directed a handful of television shows. These include Pose, The Politician, and Hollywood. Pose was her debut into the director world, making her the first trans woman of color to work as a writer and director on a television series.
She signed a three-year Netflix deal worth multimillions of dollars. This makes her the first openly trans black woman to have an agreement with a major content company.
Place of Birth: Nashville, Tennessee
Most Notable Work: Empire, Pariah, and When We Rise
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Dee Rees is an American screenwriter and director. Her legal name is Diandra Rees, but she’s known to Dee to friends, family, and the public. Before pursuing her career in film, she attended business school at Florida A&M University.
After business school, she went on to get her master’s in film at New York University. One of her most notable works is her directing and writing on Pariah. This project was actually a thesis project for her while working on her master’s.
Once she finished her master’s, she filmed Pariah in 2011 before it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. She’s won several awards for this film, making it one of her most significant accomplishments in her early career.
In recent years, she’s directed episodes on the dramas Empire, Bessie, When We Rise, and Space Force.
Place of Birth: Brooklyn, New York, New York
Most Notable Work: Candyman, Night and Day, and The Marvels
Nia DeCosta is a young but already accomplished screenwriter and director in the film industry. She grew up in New York with aspirations to become a writer, specifically a poet. She went on to study film at New York University.
While in school and shortly after, she worked as a production assistant. During this time, she wrote the script for Little Woods. It went on to the Sundance Music Festival, where she met the actress who would star in the film when it was filmed in 2019.
After her success with Little Woods, Jordan Peele’s Candyman. Her work directing Candyman earned her the title of the first African American female to have a film debut at number one on opening weekend.
In her short 32 years, she’s already accomplished so much. She’s set to direct the newest Marvel movie, The Marvels, which is set to release in 2023. Something Nia does is use improv on the set to create natural moments in her films.
Place of Birth: New York, New York
Most Notable Work: The Morning Show, Grey’s Anatomy, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Victoria Mahoney is a New York native who has a career in acting and filmmaking. She has several acting gigs you’ve probably seen her in, but her directing career is something to admire. She went to college for film studies at Southampton University.
She’s gone on to direct episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, The Morning Show, and is the first female to direct a Star Wars Movie. She’s credited with directing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
She’s been named a filmmaker to watch by Elle Magazine and Women in Hollywood.
Place of Birth: Unknown
Most Notable Work: Naomi, Station 19, and How to Get Away With Murder
DeMane Davis is a hardworking and dedicated director and producer in the film industry. She went to Rhode Island College, where she studied film like other famous directors. From there, she launched her career, directing and producing some famous movies and television shows.
She directed her first film in 1997, Black, White & Red All Over. It would be five years before she directed another film. Between 2001 and 2017, she worked hard, honing her craft and producing films. She didn’t direct anything between 2001 and 2017.
She’s an award-winning director and producer that’s spent time working with Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes. She’s directed and produced on Shonda’s shows How to Get Away With Murder and Station 19. Other notable shows she’s directed include Queen Sugar, Clarice, and Naomi.
DeMane considers herself a self-made director, and she’s established herself as a director to watch in the industry.
Tina Gordon Chism
Place of Birth: Cedar Bluff, Alabama
Most Notable Work: Peeples and upcoming film Praise This
Tina Gordon Chism is both an actress and screenwriter who has stepped into the world of directing. Born in the small town of Cedar Bluff, Alabama, she’s made a name for herself in the film industry through hard work and telling the stories of African American and black families.
Before her writing and directing career began, she attended the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts. She studied drama, and The Cosby Show inspired her to tell the stories of black families through her writing and directing.
Her writing career began when she wrote for the movie, Drumline. She was fortunate enough to make her directorial debut by directing a film she also wrote. In 2013, her directorial debut happened with the film Peeples.
Chism continues to write scripts for film and television with her latest project, Praise This, debuting in late 2020. We can expect more to come from her as she spends more time working in the film industry.
Top Black Female Directors, Final Thoughts
These black female directors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talented black women in Hollywood. Whether they started as actresses and made their way to directing or aimed for that initially, you’ll want to show your support for all their film and television ventures.