African American Women Feature Filmmakers
Timeline of Selected Events

1922 -- Tressie Saunders produces and directs A Woman's Error, the first film by a black woman in the United States.

1922 -- Maria P. Williams produces and directs The Flames of Wrath, a five-reel mystery drama for the company she co-owns, the Western Picture Producing Company.

1922 -- The Osborne Players, a ladies' theatre group at the St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, produces Seeing Kansas City in Action. The film is based on the play, The Minister's Wife, written by Mrs. P. Earline Osborne. To finance the production, the innovative ladies charge businesses a fee if they which wish to be featured in the film and they also charge a fee to spectators who would like to watch the film being made.

1927-29 -- Zora Neale Hurston, the writer and trained anthropologist, makes ethnographic films. The fieldwork scenes she captures (1928-29) are considered the earliest-known, surviving footage shot by a black woman.

1930-35 -- Eloyce Gist is involved in the production of three films in the 1930s. She rewrites the oration accompanying Hell Bound Train and is credited with directing Verdict Not Guilty at the Judgment Day and Heaven Bound Travelers.

1933 -- Frances Williams tours Russia, meets Sergei Eisenstein, teaches English to his wife, and becomes interested in filmmaking.

1940 -- Zora Neale Hurston directs a 16-mm sync-sound film crew in Beaufort, South Carolina, on a feature film for anthropologist Jane Belo, who is studying religious ecstatics.

1941-42 -- Zora Neale Hurston works as a story consultant at Paramount Studios from October 1941 through January 1942, trying to develop her novels into films.

1943 -- Frances Williams becomes the first black woman to attend film school.

1953 -- Mary Elizabeth Vroman adapts her short story, "Bright Road," into a screenplay that is picked up by MGM and stars Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. She becomes the first black woman to gain membership in the Writers Guild of America.

1962 -- Liz White begins producing and directing her first feature, a West Indian version of Othello set in Martha's Vineyard and Harlem. She does not complete and screen the film until 1980.

1963 -- Madeline Anderson, a documentary filmmaker, works on Shirley Clarke's A Cool World and begins to consider making narrative films.

1971 -- Kathleen Collins Prettyman completes graduate film studies at the Sorbonne in France and unsuccessfully shops her feature-film script, Women, Sisters, and Friends, in Hollywood.

1971 -- Madeline Anderson is offered a chance to direct a blaxploitation film and join the group of black male directors being embraced by Hollywood.

"I had a chance once to make a feature film. It started out being a very good film. Well worthwhile. And as the producer tried to make money, the script kept changing. Remember the black exploitation films? Well, it became one of those. And I could have made a lot of money making that film and I could have gotten on the Hollywood track probably. And I don’t criticize people for what they do. Because everybody does what they have to do. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I became the first African American woman to be an executive producer of a series on public television."

1972 -- Maya Angelou becomes the first black woman to script and write the musical score for a produced feature film, Georgia, Georgia. She is not allowed to direct.

1972 -- Suzanne dePasse coauthors, with Chris Clark, the screenplay for Motown's first movie, Lady Sings the Blues.

1972 -- Jessie Maple graduates from the WNET-TV training school, where she learns every phase of the filmmaking process.

1973 -- Jessie Maple graduates from the Third-World Newsreel training school.

1974 -- Maya Angelou buys back the rights to her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, optioned in 1972, in hopes of directing her first feature.

1974 -- Jessie Maple becomes the first black woman accepted into unionized film when she joins IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 644 as a camera assistant.

1976 -- Jessie Maple becomes the first black woman accepted into unionized film as a camerawoman, also at IATSE Local 644.

1978 -- Maya Angelou admits defeat when she signs a contract with CBS that limits her production involvement with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to coauthoring the script.

1979 -- Kathleen Collins Prettyman directs The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy, a 57-minute film adapted from a short story.

1981 -- Jessie Maple directs her first feature, Will.

1982 -- Kathleen Collins Prettyman directs her first feature, Losing Ground.

1987 -- Neema Barnette, the first black woman to direct a television sitcom (Something’s Happening), becomes part of David Putnam's New Directors program at Columbia Pictures. But when Putnam leaves Columbia, Barnette's feature-film opportunities fade, and she returns to directing sitcoms and the Movies of the Week.

1989 -- Jessie Maple directs her second feature, Twice as Nice.

1989 -- Ruby Oliver, a self -- made millionaire, writes, directs, produces, and sings the theme song for her first feature, Leola: Love Your Mama. More than four years later, still looking for national distribution, Oliver finally signs with Hemdale Communications and uses $300,000 of her own money to help cover prints and advertising costs.

1989 -- Euzhan Palcy, a Martinique native, becomes the first woman of African descent to direct a studio feature, A Dry White Season. Marlon Brando is nominated for an Academy Award ® as best supporting actor for his performance.

1989 -- Joy Shannon completes her first feature, From Rags to Reality. Her film becomes the first by an African American woman to secure a video deal. The title is changed to Uptown Angel for the video release.

1990 -- Heather Foxworth, M.D., directs her first feature, Trouble I've Seen.

1990 -- Neema Barnette is offered a three-picture deal at Columbia Pictures by Frank Price. But when Price leaves, so does support for her feature-film career, and Barnette goes back to directing Movies of the Week.

1991 -- Julie Dash writes, directs, and produces her first feature, Daughters of the Dust, the first feature by an African American woman to receive national theatrical distribution. The film wins the dramatic Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Released by the small art-house distributor, Kino International, it grosses about $2 million.

1992 -- Debra Robinson completes her first feature, Kiss Grandmama Goodbye.

1993 -- Ayoka Chenzira completes her first feature, Alma's Rainbow.

1993 -- Leslie Harris completes her first feature. Picked up by Miramax, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. is the first feature by an African American woman to be distributed by a minimajor. It wins a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

1993 -- Audrey Lewis directs her first sci -- fi feature, The Gifted.

1994 -- Darnell Martin becomes the first African American woman to write and direct a film produced by a major studio when Columbia Pictures backs I Like It Like That.

1995 -- Debbie Allen directs her first feature, Out of Sync.

1995 -- Monika Harris directs her first feature, The Promised Land.

1995 -- Karen Stone, M.D., directs her first feature, Medipaid Queens.

1995 -- Bridgett Davis directs her first feature, Naked Acts.

1996 -- Dianne Huston becomes the first black woman nominated for an Academy Award for directing, with her short film, Tuesday Morning Ride.

1996 -- Marlies Carruth directs her first feature, Girlfriends.

1996 -- Cheryl Dunye directs the first black lesbian feature, The Watermelon Woman, which is distributed by First Run Features.

1997 -- Kasi Lemmons directs her first feature, Eve's Bayou.

1998 -- Maya Angelou, at the age of 70, more than 25 years after she set out to direct her first feature, finally does. Her Showtime cable movie, Down in the Delta, is picked up for distribution by Miramax.

1998 -- Actress, Troy Beyer directs her first feature, Let’s Talk About Sex.

1998 -- Peggy Hayes directs her first feature, Nandi.

1998 -- Yvette Plummer directs her first feature film, State of Mind.

1998 -- Millicent Shelton, the music-video director, shoots her first feature, Ride, which is released by Miramax.

1998 -- Cauleen Smith directs her first feature, Drylongso (Ordinary), which screens as part of the Sundance Film Festival's American Spectrum program. She goes on to win the 2000 Independent Spirit Award for Someone to Watch.

1998 -- Alison Swan directs her first feature, Mixing Nia.

1999 -- Zeinabu Irene Davis completes her first feature, Compensation. It is selected for the dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival and nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for the best first feature under $500,000.

1999 -- Julie Dash directs cable movies Funny Valentines and Incognito for BET.

1999 -- C.A. Griffith directs her first feature, the Spanish language film, Del Otro Lado.

2000 -- Gina Prince Blythewood writes and directs Love and Basketball.

2000 -- Gina Prince Blythewood directs the cable movie, Disappearing Acts.

2000 -- Coquie Hughes completes her first digital feature, Gotta Git My Hair Did.

2001 -- Theresa Brown completes her first feature, The Right Girl.

2001 -- DeMane Davis (and Khari Streeter) completes her second feature film, Lift.

2001 -- Cheryl Dunye completes her second feature film, Stranger Inside, which premiered at Sundance and won a number of festival awards before airing as a cable movie for HBO.

2001 -- Geretta, Geretta completes her first feature, Sweetiecakes.

2001 -- Coquie Hughes releases her second digital feature film, Hells Most Wanted.

2001 -- Kasi Lemmons completes her second feature, Caveman's Valentine.

2001 -- Darnell Martin completes her second feature, Prison Song, which is distributed by New Line.

2001 -- Vanessa Middleton completes her first feature, 30 Years to Life.

2001 -- Christine Swanson completes her first feature, All About You.

2002 -- Shari Carpenter releases her first feature, Kali’s Vibe.

2002 -- Neema Barnette releases her first feature, Civil Brand.

2003 -- Troy Beyer directs her second feature film, Love Don’t Cost a Thing.

2003 -- Coquie Hughes becomes the first African American woman to direct three feature films with the release of If I Was Yo Gyrl.

2004 -- Cheryl Dunye completes her third feature, My Baby's Daddy for Miramax.

2004 -- Angela Robinson completes her feature film D.E.B.S.

2004 -- Faith Tremmel completes her feature film Black Aura of an Angel.

2005 -- Coquie Hughes completes her fourth feature, Daughters of the Concrete.

2005 -- Angela Robinson becomes the second African American woman to direct a feature film produced by a major Hollywood Studio. The Disney film, Herbie Fully Loaded was budgeted at $50 million and grossed over $141 million worldwide.

2006 -- Music video director Sanaa Hamri releases her first feature, Something New.

2006 -- Nnegest Likke directs her first feature, Phat Girlz.

2006 -- Shelia Norman releases her first feature, Reunion.

2007 -- Kasi Lemmons’ third feature Talk to Me is released.

2007 -- Hanelle Culpepper completes her first feature film, the supernatural thriller, Within.

2007 -- Geretta, Geretta releases her second feature, Whitepaddy.

2007 -- Christine Swanson completes her second feature, Clarksdale.

2007 -- Jennifer Sharp completes her first feature, The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks.

2007 -- Dominique Wirtschafter’s first feature, If I’d Known I was a Genius, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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