Black Women Filmmakers

Tuesdays 5:00 p.m. to 7:50 p.m.

Comm 137/Spring 2016

Prof. Robyn Charles


Course Description

The expectation is students will enter this course to learn more about what may be for them an abstract term “Black Women Filmmakers” and are a bit curious about what these women have to say. This course will provide an introduction to the works, contributions and experiences of selected Black Women Filmmakers to examine the successes, conflicts, and challenges of specific “independent” and mainstream innovators. Through class discussions students will explore how the films shown reflect the voices of not only of the women who made them, but also how they speak volumes about the human experience.

Navigating the microevolution of culture

through the individual experience as expressed through

the lens of the black woman filmmaker.

Diversity is the spectrum on which shared experiences travel a continuum; one that cannot be traveled if we do not explore how these connections are linked.  Although filmmaking is indeed a form of communication, it is a complex composition of flaws, struggles, conflicts, etc., that through the cathartic act of writing, directing and/or interpreting her art, as a black woman she is making accessible for the first time that which has been unspoken.

Course Objectives

To develop skills to discuss, analyze, and write about how black women filmmakers with the films discussed in class structure their narrative and visual styles to create meaning.

  • Are there particular stylistic or narrative strategies that characterize films created by black women?
  • How might historical, technical, and social factors influence the work of black women filmmakers?
  • Does an investigation of black women filmmakers change our conception of popular mainstream media?
  • What, if anything, unites the work black women to of all women filmmakers?


Course Requirements

Classes will consist of lectures, discussions, and screenings of films made both within and outside the mainstream film industry. Students will also view assigned films outside of class.

The films listed on the schedule have been placed on the Library Course Reserve. Video Clips will be placed on the Google Drive and a link will be provided.

Reading and writing are integral to the course. Please purchase the texts immediately to keep up with readings.

Required Readings:

  • Black Women Film and Video Artists (AFI Film Readers) by Jacqueline Bobo (Editor)
  • A Short Guide to Writing about Film (9th Edition) by Timothy Corrigan (Author)
  • Additional articles will be uploaded to TED

Optional Readings (See pages 4-5) Listed as “Reference:” on the Schedule



Students should plan to ask questions, make comments, or summarize critics’ arguments in order to contribute to discussions. Attendance to all lectures is crucial in order to complete the journal writing requirements. The journals allow us to extend these discussions and to raise issues for future in-class discussions.   



Week One – Intro

  • Watch: Eve’s Bayou (1997), Dir. Kasi Lemmons


Week Two – Identity

The Veil and Double Consciousness

Reference:   The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois

Review: Eve’s Bayou – Screening: Films by Ngozi Onwurah

  • Watch: Belle (2013), Dir. Amma Asante
  • Read: Jacqueline Bobo, “Black Women’s Films: Genesis of a Tradition,” Chapter 1 in Black Women Film and Video Artist.


Week Three – Herstory

Reflexivity vs. Romanticism

Reference:   Reflexivity in Film and Literature – Robert Stam

Review: Belle – Screening: Illusions by Julie Dash

  • Watch: Daughters of the Dust (1991). Julie Dash
  • Read: Ntongela Masilela, “Women Directors of the Los Angeles School” Chapter 2 in Black Women Film and Video Artist. Timothy Corrigan, “Writing About the Movies,” Chapter 1 in Writing About Film.


Week Four – Diaspora

The Radical Relativism of Cultural Thought Patterns

Reference:   Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-Cultural Education – Robert B. Kaplan

Review: Daughters of the Dust – Screening: Le Divorce by Manouchka Kelly Labouba

  • Watch: Sugar Cane Alley – Ruev (2004), Dir. Euzhane Palcy. Queen Latifah Presents Mama Africa, Ngozi Onwurah.
  • Read: [Available on TED]: Sheila Petty, “Aesthetic and narrative strategies in films of selected African women directors.” Journal of African Cinemas, Vol 4, Number 2, pp. 145-155. Timothy Corrigan, “Beginning to Think, Preparing to Watch and Starting to Write,” Chapter 2 in Writing About Film.


Week Five – The ISM’s

Pan African vs. Western Feminism

Review: Sugar Cane Alley – Ruev (2004), Dir. Euzhane Palcy. Queen Latifah Presents Mama Africa, Dir. Ngozi Onwurah.

  • Midterm Essays and Presentations #1 Due!
  • Watch: The Watermelon Woman, (1996) Cheryl Dune.
  • Read: C.A. Griffith, “Below the Line: (Re)Calibrating the Filmic Gaze,” Chapter 9 in Black Women Film and Video Artists.   Timothy Corrigan, “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis,” Chapter 3 in Writing About Film.