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The Most Iconic Films Made by African-American Directors

On the heels of the #oscarssowhite controversy back in 2016, African-American directors are finally getting the credit they deserve. This year, films such as Fences and Moonlight are now considered top contenders for major awards. To top off their success, both films have also been well-received in the box office.

To celebrate African-American directors, Explore Talent has put together a list that features works that have made a strong impact on culture and film.

Life-Changing Films by African-American Directors

1. Precious (2009)

Directed by: Lee Daniels

Precious Film

Precious is the Oscar-winning film that is based on the novel Push by Sapphire. It centers around an obese and illiterate teen who is impregnated twice by her own father. Gabourey Sidibe plays the titular character so impressively that it is hard to believe that this was her very first film role.

Years after the release of Precious, Sidibe got to work alongside director Lee Daniels again after giving her a role in the hit television show Empire.

2. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Directed by: Steve McQueen

12 Years a Slave

The film 12 Years a Slave is based on the memoir of the same name. English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a man who is kidnapped and forced into slavery in 1800s Louisiana.

Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o all gave stunning performances throughout. Particular praise was given to Nyong’o who took on the role of Patsey, a true-to-life character included in Northup’s memoir.

3.  Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Straight Outta Compton

Not only did Straight Outta Compton become one of 2015’s highest-grossing movies, it also garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The story follows the rap group NWA, which is often considered as one of the most influential artists in history.

4. Do the Right Thing (1989)

Directed by: Spike Lee

Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee is one of the most distinguished African-American directors of all time. One of his early works, 1989’s Do the Right Thing, is often considered to be one of the most important films in history. Not only did Lee serve as a director, but he also acted and wrote the entire movie.

Do the Right Thing tells the story of simmering racial tension in the middle of a Brooklyn neighborhood. It explodes during the hottest day of summer and ends in tragedy on the same day.

5. Malcolm X (1992)

Directed by: Spike Lee

Malcolm X

Film critic Roger Ebert called Malcolm X the best film of 1992 and even went on to say that it was the top film of the decade. The biographical film centers around Afro-American Malcolm X, who was one of the most notable human rights activists of all time. Taking on the lead role is Denzel Washington. The talented actor delivered one of the most iconic performances in the movie.

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