If people wonder why it’s so difficult for Black women directors to get nominated for Oscars and other major movie awards, part of the problem is a very small number of Black women film directors have movies released in theaters. One of the eligibility requirements for most major movie awards is a theatrical release.
Black News & Views has compiled a list of five Black women directors whose movies will be released in theaters in 2023. They have broken through discrimination barriers when it comes to which directors get hired for movies released in theaters. Some of the women on this list have several feature film credits, while others will have their first feature film released this year. All of these talented women are examples of Black excellence, perseverance despite systemic biases against them, and filmmaking that deserves to be seen and supported by people looking for quality movies.
2023 movie: “Little Richard: I Am Everything”
Magnolia Pictures will release this definitive documentary about rock-and-roll pioneer Little Richard on April 21.
Interesting facts to know: Cortés was born in Milford, Connecticut, but she grew up in New York City. After graduating from Yale University with a degree in American Studies, she spent most of the 1990s working in the music business as a talent executive. She had stints with Def Jam, Mercury Records, and as the head of her own record company, called Loose Cannon.
Cortés transitioned into filmmaking in the 2000s. She learned more about the craft as a student at the School of Visual Arts and the New York Film Academy. Cortés formed an important friendship with filmmaker Lee Daniels, who worked with her in producing jobs on four drama movies: 2004’s “The Woodsman,” 2005’s “Shadowboxer,” 2008’s “Tennessee,” and 2009’s “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” Daniels directed “Shadowboxer” and the Oscar-winning “Precious.” In 2010, she founded the production company Cortés Films.
She made her feature-film directorial debut with “The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion” (co-directed by Farah Khalid), which had its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Cortés won a Primetime Emmy Award as a producer of HBO’s 2019 documentary “The Apollo,” which also premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Cortés was a producer and co-director (with Liz Garbus) of Amazon Studios’ critically acclaimed 2020 documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” a film about voting rights that featured commentary from politician/activist Stacey Abrams, one of the film’s producers.
Cortés had two movies with world premieres at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival: “Little Richard: I Am Everything” and “Invisible Beauty,” a documentary about fashion-model-turned-agent Bethann Hardison. Frédéric Tcheng and Hardison directed “Invisible Beauty,” while Cortés is a producer of the film.
Memorable quote: Cortés commented about “Little Richard: I Am Everything” in a Sundance Institute “Meet the Artist 2023” video: “As an artist and filmmaker, Little Richard inspired me to color outside the lines, and to give voice to those who were silenced for being too bold, too Black, or too queer. The film explodes the whitewashed history of rock and roll and shines a light on the originator, the emancipator, the one that started it all: Richard Wayne Penniman.”
2023 movie: “The Marvels”
Marvel Studios will release this superhero sequel (starring Brie Larson, Lashana Lynch, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani) to the 2019 film “Captain Marvel” on November 10.
Interesting facts to know: Born and raised in New York City, DaCosta’s family is of Jamaican heritage. She is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. DaCosta started out as a television production assistant, including working for director Martin Scorsese, whom she says is one of her biggest influences. DaCosta’s short film “Little Woods” was chosen for the 2015 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs. DaCosta’s feature film version of “Little Woods” (a crime drama starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James) had its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, where DaCosta won the Nora Ephron Award for excellence in storytelling by a female writer or director. Independent movie distributor Neon released “Little Woods” in 2019.
She directed and co-wrote Universal Pictures’ 2021 horror movie sequel/reboot “Candyman,” which had worldwide ticket sales of $77 million (79% of those sales were in the United States), according to Box Office Mojo. DaCosta’s “Candyman” debuted at number one at U.S. box offices, making her the first Black woman director to achieve that milestone, and ended up in the top 20 highest-grossing movies in the United States in 2021.
With “The Marvels,” DaCosta is the first Black woman to direct a major studio superhero movie and the youngest person to direct a Marvel Studios movie. (She was 30 years old when she was hired in 2020 to direct “The Marvels.”) As the director of “The Marvels,” DaCosta is expected to join Ava DuVernay (“When They See Us,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Selma”) as one of the few Black female directors whose movies have had worldwide ticket sales totaling more than $200 million.
Memorable quote: In a 2021 interview with the United Kingdom’s The Guardian, DaCosta had this to say about her filmmaking experiences: “I’m really happy I got to make ‘The Marvels’ because it’s like, I genuinely can just make a movie that doesn’t have to traffic in Black pain. And I feel like a lot of Black filmmakers are asked to or expected to do that. … I’ve been very lucky and I’ve worked really hard, and I’m really happy that I’ve had the experiences that I’ve had. Well … the good ones at least. At the same time, as well as I’m doing, this should be happening for more people who are like me.”
2023 movie: “Our Father, the Devil”
Cinedigm will release this French-language drama on a date to be announced.
Interesting facts to know: Foumbi (who was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon) has a background as an actress in independent films such as 2020’s “American Thief” and 2022’s “Paris Is in Harlem.’ She is a filmmaker alum of Berlinale Talents and New York Film Festival’s Artist Academy. Foumbi makes her feature-film debut as a writer, director, and producer with “Our Father, the Devil.”
The film is about an African immigrant named Marie Cissé (played by Babetida Sadjo), who is working as the head chef at a retirement home in France. A priest named Father Patrick (played by Souléymane Sy Savané), from her African homeland, arrives in France and he brings with him disturbing memories for Marie.
“Our Father, the Devil” won the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival’s Audience Award for Narrative Feature Films. Other film festival prizes for the movie include the 2022 American Black Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature Film and the John Singleton Award for First Feature. “Our Father, the Devil” was nominated for Best Feature at the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Memorable quote: Foumbi issued this statement in the “Our Father, the Devil” production notes: “Through ‘Our Father, the Devil’s’ narrative, I was forced to re-examine what it means to be an immigrant and the baggage one carries across borders. This film reminds us that it’s impossible to erase our past, but perhaps this past can reshape us in positive ways. Perhaps it can make us more empathetic to the suffering of others. Perhaps it can remind us that there are always kernels of goodness left in us, even after we have lived through unspeakable barbarity.”
2023 movie: “A Thousand and One”
Focus Features will release this drama (starring Teyana Taylor) on March 31.
Interesting facts to know: Rockwell is a native of New York City who studied filmmaking at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She also received fellowships from the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and the John S. Guggenheim Foundation. Searchlight Pictures acquired her short film “Feathers” before the film’s world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
Rockwell makes her feature-film debut as a writer and director with “A Thousand and One,” which won the 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s grand jury prize for U.S. Dramatic. Lena Waithe is one of the producers of “A Thousand and One.” In the movie, set in New York City from 1993 to 2005, Taylor plays the role of hairstylist Inez de la Paz, who changes the identity of her son because she doesn’t want him to go back into the foster care system.
Memorable quote: In the production notes for “A Thousand and One,” Rockwell commented on making the movie: “I appreciate this opportunity I had to address how marginalized communities were treated during this era. … I’m grateful for this chance I had to honor the heroic nature of the Black women who, like Inez, were able to raise us and persevere despite how much they are overlooked.”
2023 movie: “Kokomo City”
This documentary follows the lives of transgender female sex workers in New York City. Magnolia Pictures will release it on a date to be announced.
Important facts to know: Smith, a transgender woman, makes her feature-film debut as a director, producer, cinematographer, and film editor with “Kokomo City.” Before becoming a filmmaker, she worked for years in the music industry as a producer, singer, songwriter, and music video director. She received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, for being a producer of Lil Wayne’s 2008 album “Tha Carter III.” She has also worked with Katy Perry and Andre 3000. At the height of her success, she decided to undergo a gender transition.
Smith opened up about that experience in a Sundance Institute “Meet the Artist 2023” video: “I went broke in less than two years. When I say, ‘broke,’ I mean, ‘Sleeping on everyone’s couch.’ No one would call me. I just stopped working.”
In 2016, Smith was a cast member of the VH1 reality series “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta,” where she was the first gender-transitioning female star on the show. The self-taught filmmaker said in her Sundance Institute video that she decided to direct “Kokomo City” after several directors said no to helming the movie. The four women who star in “Kokomo City” are Danielle Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, and Liyah Mitchell. “Kokomo City” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the grand jury’s Next Innovator Award and the Audience Award in the Next category for emerging filmmakers.
Memorable quote: In her Sundance Institute video, Smith commented on the “Kokomo City” stars: “They allow us into their world in the most intimate, honest way. And we explore the dichotomy between them and Black men and the Black community. It’s something we should’ve talked about for years, years ago.”