Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Best Movies By Black Directors You Should Watch

When you think about some of the greatest movies made throughout cinematic history — Casablanca, Rear Window, Citizen Kane, The Godfather — there's no denying that these works of art deserve their status, but it's also important to remember that for decades, Hollywood has been less than inclusive when it comes to non-white filmmakers. 

Diversity is a constant struggle on either side of the camera in the film industry; in 2019, Indiewire reported that 80 percent of directors are white men while filmmakers of color struggle to break through and have their films seen and distributed. Progress is still slow for filmmakers of color, but luckily for filmgoers across the world, the landscape is slowly shifting, and directors of color have consistently and repeatedly stunned critics and fans with excellent, extraordinary films. From social thrillers to superhero films to biopics, here are some Black directors — famous names to fresh faces — and the films they've crafted that are absolutely worth a watch.

Jordan Peele

After gaining fame and acclaim through Key & Peele, the Comedy Central sketch show which also starred Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele made a big leap and moved behind the camera, and the film world hasn't been the same since. In 2017, Peele made his directorial debut with Get Out, a social thriller starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams as Chris and Rose, a happy young couple preparing to meet Rose's parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford). Though everything seems friendly and calm on the surface, the visit quickly devolves into madness, forcing Chris to fight for his body and his life.

Peele made history by becoming the first Black screenwriter to win an Academy Award for an original screenplay — the film also snagged nods for Best Director, Best Actor (for Kaluuya), and Best Picture — and in 2019, he released his highly anticipated follow-up, Us. His sophomore effort, which stars fellow Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o and Black Panther standout Winston Duke, tells the story of disenfranchised "doubles" rising up to attack their above-ground counterparts, providing another incisive look at American culture. From "the Sunken Place" to "the Tethered," Peele has already contributed several unforgettable images and terms to the film lexicon, and his future big-screen exploits are sure to be just as groundbreaking.

Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins' 2016 masterpiece Moonlight might be most widely remembered thanks to the now-infamous mixup at the 2017 Academy Awards that mistakenly declared La La Land the night's big winner. However, that would do a serious disservice to this spectacularly beautiful, introspective look at what it means to be young, Black, and queer in America. The story of Chiron, who is played by three different actors throughout different periods of his life — Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes as a child, teenager, and adult, respectively — grappling with his sexuality and his future became the first LGBTQ+ film and the first film with an all-Black cast to win the Oscar for Best Picture, making history for Jenkins.

After Moonlight, Jenkins continued his streak with If Beale Street Could Talk, an emotionally gripping story of a young woman, Clementine "Tish" Rivers (KiKi Layne), who must prove that her lover, Alonzo "Fonny" Hunt (Stephan James), is innocent of murder before the two have a child together. The film was praised for its writing, direction, and performances, particularly Regina King's Oscar-winning supporting turn as Tish's mother. Clearly, Jenkins has a particular talent for telling personal, emotional stories, and we can expect more of these intimate films from him as his career continues.

Steve McQueen

In 2013, British director Steve McQueen put himself on the scene in a big way with 12 Years a Slave, an adaptation of the memoir of Solomon Northup. Born in New York State, Northup was kidnapped in 1841 in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery despite his status as a free man, and was ultimately trapped on a plantation for 12 years before finally regaining his freedom. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who earned an Academy Award nomination for the role, played Northup, leading a cast that included producer Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, fellow nominee Michael Fassbender, and Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong'o (in her film debut). The film won Best Picture at the 2014 Oscars, making McQueen the first Black director to direct a Best Picture winner.

Five years later, McQueen returned with Widows, a crime drama he wrote and directed starring Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Brian Tyree Henry, and Daniel Kaluuya, along with a group of other incredibly talented performers. Widows didn't enjoy the same awards recognition as 12 Years a Slave, but it's still an outstanding film in its own right, so make sure you include it in your McQueen retrospective.

Ava DuVernay

One of the most direct and striking voices in Hollywood in recent years, Ava DuVernay has made enormous strides for Black women behind the camera. After making history at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 with Middle of Nowhere as the first Black woman to win a directing award, she also became the first Black female director to earn a nomination for Best Picture at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, both honors coming for her Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma. with A Wrinkle in Time, she became the first Black woman to direct a film that earned over $100 million at the box office. In 2010, DuVernay founded AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, to help support other Black creatives.

If you're looking to delve into DuVernay's filmography, there truly is something for everybody. If you're looking for a deep dive into the civil rights movement, check out 2014's Selma; if you're looking for a classic fantasy film fit for the whole family, you'll love 2018's A Wrinkle In Time. If documentaries are more your speed, try 13th, DuVernay's stunning 2016 documentary about race and justice in the United States. No matter your preference, there's something in DuVernay's filmography to fit your needs.

Dee Rees

In 2011, a young Black female filmmaker named Dee Rees, then attending graduate school at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, worked with her mentor, director Spike Lee — also an NYU alum — to produce her first directorial effort, Pariah. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and history was made.

Iin 2015, Rees directed Bessie, an HBO biopic of singer Bessie Smith (played in the film by Queen Latifah), earning even more acclaim and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. (Rees was also nominated for directing.) However, her biggest project was yet to come: in 2017, Rees released Mudbound, a Netflix original based on a 2008 novel by the same name, though Rees also used her own family's history as inspiration for several characters in the film. Mudbound made history for Rees, who became the first Black woman nominated for writing at the Academy Awards, and because her star Mary J. Blige earned an acting nod, Rees also became the first Black woman to direct a film for which one of its actors was nominated for an Academy Award. Rees worked with Netflix again in 2020 for an adaptation of Joan Didion's novel The Last Thing He Wanted; if you want to check out one of her films, several are available on the streaming service.

Spike Lee

No list of influential Black filmmakers would be complete without Spike Lee. After making his directorial debut in 1986 with She's Gotta Have It, Lee went on to make several acclaimed films about the history and state of the Black community, including 1989's Do the Right Thing, 1990's Mo' Better Blues, 1991's Jungle Fever, 1992's Malcolm X, 1998's He Got Game, 2002's 25th Hour, 2015's Chi-Raq, and 2018's BlacKkKlansman.

Four of Lee's films, including She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and the filmmaker's 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls, have been selected as culturally significant by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry, and the director has received an astounding number of accolades throughout his career — including Peabody Awards, Emmy Awards, BAFTAs, and the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival — making him one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today. Lee hit an enormous milestone for the first time at the 2019 Oscars; after winning an honorary Oscar in 2015, Lee finally won his first competitive Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay for his Best Picture nominee, BlacKkKlansman. If you're not familiar with Lee's filmography yet, pick any one of his lauded films. You truly can't go wrong.

Ryan Coogler

In 2018, after only five years in Hollywood, Ryan Coogler was a runner-up for TIME's Person of the Year award, which should tell you just how influential this creator became in such a short period of time. Coogler broke into the mainstream with 2013's Fruitvale Station, the true story of Oscar Grant, a young Black man killed by transit police at a train station in Oakland, California (Coogler's hometown), which marked his first artistic success as well as the first of multiple collaborations with actor Michael B. Jordan, who stars in the film as Oscar Grant.

In 2015, Coogler directed Creed, a sequel to the Rocky film series starring Jordan as Apollo Creed's son, Adonis "Donnie" Creed, who tries to carry on his father's legacy. Alongside Sylvester Stallone, who reprised his role as Rocky Balboa, Jordan and Coogler made movie magic together once again; in 2018, the pair reunited to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Black Panther, which stars Chadwick Boseman as the title character and Jordan as his cousin Erik Killmonger, Coogler established himself as a major director to watch, especially as the film went on to earn awards season attention and become the highest-grossing film in history by a Black director. Whether you're rewatching one of his two blockbusters or checking out Fruitvale Station for the first time, you're guaranteed a good time with any of Coogler's films.

Mati Diop

A Senegalese actor and director born and raised in Paris, Mati Diop trained at several prestigious spaces in France, including the experimental studio Le Pavilion at Paris' modern art utopia The Palais de Tokyo, before breaking into the mainstream. Though Diop made her onscreen debut in Claire Denis' 2008 film 35 Shots of Rum, she eventually rose to prominence as a director thanks to her 2019 film Atlantics.

After helming Atlantics, a film starring mostly unknown actors that nominally focuses on the romantic relationship between two disenfranchised youths in a suburban town in Senegal, Diop became the first Black woman to direct a film featured at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2019. Ultimately, the stirring, moving film, which highlights Senegal's refugee crisis, personal responsibility, and LGBTQ+ issues, won that year's Grand Prix prize, and former President Barack Obama selected it as one of his favorites of the year. Diop may just be getting started, but if you want to say you knew about her first, you'll definitely want to start with Atlantics.

Numa Perrier

Born in Haiti and raised in the state of Washington, actor and director Numa Perrier faced a series of difficult obstacles on her way to becoming a successful filmmaker — including a brief stint working in the adult industry in Las Vegas — before she finally made it to Los Angeles and began her career. Her experiences would go on to inspire her debut feature film, Jezebel.

Jezebel, which premiered at SXSW in 2019 and was chosen as one of the best SXSW films of the year by The Hollywood Reporter, stars Perrier alongside Tiffany Tenille, who plays Tiffany, a young girl who ends up as a "cam girl" trying to make a living. Perrier plays Tiffany's sister Sabrina, who also does online sex work to support the family. Thanks to Perrier's straightforward approach to such difficult material, Jezebel received overwhelmingly positive reviews praising Perrier's sensitive, skilled direction and Tenille's lead performance, setting Perrier up as a serious talent to watch. If you're looking for a tough but introspective viewing experience, choose Jezebel for your next movie night.

Julius Onah

A Nigerian-born filmmaker who has lived all over the world, from the United Kingdom to the United States, Julius Onah has a few notable films and features under his belt already, and it seems this talented young director is just getting started. After earning a graduate degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Onah began his career in 2015 with The Girl Is in Trouble, executive produced by Spike Lee. However, you may be more familiar with Onah's biggest blockbuster to date: in 2018, he directed The Cloverfield Paradox, a continuation of producer J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield universe. Released by Netflix, the film links several other parts of the Cloverfield story together.

However, if you really want to see what Onah is capable of, you should check out his 2019 film Luce, which stars Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, and Tim Roth and tells the story of Luce (Kelvin Harris Jr.), a talented Black high school student struggling to find his way in an increasingly difficult world. If you're looking for a tough but real coming-of-age story directed by an up-and-coming star, Luce is well worth a watch.

Julie Dash

In 1991, director Julie Dash made history as the first Black woman to send a feature film to national theatrical release with Daughters of the Dust, an epic story set across three generations of Black women. Thanks to an innovative non-linear narrative and gorgeous landscapes alongside authentic touches like use of the Gullah language — a language rooted in Creole history that was once used on the film's Southern setting of Saint Helena Island — Daughters of the Dust was later selected by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Film Registry, and remains influential today.

In telling the dramatic story of the Peazant family, who must juggle ancient spiritual beliefs with modern problems and still band together in the face of strife, Dash made a serious name for herself. After finishing the film, Dash wrote multiple books related to Daughters of the Dust, so if you want to learn more about Daughters of the Dust — which was remastered in 2016 — or continue its story, you can check out Dash's book about making the film, as well as her literary sequel, Daughters of the Dust: A Novel.

Forest Whitaker

You might know Forest Whitaker best as an Academy Award-winning actor who has appeared in everything from The Last King of Scotland to Black Panther, but he's also had success behind the camera, starting in 1995 with his directorial debut, Waiting to Exhale. Starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, the film, which is adapted from Terry McMillan's 1992 novel of the same name, tells the story of a group of Black women "holding their breath" until they can find stable relationships.

Eventually, Savannah (Houston), Bernadine (Bassett), Robin (Lela Rochon), and Gloria (Loretta Devine) all figure out how to resolve their situations for the best possible outcome, whether they find love, embrace motherhood, or learn to let go of their loved ones a little. Whitaker went on to direct several more films, including the 1998 romantic comedy Hope Floats and the 2004 Katie Holmes-led romantic comedy First Daughter, but Waiting to Exhale remains his most influential film to date.

Rashaad Ernesto Green

Giving the lead actor a chance to co-write their own film can create an incredible journey for both the director and star of a given film — the Before trilogy, written by Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater, comes to mind — and this is certainly the case with 2019's Premature, written by Zora Howard and Rashaad Ernesto Green.

Crafted by a young but talented team, Premature tells the story of a 17-year-old poet named Ayanna (Howard) who strikes up an unexpected relationship with an older man, music producer Isaiah (Joshua Boone), one summer night in Harlem. Set to leave for college, Ayanna embarks on a fling with Isaiah, but when their summer romance ends up producing some very real consequences, both Ayanna and Isaiah must grapple with their feelings and each other in the midst of personal crises. Released in early 2020, the film earned overwhelmingly positive reviews, indicating that Green and Howard are both talents to watch.

Blitz the Ambassador

In 2018, Ghanian hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambassador put his stage name aside to launch his movie career and direct his debut film, The Burial of Kojo. The film, which uses mostly unknown actors and was shot on location in Ghana, tells the story of Esi (Cynthia Dankwa), who lives with her parents in rural Ghana and is particularly close with her father, Kojo (Joseph Otsiman), who tells her stories about his own childhood as they spent time in their boat. However, the stories he tells only make sense if you already know the ending.

Before long, trouble strikes; Kojo's brother Kwabena (Kobina Amissah-Sam) arrives with a score to settle with Kojo, and when push comes to shove, Esi is the only one who can use her father's stories to help save his soul. As the first Ghanian film to be released on Netflix, The Burial of Kojo made history — and proved Blitz the Ambassador had talents that few filmgoers had previously expected.