The demise of independent film labels has made it more challenging for new talent—especially nonwhite filmmakers—to tell their stories and gain entry into major studios.
Over the past two years, a series of vital, powerful and reflective films directed by African-American women have been humming along under the radar of mainstream Hollywood, struggling to get distribution and missing the strong marketing campaigns that catch an audience. Ava DuVernay’s second feature, Middle of Nowhere, won Best Director at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was recently nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards, and yet she had to establish her own distribution company, AFFRM, African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, to release her film. Her movie, a critic’s pick described by The New York Times as a “plaintive, slow-boiling, quietly soul-stirring drama about a woman coming into her own,” is now playing in more than a dozen theaters nationwide.
Victoria Mahoney’s first feature, Yelling to the Sky, features Zoe Kravitz as a teen whose family is coming apart and must find her way in a tough school. The film was nominated for a Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, but here it will be seen only in one theater in New York this month and on VOD. Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned, a family drama set in the Deep South, which won 13 awards in more than a dozen film festivals, was also self-distributed through the production company Morgan’s Mark and later had its television debut on Showtime. So far, Kasi Lemmons—who directed three movies including Eve’s Bayou and Caveman’s Valentine—holds the record for the greatest number of feature films directed by an African-American woman.
It is such a tough road that many filmmakers simply give up. DuVernay, Mahoney, Mabry, and producer/writer Tajamika Paxton sat down with Lorenza Muñoz of The Daily Beast to discuss their films, the state of the industry, and the challenges faced by African-American filmmakers in Hollywood. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
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