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Article

Elizabeth Heath

Mousstapha Alassane, one of Niger's first filmmakers, excels in animation, a genre of film typically ignored in Africa. His work aims to preserve and revalue his African cultural heritage and to provide biting social commentary on Niger's postcolonial bourgeoisie.

Alassane was born in N’Jougou, Benin. He moved with his family to Niger in 1953. While in primary school, he began to develop the film style he would later polish as an adult. Alassane entertained his relatives and friends with shadow shows and makeshift cartoons drawn on translucent wrappings and shown through a projector he built. Throughout his teenage years, he refined his animation technique and at the age of twenty, he produced two short animated films—Le Piroguier (The Canoe-Paddler) and La Pileuse de mil Woman Pounding Millet While working at the Institut Fondamental d Afrique Noire Alassane had the opportunity to show these films to French ...

Article

Sada Niang

Nigerois filmmaker, was born in Ndougou (Niger). A mechanic by trade, he revealed himself to be an inventive young man at an early age. When no film theater existed in his village, indeed at a time when most of his fellow villagers had never seen a film, Alassane drew characters on cardboard, cut them out, and offered his fellow villagers their first cinematic experience by animating a rudimentary set of puppets.

In 1960 Alassane met Jean René Debrix and with his support obtained employment at the Institut d Afrique Noire Ifan in Niamey Later on two major figures exerted profound influence on the art and filmmaking career of Moustapha Alassane Jean Rouch a French engineer turned Africanist and advocate of direct anthropology and Norman McLaren a Scottish Canadian who made his first film at age twenty and later became the animation guru at the studios of National Film Board ...

Article

Donna Waller Harper

dancer, choreographer and actress, was born Deborrah Kaye Allen in Houston, Texas, to Andrew Allen, a dentist, and Vivian Ayers-Allen, a poet and librarian; her parents had two other children, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Allen, better known as Tex. Although she exhibited an early interest in dance and desired to join the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she was denied admission when she applied in the 1950s in what her mother saw as a clear example of discrimination. Her parents were able to pay for private ballet lessons with the Ballet Russes. She later traveled and trained in Mexico City with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964 she returned to Houston where she once again auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet This time she was not only accepted to the prestigious organization but was awarded a scholarship Her talent won her ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

Article

Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, athlete, singer, and producer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Annabelle Patricia West and John Allen Amos Sr., a self-taught diesel auto mechanic and tractor trailer driver. Shortly after his second birthday, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where they lived while John Sr. served in the military during World War II. His father left after the war, and his mother struggled to support her family by working as a domestic and then as a certified dietician. Amos recalled that, “the only time [he] ever saw his mother concede to possible failure was one time when she could not find any food in the cupboards. She had to ask him to go to the next-door neighbor to borrow food” (interview with John Amos by the author, 2010 Amos first joined the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey at about ...

Article

Maxwell Akansina Aziabah

Ghanaian filmmaker, writer, producer, and director, was born in Agona Swedru in the Central Region of Ghana. His father, J. R. Ansah, was a professional photographer, a painter, dramatist, and musician, and his mother was a trader. Kwaw Ansah, after his Anglican elementary education in Agona Swedru, moved to Accra, where he completed his ordinary-level certificate examinations. While studying for his ordinary-level certificate, he worked as a fashion designer for the United Africa Company. He later entered London Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) in 1963 to study theater design. Having decided to pursue a career in film production, he then enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and graduated two years later, in 1965 with a diploma in dramatic arts That same year he was admitted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy It was while there that he understudied film production in R ...

Article

Kendy Vérilus

was born Celesti Corbanese in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 3 December 1942, the son of Germaine Delva and Paul Corbanese. He completed his elementary and secondary school education at the Petit Séminaire Collège Saint-Martial, an acclaimed all-boys Catholic school in the capital city. Throughout his childhood, he frequented screenings of art films that played at the Tribune, an esplanade and theater complex formerly located on the Champ de Mars, an important public square in downtown Port-au-Prince. Upon finishing his études classiques, he left for Europe—a popular option available to the middle and upper classes at the time—to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics, and in 1970 he earned a Ph.D. at La Sapienza Facoltà, Università di Roma. While in Europe, he joined a film club and regularly attended art-house film screenings in both Rome and Paris.

On completing his studies and finding himself unable to return to his homeland ...

Article

Robert N. Anderson

was born on 10 November 1954 in the town of Nanuque, Minas Gerais state, Brazil. It was there that, as an adolescent, he discovered world cinema in the city’s movie theaters and frequented his uncle’s theater company. He later moved to the state capital of Belo Horizonte, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in sociology of education, all the while maintaining his connection with the local film club scene. He moved to São Paulo in 1984, where he later became a doctor of philosophy in communication science at the School of Communication and Art of the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP).

Araújo began his filmmaking career with the mid-length docudrama Memórias de classe (Class Memories, 1989 exploring the role of Afro Brazilians in São Paulo s labor movement This debut effort won the Ford ANPOCS Film Festival award for best screenplay The ...

Article

Houda Ben Ghacham

Tunisian film critic and director, was born in Tunis on 11 March 1944. His father, Taoufik Boughedir, was a journalist, novelist, playwright, and an influential figure in cultural life. Boughedir attended a French secondary school in Tunis and lived in the family home in Halfaouine, an area of old Tunis that was later to provide the name for the director’s first film. He went on to study French literature in Rouen and Paris and wrote two doctoral theses on African and Arabic cinema.

Boughedir first made a name for himself as a film critic, writing for, among others, the journal Jeune Afrique, which was published in Paris and distributed in francophone Africa. In his writing for this, he was an inexhaustible supporter of the cause of African cinema. He was involved in organizing the oldest pan-African film festival, Les Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage, in Tunis which he ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

actor and director, was born in Havana, Cuba. In 1950, when he was seven years old, he moved with his family from Cuba to the United States, where they made their residence in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. At age fifteen, he formed a music group called the Parthenons, which disbanded after one television appearance. While some biographies list him as having graduated from New York's William Howard Taft High School, Brown did not graduate but dropped out at the age of sixteen. He appeared to be a disinterested student, skipping more than forty days of class each of his last semesters in high school, and school leaders allowed him to quit because of his lack of performance.

A year after leaving school Brown decided to try out for a scholarship to attend the Juilliard School s Institute of Vocal Arts He won the scholarship but declined it ...

Article

Dylon L. Robbins

was born Jorge da Silva on 21 September 1937 in Rio de Janeiro. His father, Sebastião Alves de Brito, was an itinerant laborer without long-term or regular employment. His mother, Rita Maria da Silva, worked to raise Bulbul and his sister after separating from his father. In interviews, Bulbul recalled his childhood as characterized by his living in a single dwelling with several other families in the Rio neighborhood of Botafogo. It is during this time that he came to be called Zózimo. Because of disciplinary problems in school, Bulbul was sent to a youth reform school where he felt a greater sense of community with what he described as its almost exclusively black student body.

After leaving the reform school Bulbul enlisted in the army Upon his discharge he took university courses in accounting before enrolling at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes National School of Fine Arts from ...

Article

Zózimo Bulbul was born in Rio de Janeiro. In the 1970s he appeared in several films including Compasso de Espera (1973), Sagarana (1973), Pureza Proibida (1974), and Deusa Negra (1979). In 1974 Bulbul directed Soul in the Eye a powerful ...

Article

Cynthia A. Young

writer, director, producer, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His parents’ names are unknown, but his father is believed to have been in military service at the time, while his mother worked as a nurse's aide. At the age of three, his family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles, seeking jobs in California's postwar economy. Unfortunately, the end of World War II also meant the end of well-paid wartime jobs, and the Burnetts struggled to find work. Soon after the move, his parents parted, leaving Burnett to be raised by his grandmother.

Burnett's teenage years from 1957 to 1963 overlapped with the civil rights era, which by the early 1970s had profoundly transformed the United States. In Watts and other inner-city ghettos, the struggle to overturn de jure segregation and discrimination promised to address the institutional racism that cut off Watts from the prosperity and progress evident elsewhere ...

Article

Charles Burnett was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but his family soon moved to Los Angeles, California. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he majored in writing and languages and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971. Burnett then pursued graduate study at UCLA. In 1977 he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in theater arts and film. The first film that Burnett produced and directed, Killer of Sheep (1977), was his master's thesis.

Killer of Sheep was inspired by a conversation Burnett had with an eighteen-year-old African American slaughterhouse worker. The film concerned a person whose job affected his relationships with his family and friends. It was not released theatrically, but according to Burnett, after a showing at Howard University in Washington, D.C., it “sort of got around.”

Burnett followed up Killer of Sheep with My Brother's Wedding ...

Article

Meredith Broussard

actor and director, was born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. in Landstuhl, Germany, to Levardis Robert Burton Sr., a career army photographer, and Erma Christian. The couple separated when their son was three. Erma returned to the United States with her son and his two elder sisters and settled in Sacramento, California. The family were devout Roman Catholics, and Burton decided at thirteen to enter a Catholic seminary to become a priest. While there, he changed his mind and decided to become an actor instead.

Burton's big break came while he was a drama student at the University of Southern California's School of Theatre. While playing Ali Hakeem, the Persian rug dealer in the musical Oklahoma!, he tried out for the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley s landmark book tracing the generations of his family through America and back to Africa Burton landed the part ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Born in Bamako, Mali, Souleymane Cissé became a film devotee as a young child, when his brothers took him to the city’s open-air cinemas. By the time he graduated from secondary school, he had already organized a student film group and mastered the skills of a projectionist. In 1962, after seeing a film about Patrice Lumumba, former leader of the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Cissé decided to become a filmmaker and won a scholarship to the State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow in 1963.

After graduation in 1969, Cissé returned to Mali, where he was hired to make newsreels and documentaries for the Ministry of Information. Three years later he completed his first fiction film, Cinq jours d’une vie (1972). This, like all of his subsequent feature films—Den muso (The Girl, 1975), Baara ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

playwright, screenwriter, novelist, filmmaker, educator, was born Kathleen Conwell in Jersey City, New Jersey, daughter of Frank and Loretta Conwell. Her father was employed as a mortician prior to being appointed as the principal of a New Jersey school. Conwell attended Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, New York, where in 1963 she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Religion. Upon graduating from college she became active with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) initiative to advance voter registration in the South, where African Americans had been historically discouraged from voting. Conwell attended graduate school in Paris, France, where in 1966 she earned a Master of Arts degree in French Literature and Cinema through the Middlebury College program at the Sorbonne.

Upon completing her graduate studies in Paris Conwell returned to New York where she had attended college and promptly began working ...

Article

Steven R. Carter

Born Kathleen Conwell in Jersey City, she was the daughter of Frank and Loretta Conwell. Her father, who had worked as a mortician, became the principal of a high school now named after him and the first black New Jersey state legislator. In 1963, after receiving her BA in philosophy and religion from Skidmore College, Collins worked on black southern voter registration for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1966 she earned an MA in French literature and cinema through the Middle-bury program at Paris's Sorbonne. Joining the editorial and production staff at a New York City Public Broadcasting Service station, Collins worked as a film editor and began writing stories. In 1974, soon after ending her marriage to Douglas Collins, she became a professor of film history and screenwriting at the City College of New York. Adapting Henry H. Roth's fiction for the screen in The ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

filmmaker and screenwriter, was born George Arthur Cundieff in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was one of two children born to John and Christina, who would later appear in one of their son's most well known films. He attended local schools and matriculated at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he studied journalism, but soon changed course and enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the traditionally black college fraternity, and from which he graduated in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies.

Somewhere along the line Cundieff was bitten by the performance bug. Upon graduating from USC, he began doing stand-up comedy around Los Angeles, where he met and rubbed elbows with some of the young black comics who themselves were soon starring in feature films and television series, particularly the Wayans brothers He also began picking up ...

Article

Faith Mkwesha-Manyonga

Zimbabwean novelist, scriptwriter, consultant, and film director, was born in 1959 in Mutoko in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). At the age of two, she left for England with her parents, who were going for further studies, and started her primary education there. In 1965, when she was six, they returned to Rhodesia, where she completed her primary and secondary education at a mission school in Mutare. In 1977, she returned to England to study medicine at Cambridge University, but feeling lonely and alienated, she returned home after three years, without completing her studies, just before the declaration of national independence.

Back in a newly liberated Zimbabwe she worked for a marketing company as a copy editor and then studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe She was actively involved in the University of Zimbabwe drama club writing and staging plays Dangarembga worked as a teacher after graduating but ...