Issa Rae is one of many black female directors making projects that break the trauma binary.
Photograph by Merie W. Wallace/HBO


10 Black Female Directors Breaking The Trauma Binary

From Issa Rae to Karena Evans, these directors are helming dynamic projects with range.

In the past decade, Black directors have climbed the ranks in Hollywood, helming critically-acclaimed projects starring predominantly Black casts. Television series and films like When They See Us, 12 Years A Slave, Judas And The Black Messiah, and even The Help have all investigated the often traumatic Black experience. However, their mainstream celebration is a part of a larger system that pushes Black trauma onto our screens.

The issue is not with the content itself, because it's undoubtedly important and worthwhile. It’s the lack of diversity in Black storytelling that’s concerning. What if I just want to see Black people have a good day? Or fall in love? Or get themselves out of a funny situation? Why are the options so limited?

Excess suffering runs rampant in both television and film. This creates a sort of trauma-binary, implying that Black stories must be devastating to grip the audience's attention — as if pain is the only interesting part of the Black experience.

Do we battle police brutality, racism, unfair beauty standards, slavery, and systemic poverty? Yes, but we’re more than that.

Black culture is also teen crushes, dramatic friendships, epic adventures, comedic downfalls, and everything in between. Those stories — which others have unlimited access to — deserve to be championed as well.

Keep reading for a list of 10 Black female directors, breaking the trauma binary, and making projects as dynamic as we are.

Karena Evans — P-Valley, Gossip Girl

Karena Evans famously directed Drake's music videos’ “God’s Plan,” “Nice For What,” and “In My Feelings,” before working in television. Now, the Canadian creative is credited for the Gossip Girl reboot which follows two Black sisters competing to be New York’s best socialite. Evans is also the director of P-Valley, a fictional show about a strip club in the Mississippi Delta, which has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Janicza Bravo — Zola

Janicza Bravo directed the latest A24 hit, Zola, based on the infamous Twitter thread from 2015. The film follows a “hoe trip” gone wrong, starring Taylour Paige as a hilariously savvy stripper who gets sucked into a weekend of mayhem.

Tayarisha Poe — Selah And The Spades

Tayarisha Poe is a Hollywood newcomer, and made her directing debut with the indie-film Selah And The Spades. The thrilling tale centers around a fictional boarding school that is divided into five factions. Selah, who is both feared and loved by her classmates, is a senior looking for someone ruthless enough to take her place. The film originated as a short before becoming a feature length production, and now the story is being adapted into a television series.

Quinn Wilson — “Truth Hurts”

—Quinn Wilson started off as Lizzo’s makeup artist. While working with the Grammy-winning singer, she climbed the ranks to become her creative director. Wilson is credited as the director of the music videos “Because I Love You,” “Juice,” and “Truth Hurts.” Always grandiose and shamelessly fun, Wilson is also to thank for the giant inflatable butt, in Lizzo’s infamous VMA performance. Now, according to Dazed, she’s currently developing a short and reviewing scripts for her first feature length film.

Regina King — One Night In Miami

Regina King is an award-winning actress turned triple threat. When she’s not acting in, or producing others work, she’s directing her own projects. King has a multitude of television credits under her belt, but made her film directorial debut with One Night In Miami. The movie follows a night when the Black icons, Sam Cook, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Mohammad Ali meet for the first time.

Melina Matsoukas — Lemonade, Insecure

Melina Matsoukas, like Wilson and Evans, also launched her career as a music video director (i.e. Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Solange’s “Losing You,” Rihanna’s ''We Found Love,” and more). But in 2017, she transitioned to television and film, and hasn’t turned back. Matsoukas directed seven episodes of Insecure and the critically-acclaimed “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None, which all revolve around Black love.

Michaela Coel — I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel broke everyone’s hearts — in the best possible way — with her critically acclaimed series I May Destroy You. The HBO drama dissects rape culture through the lens of a Black woman living in the UK. And though the series is anchored by an undoubtedly heavy subject, her creative direction allowed each character to blossom with the depth and dimension they deserve.

Liesl Tommy — Respect

Liesl Tommy is the South-African director behind the upcoming blockbuster, Respect. The film, which premieres August 13th, tells Aretha Franklin's story, from a church choir kid to an international music legend. And, critics are already predicting that it will be an Oscar winner.

Issa Rae – Insecure

Issa Rae is best known for her hit series Insecure, which follows the romantic lives of Black women in Los Angeles. But before Insecure, there was The Misadventures of An Awkward Black Girl, a Youtube mini-series that Rae wrote and directed herself, which inspired the HBO comedy. The beloved mini-series proved that Black characters can be entertaining without relying on grief or plaid out stereotypes.

Gina Prince — Love and Basketball, Secret Life Of Bees, Beyond The Lights

Gina Prince is the master of Black romance. In 2000 she directed the cult classic Love and Basketball which follows basketball prodigies Monica and Quincy’s relationship, from childhood foes to star-crossed lovers. Fourteen years later, Prince returned with another hit rom-com, Beyond The Lights, telling the messy tale of a popstar who falls in love with her bodyguard.