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Now I am an illusion, just like the films. They see me but they can’t recognize me.” –Mignon Duprée (played by Lonette McKee), Illusions, directed by Julie Dash, 1982.

Director Julie Dash’s critically acclaimed short film Illusions examines the precarious role that black women play in the Hollywood film industry. In it, black women exist along the periphery of the industry, even though their talents are central to the success of the studio. Although Illusions was made almost 30 years ago, the challenges that black women face in the film industry have changed very little.

Why? Because patriarchy pretty much rules. Hollywood is thought to be this liberal, diverse space that welcomes creativity and difference. The reality, of course, is that the film industry remains overwhelmingly white and male. Just this year, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing — even though women have been making movies for more than 100 years. Dorothy Arzner, a white lesbian, and Eloise Gist, a black woman, were both prolific presences directing films during the 1920s. But despite this history, women filmmakers of any race have yet to experience the same levels of success as men. Today only 6 percent of films in Hollywood are directed by women.

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The American Black Film Festival Completes 14th Year

Langston Hughes African American Film Festival Under Way