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The first African American woman to direct a major feature film, Dash expresses a vision that is at once poetic and deeply outraged, conveying centuries of oppression and inequality in a brief but brilliantly executed period piece. Dash’s characters, the Gullah, descendants of slaves who lived on islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina in the early 1900s, fight to hang on to their West African identity in a world they never chose to inhabit. Since that film, however, Dash has struggled to find funding for her next projects; in the twenty-first century, African American filmmaking is still a tough business, given over for the most part to Eddie Murphy comedies and other crowd-pleasing movies; more serious films often find it hard to get financing or distribution.

By the 1990s, women were directing films in every conceivable genre, a far cry from the 1950s when Ida Lupino was the only woman working in Hollywood. Amy Heckerling’s first movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), a parody of high school comedy films, was a hit and introduced Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, and Jennifer Jason Leigh to general audiences. Heckerling also directed the gangster comedy Johnny Dangerously (1984), a clever homage to 1930s gangster films, and European Vacation (a k a National Lampoon’s European Vacation, 1985), but neither was successful at the box office.

In Turkey, director Yilmaz Güney began his career as an actor and screenwriter until his political activism landed him in jail. Emerging from prison after eighteen months, he turned to acting full time and rapidly became a popular Bogart-like action hero in low-budget genre films. In 1966, he turned to directing, with his first important films coming in the early 1970s, such as Umut (Hope, 1970) and Baba (The Father, 1971). Made quickly and cheaply, Güney’s films nevertheless had a personal urgency, based on his own poverty-stricken childhood, which resonated with audiences. But he remained a political lightning rod and was soon involved in a violent scuffle in a restaurant in which a local police official was killed.

The Iranian cinema went through a true renaissance as a result of the Islamic revolution in 1979 that brought Ayatollah Khomeini into power. Under the previous regime of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, which lasted from 1941 to 1979, films were mostly a commercial affair. With the revolution, however, filmmaking came to a halt until 1983, when the Farabi Cinema Foundation was created by the new government to encourage the production of Islamic films that were both artistically and politically engaged.

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Brazil’s Bruno Barreto created the raucous comedy Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) in 1976, while Carlos Diegues scored with the colorful Bye Bye Brasil (Bye Bye Brazil, 1979), an examination of circus life in the Amazon, as a rag-tag troupe competes with the encroaching influence of television. Hector Babenco made an interesting homage to American “B” films of the 1940s with Kiss of the Spider Woman (O Beijo da Mulher Aranha, 1985), starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Sonia Braga. Brazil’s Walter Salles began his cinematic career with the documentary short Socorro Nobre (Life Somewhere Else, 1995), which led to his first fiction feature, Central do Brasil (Central Station, 1998), in which a hardened, cynical woman takes in a young boy after his mother dies and regains some of her lost humanity as they search for the boy’s absent father.



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