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Charles Burnett

Charles Burnett

Charles Burnett is a writer-director whose work has received extensive honors. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, his family soon moved to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Burnett studied creative writing at UCLA before entering the University’s graduate film program. His thesis project, Killer of Sheep (1977), won accolades at film festivals and a critical devotion; in 1990, it was among the first titles named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

European financing allowed Burnett to shoot his second feature, My Brother’s Wedding (1983), but a rushed debut prevented the filmmaker from completing his final cut until 2007.

In 1988, Burnett was awarded the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur (“genius grant”) Fellowship and shortly thereafter Burnett became the first African American recipient of the National Society of Film Critics’ best screenplay award, for To Sleep with Anger (1990).

Burnett made the highly acclaimed “Nightjohn” in 1996 for the Disney Channel; his subsequent television works include “Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding” (1998), “Selma, Lord, Selma” (1999), an episode of the seven-part series “Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues” (2003) and “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property” (2003), which was shown on the PBS series “Independent Lens.”

Burnett has been awarded grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the J. P. Getty Foundation. In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art showcased his work with a month-long retrospective.

Vicksburg, MS
UCLA, B.A. Creative Writing, 1969; M.F.A. 1977


Film Role(s) Year
Bless Their Little Hearts (1984) Bless Their Little Hearts

Billy Woodberry's Bless Their Little Hearts chronicles the devastating effects of underemployment on a family in the same Los Angeles community depicted in Killer of Sheep (1977), and pays witness to the ravages of time in the short years since its predecessor. Nate Hardman and Kaycee Moore deliver gut-wrenching performances as the couple whose family is torn apart by events beyond their control.

Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant

Zeinabu irene Davis' fond portrait, rich with tunes and anecdotes of pioneering female jazz trumpeter Clora Bryant, a proponent of West Coast jazz whose early stints with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm led eventually to collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, among others.

Cinematographer 1989
To Sleep With Anger (1990) To Sleep With Anger

Charles Burnett’s celebrated fable is a singular artistic achievement that transcends categorization, incorporating elements of drama, dark comedy and magical realism. Within this densely-layered framework, Burnett incisively examines the complexities of modern middle-class Black life as an African American family becomes engaged in a metaphorical and metaphysical tug-of-war with the age-old cultural traditions of their former home in the South.

The Glass Shield (1994) The Glass Shield

An enthusiastic black rookie cop is gradually corrupted in the Los Angeles Police Department by a steady onslaught of racism. Directed by Charles Burnett.

Director 1994
When It Rains (1995) When It Rains

In Charles Burnett's New Year’s Day drama, a man tries to help a woman pay her rent and learns a lesson in connecting with others in a community. 

Nightjohn (1996) Nightjohn

A literate slave teaches a young girl the power of words on a plantation in the 1830s South. Directed by Charles Burnett.



Director 1996
"The Wedding" (1998) "The Wedding"

Charles Burnett directed this Oprah Winfrey-produced television miniseries based on the novel by Dorothy West.  As the rebellious daughter of old-monry Black parents prepares to wed a working class white musician, her attention is captured by nouveau riche Black suitor.

Director 1998
The Annihilation of Fish (1999) The Annihilation of Fish

Mrs. Muldroone's boarding house is a home for eccentrics—including Mrs. Muldroone (Margot Kidder) herself. Joining her in bemusing pursuits is Fish (James Earl Jones), a retired janitor with a demon to wrestle, literally, and Poinsettia (Lynn Redgrave), who fancies herself the lover of Puccini’s ghost. Director Charles Burnett weaves this trio of characters into a charming romantic (yes, romantic) comedy that defies age and expectations.

Director 1999
Selma, Lord, Selma (1999) Selma, Lord, Selma

Charles Burnett’s Selma, Lord, Selma chronicles the history of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. Through the perspective of a young girl learning about courage, bravery and compassion, Selma, Lord, Selma celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement’s fight for freedom for all Americans. 

Director 1999
"Finding Buck McHenry" (2000) "Finding Buck McHenry"

A young boy gets cut from his Little League baseball them, decides to start his own team and talks the school custodian into being the coach.  The man's expertise and wisdom lead the boy to suspect he's a forgotten Negro League legend. Directed by Charles Burnett.


Director 2000