Charles Burnett

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on April 13, 1944, Charles Burnett moved with his family to the Watts area of Los Angeles at an early age. He describes the community of having a robust mythical connection with the South as a result of having so many Southern transplants, an atmosphere which has informed much of his work. Burnett went to UCLA, where he earned his Masters of Fine Arts in Filmmaking. There, he was greatly influenced by professors Elyseo Taylor-creator of the Ethno-Communications department-and Basil Wright-the English documentarian famous for Night Mail and Songs of Ceylon. He became fast friends with fellow future greats like Haile Gerima (Sankofa), and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), collaborating with them and others on many projects. Burnett cites Jean Renoir, Satyajit Ray, and Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker) as important influences. In 1988, Burnett received the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship (also known as the 'genius grant'), which helped him support his young family and concentrate on his then, newest script. With Danny Glover parlaying his success in Lethal Weapon, they wrangled funding for the production of Burnett's To Sleep With Anger. Glover, playing a vaguely supernatural Southern trickster overstaying his welcome while visiting family, found perhaps his most critically acclaimed role. It won the 1991 Independent Spirit Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay for Burnett and Best Actor for Glover. The Library of Congress selected Killer of Sheep and To Sleep With Anger to be inducted into the National Film Registry. The National Society of Film Critics honored Burnett for best screenplay for To Sleep With Anger, making him the first African-American to win in this category in the group's 25year history. While the Los Angeles Times reported that Burnett's movie reminded viewers of Anton Chekov, Time magazine wrote: 'If Spike Lee's films are the equivalent of rap music - urgent, explosive, profane, then Burnett's movie is good, old urban blues.' The film also received a Special Jury Recognition Award at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival and a Special Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Both Burnett and Glover were nominated for New York Film Critics Circle Awards. In 1997, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival honored Burnett with a retrospective, Witnessing For Everyday Heroes, presented at New York's Walter Reade Theater of Lincoln Center. Burnett has been awarded grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the J. P. Getty Foundation. He is also the winner of the American Film Institute's Maya Deren Award, and one of the very few people ever to be honored with Howard University's Paul Robeson Award for achievement in cinema. The Chicago Tribune has called him 'one of America's very best filmmakers' and the New York Times named him 'the nation's least known great filmmaker and most gifted black director.' Burnett has even had a day named after him - the mayor of Seattle declared February 20, 1997, as Charles Burnett Day. Burnett directed a documentary on Nat Turner and one chapter (Warming by The Devil's Fire) of the six part documentary, The Blues, a production of Martin Scorsese's CPA Productions with OffLine Entertainment and in November of 2017 Charles Burnett received an Academy Award for his life's work. His latest film is entitled, 'The Power To Heal', a documentary about the integration of hospitals during the Civil Rights Era.