In fact, though, Dash told a powerful narrative story in her black-and-white short film, "Illusions," which combines the story of a black woman's struggle over her own identity with a sharp critique of the Hollywood dream factory. Like "Daughters," this film--set in Hollywood during World War II--shows off her flair for making period-piece movies.
Floyd Webb, the founder of the Blacklight Film Festival--a Chicago-based showing of African-American films--said he is baffled that no U.S. distributor has picked up "Daughters," at least for art-house theaters. At his festival in August, the film sold out three screenings and more than 100 moviegoers were turned away.
Other of these women have more obvious commercial sensibilities. Addison, who says she sees film as "entertainment first and foremost," is a big fan of action-adventure stories. Owens' most recent project--which will premiere at the first African American Film Market in November--is a family oriented comedy called "The Three Muscatels," a spoof on "The Three Musketeers" that stars Richard Pryor. She also directed a witty TV pilot about black family life. Now she is developing a feature called "Eye of the Storm," about five men who return home to reclaim the Southern neighborhood they grew up in.
Royals said the summers she spent during film school working on ad campaigns for Maxwell House coffee and American Express at Ogilvy and Mather--which financed her education--prepared her to communicate with a mass audience. "I'm very aware that you have to tell the story you want to tell in a way that can find an audience," Royals says. And Fray, who is adapting a legend into a feature-film script, says she is interested in stories "that deal with ethnicity, love, relationships with family and friends . . . But I would like to come with a view of life that is not stuck in the idea that if it's a story about people of color, then it has to be about their plight, or take on a 'woe is me' theme."
Columbia's Allain says that black women will have to prove they can make commercially viable movies before the studios take notice of them. Former Lorimar executive Addison agrees. "Right now there's no reason to believe that any movies featuring African-American women will make bucks," she says. "It has to happen outside the system, or with someone like Singleton (telling a woman's story)."
Despite the troubles black women are having, Allen insists that the opportunities are greater than they have ever been. "The climate right now is actually more wide open, especially for black women, because we have a lot of wonderful movies coming out starring predominantly black people that are successful," she says. "It's just a matter of more women getting out there. You have to create a lot of your own opportunity."
Ironically, it may be a man--John Singleton--who creates some of those opportunities for his female peers. Singleton's next project at Columbia, "Poetic Justice," is the story of a young black woman who finds solace in her poetry. "There are 50 screenplays around town by African-American women that will go in the drawer because Singleton, who understands the Hollywood hustle, will get there first," Addison says.
But if "Poetic Justice" succeeds like "Boyz," studio executives--who like to drive forward by watching the rear-view mirror--will be hot on the trail of stories about black women.
And maybe even by black women.