Charles Burnett ’77

Renowned filmmaker Charles Burnett has pursued his craft for more than four decades as a director, producer, writer, and actor. His upbringing in South Central Los Angeles (by way of Vicksburg, Mississippi) had a profound impact on his life, his work, and modern cinema. While studying at UCLA, Burnett was part of the revolutionary film movement known as the LA Rebellion. For the first time, Black independent filmmakers created powerful art that conveyed the Black experience authentically. In a collaboration with esteemed UCLA alumni like Billy Woodbury and Haile Gerima, Burnett saw the importance of highlighting the conditions of Black life in stark contrast to stereotypical representations in popular media. His films have tackled issues such as class conflict, racism, politics, and social strife through a historical lens, with an emphasis on working-class African Americans. Burnett has won numerous industry awards that honor his dedication to portraying historically accurate points of view. In September 2017, he received an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. His filmography continues to inspire a new generation of creatives who strive to promote truthful storytelling.

“The whole reason why I went to film was to do films about my community and using film as a means for social change.”

Listen to audio description of Mer Young’s portrait of Charles