One of the most electrifying but unjustly neglected talents to emerge from the creative ferment of 1970s American cinema, actor, writer, and director Bill Gunn blazed a new trail for Black independent filmmakers. With their bold, iconoclastic style and focus on the lives of intellectual and middle-class Black characters, Gunn’s uncompromising films were decades ahead of their time—only now is the world beginning to catch up. This selection pairs his twin masterpieces as a director with the long-overlooked The Angel Levine, a Bernard Malamud adaptation for which he cowrote the screenplay, and a revelatory 1984 interview with Gunn.
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Far from the simple genre exercise suggested by its Blaxploitation premise, Gunn’s visionary vampire movie Ganja & Hess is an utterly original treatise on sex, religion, and African American identity. His follow-up, Personal Problems, is an extraordinary collaboration with writer Ishmael Reed, who described it as a “meta–soap opera” and “a look at the triteness of everyday life in Black middle-class America.”