VICKSBURG FACTS: Vicksburg’s Charles Burnett’s impact in the filmmaking community

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 13, 2023

Did you know that Vicksburg is the birthplace of a critically acclaimed writer-director in the filmmaking industry?

Charles Burnett is a critically acclaimed writer-director for filmmaking. Burnett was born in Vicksburg on April 14, 1944. Soon after, his family moved to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles according to the UCLA Library Film and Television archive. He described the Watts neighborhood as a “robust mythical connection with the South as a result of having so many Southern transplants,” as mentioned in Charles Burnett’s IMDb biography. This neighborhood was a source of inspiration for his films. In the 1960s, Burnett studied at Los Angeles Community College for electronics as stated in the Mississippi Encyclopedia. Then according to the UCLA Library Film and Television Archive, he also studied creative writing at UCLA before enrolling in their graduate film program.  

His thesis project, “Killer of Sheep” (1977), is one of his most recognized film projects. It was shot on a 16 mm film for multiple weekends with a cast of nonprofessional actors. The film tells the story of a blue-collar worker in south-central Los Angeles and his interactions with his family and neighbors. What makes this film so unique was that Burnett’s characters and the plot did not follow Hollywood’s stereotypical depictions of African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia. It focused on the beauty and significance of life’s everyday routine. In 1990, his film was selected as one of the second group of 25 films to be in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia. 

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

His next big project was the film “My Brother’s Wedding” (1983). It focused on the generational differences and class tensions within the family. According to the UCLA Library Film and Television archive the film was rushed and the final cut was not released until 2007. 

During his career he has completed many projects, including: “To Sleep with Anger” (1990); “America Becoming” (1991, TV documentary); “The Glass Shield” (1994); “When It Rains” (short, 1995); “Nightjohn” (1996, TV); “The Wedding” (1998, TV); “Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland” (1998, short documentary); “Selma, Lord, Selma” (television film, 1999); “Olivia’s Story” (short, 2000); “The Annihilation of Fish” (1999); “Finding Buck McHenry” (2000, TV); “American Family” (2002, TV series); “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property” (2003, TV documentary); “For Reel?” (2003, TV); “The Blues: Warming by the Devil’s Fire” (2003, TV documentary); “Namibia: The, Struggle for Liberation” (2007); “Quiet As Kept” (2007, short); “Relative Strangers” (2009, TV); Mulatto Saga (2012, short) according to the International Film Festival Rotterdam website. 

Burnett is also the recipient of the 1981 Fipresci Prize for “Killer of Sheep,” and he received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1988 as stated on the International Film Festival Rotterdam website.

In 2018, the Strand Theater had Burnett visit for a weekend to show his most classic films.