MacArthur Fellows Program

Charles Burnett

Filmmaker | Class of 1988

Los Angeles, California
44 at time of award
Area of Focus
Moving Image
Published August 1, 1988

About Charles' Work

Charles Burnett is an independent filmmaker, writer, and director noted for his depiction of African-American family life.

His films are emotionally complex and subtly layered with cultural references and mythic overtones.  Burnett’s works include The Horse (1973) and Killer of Sheep (1977), which the Library of Congress designated as one of twenty-five significant motion pictures included in the National Film Registry (1990).  My Brother’s Wedding (1983) centers on the theme of envy and its power to warp families, and To Sleep with Anger (1990) is the story of three generations of a middle class, African-American family living in Los Angeles, whose lives are disrupted by the visit of a mysterious individual.


Burnett’s works also include several made-for-television films and documentaries: Nightjohn (1996), about a slave's risky attempt to teach an orphan slave girl to read and write, The Wedding (1998), Selma, Lord, Selma (1999), and The Blues (2002).  He has lectured on the nature of independent filmmaking, and has also worked as a writer, cinematographer, and assistant on the productions of other filmmakers.

Burnett received an A.A. (1966) from Los Angeles City College, and a B.A. (1970) and an M.F.A. (1973) from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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