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Directed by Charles Burnett
Recommended for classes in: Social Studies,
American History, English, African-American History, Film
Called an “American masterpiece, independent to the bone” by The New York Times, Killer of Sheep is a poetic examination of working-class African-Americans in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts during the mid-1970s.
The film explores the world through the eyes of a slaughterhouse worker, detached from reality and alienated by stress. Frustrated by money problems, he takes refuge in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife in the living room, holding his daughter. The film presents life in all its joy, humor, and bleakness, drawing no conclusions, but meditating instead on truly thought-provoking questions.
Created initially as filmmaker Charles Burnett’s masters thesis at UCLA, Killer of Sheep was shot entirely on location in Watts, on a budget of less than $10,000. The film was shown sporadically for four years before winning the Critics’ Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1981.
Since then, the Library of Congress has declared it a national treasure, selecting it as one of the first fifty films for preservation on the National Film Registry, and the National Society of Film Critics has declared it one of the “100 Essential Films” of all time.