Photo: Film still from Killer of Sheep

Killer of Sheep

Killer of Sheep is an undisputed masterpiece of African-American filmmaking and one of the most poetic, perceptive dramas ever made about family and community.


Killer of Sheep   Dir: Charles Burnett, USA, 1977, 87 mins


Killer of Sheep makes visible the struggle undertaken by black communities as they improvise themselves in relation to social conditions that seek to habituate depression, mental fatigue and desensitization.  It explores a space of numbing labour and insidiously enforced racial, gendered and class-based brutality - but also one of play, humour and love; forms of what Cornell West might call a ‘hope against hope, in order to survive the deplorable present’. If noise is whatever a system does not intend to broadcast, then from within a society predicated on spreading the lie of white supremacy, Killer of Sheep transmits the noise of black sociality.


Killer of Sheep was filmed in Watts, Los Angeles in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, with the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. Burnett made the film at weekends, over many years, using student equipment.  It is one of the major films of  the L.A. Rebellion, a movement that also included fellow UCLA student and filmmakers Larry Clark, Julie Dash, Jamaa Fanaka, Haile Gerima and Billy Woodberry. Although regarded as one of the greatest films of its time, it has hardly been seen in Scotland.


The film was introduced by Kara Keeling and Arthur Jafa.

  • Audio - Introduction

  • Audio - Question and Answer Session

  • Introduction

  • Question and Answer Session