Filmmaker Gordon Parks Dies at 93

  • WENN
Gordon Parks, who became a pioneering and influential force in African-American cinema with the films The Learning Tree and Shaft, died on Tuesday in New York; he was 93. Born in Kansas, Parks was orphaned at 15 and grew up homeless, taking jobs wherever he could before becoming interested in photography in the 1930s, working several government jobs during World War II. He ultimately joined Life magazine in the late 40s as the publication's first African-American photographer, and his worked ranged from celebrity shoots to photo essays chronicling the effects of poverty, segregation, and crime. In the 60s, his work covering the Black Power movement and a poverty-stricken family in Rio de Janiero became some of his most notable, with a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel, The Learning Tree, also published early in the decade. With encouragement from John Cassavettes, Parks became the first African-American filmmaker to helm a major studio film with his 1969 adaptation of The Learning Tree, which was among the first 25 films to be preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. His second film, the groundbreaking cult classic Shaft (1971), was a resounding commercial success, and despite Parks' protestations that the movie was not meant to be exploitative, helped launch the "blaxploitation" movement of the 70s. Parks went on to direct Shaft's Big Score, The Super Cops, and Leadbelly in the 70s; his son, Gordon Parks Jr. (who died in a plane crash in 1979), directed another cult classic, Superfly. Photography and filmmaking were just two of Parks' accomplishments, as he also wrote novels, memoirs, poetry and music, receiving a National Medal of Arts, and was the co-founder of Essence magazine. Married and divorced three times, Parks is survived by a son, two daughters, and several grandchildren. --Prepared by IMDb staff

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