Skip to content
The Whitsell Auditorium and the Northwest Film Center Equipment Room are closed to the public in an effort to further stem the spread of COVID-19. All classes canceled until further notice. Stay connected to art, film, and more by signing up for our newsletter.

Directed by Charles Burnett

United States 1978 80 mins. In English

Made as the thesis film for his Master’s degree from UCLA, Burnett’s piercing yet tender look into post-’68 African-American life in Watts is a cornerstone work of the American independent cinema of the 1970s despite being long unavailable in any form. Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), the titular slaughterhouse worker and a man like any other, holds this steady yet brutal job in order to support his family. When Stan begins to find the work repulsive, he must deal with the consequences of either quitting—despite his wife’s protests and the terrible job prospects for a Black man in Watts—or continuing to perform work that has a highly symbolic meaning in this specific time and place, and considering Stan’s circumstances. Burnett wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited Killer of Sheep, his first feature, which would launch a career marked by fits and starts but also by several unquestionable masterpieces. “Killer of Sheep is one of the great débuts in the history of cinema; though this treasure is now restored to its rightful place in history, the decades can’t be remade, and the gap in the world of filmmaking—and in the world as such—that the movie’s unavailability represented can never be made good.”—Richard Brody, The New Yorker.

Genres: Drama



The Northwest Film Center recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.