Skip to content

Killer of Sheep

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

Other Films by Charles Burnett

To Sleep with Anger

To Sleep with Anger, which followed director Charles Burnett’s acclaimed Killer of Sheep and My Brother’s Wedding, explores the past that many African-Americans left behind to ascend into the middle class of America. The rituals and superstitions that provided comfort and a hidden meaning to the lives of black Americans in the South are arcane