Kathleen Collins was a poet, playwright, professor and auteur filmmaker who was decades ahead of her time—remarkably like one of her main influences—Lorraine Hansberry.
Collins was born in 1942 in Jersey City, New Jersey. While attending Skidmore College, she went South to become an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She helped register voters in Albany, Georgia and was arrested for praying on the steps of the city hall, which she did to force policemen and city officials “to see me and others as human beings who feel pain and frustration, who, too, can cry and be hurt.”
She developed an interest in film while earning her Ph.D. in French Literature at the University of Paris, and started editing films when she returned to America. She was a masterful editor who won first prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1970 for a short film, Stock Exchange Transplant, and first prize for editing the feature film, Touching Ground, at the Chicago Festival in the same year.
In 1974, she began teaching film theory, screenwriting and directing at the City College of New York and in 1980 she wrote, produced and directed her first film, The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy. Two years later, she released her first feature film, Losing Ground, the work she is now most known for.
Collins’ screenplays, plays, short stories, and poems show the rich complexity of Black interiority, at a time when Collins saw Black people represented as either mythological superhumans or flat stereotypes.
Alongside Collins’ own movies and writing, check out Geetha Ramanathan’s “Kathleen Collins: The Black Essai Film,” Abigail Bereola’s “Whatever Happened to Kathleen Collins?” and Nina Collins’ own writing about her mother for a deep and nuanced analysis of Kathleen Collin’s work, life, and legacy. These sources were integral for this post and learning about Kathleen.