"Killer of Sheep" is a 1978 American drama film directed by Charles Burnett. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of African American cinema, as well as an American neorealist classic.
Set in Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood, the film presents an unflinching portrayal of the life of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the white noise of everyday life in his black, urban community. He works in a slaughterhouse during the day and returns to his family in the evening, but he finds little comfort or peace in both environments.
The narrative eschews traditional storytelling in favor of presenting a series of vignettes of everyday life. These moments are threaded together to form a tapestry of experiences that give voice to a community rarely seen on screen. They serve as a potent reminder of the persistence of life, even in the face of harsh social and economic realities.
Burnett's direction is sublime, showcasing a strong command over the cinematic medium. His use of nonprofessional actors adds an additional layer of authenticity to the film, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. The black and white cinematography is stark and arresting, further emphasizing the film's neorealist aesthetics.
The film is equally notable for its soundtrack, which features a collection of African American music, underscoring the cultural milieu of the community. The juxtaposition of joyful and soulful music with the bleak visual narrative creates a poignant contrast.
"Killer of Sheep" is a raw and realistic depiction of urban life, marked by its profound social commentary and delicate humanism. The film stands as a significant achievement in independent filmmaking, and its influence continues to be felt in contemporary cinema.