Kathleen collins

Growing up in Jersey City, Kathleen Conwell Collins excelled throughout her life. As a student at Lincoln High School, she was featured on the Jersey Journal several times for her activism and volunteer work around the country and around the world. After graduating from Skidmore College and while teaching high school French in Newton, MA, she received the Whitney fellowship that allowed her to attend Sorbonne in Paris where she studied French literature. There, she took a course on making an adaptation of literature into film, which led her to the world of cinema. Collins' most well-known film LOSING GROUND was one of the first films directed by an African American woman specifically intended for popular consumption in the US. When she died in 1988, she was just 46 years old. 

One of the first black American women to produce a feature-length film, she is considered to have “changed the face and content of the black womanist film.” Collins’s work is significant in that it conveys images of people of color, particularly women, in ways that even now are rarely seen in popular culture. She challenged stereotypes and explored the interlocking oppressions of gender, race, and class.


On a side note, PS#3 Frank R Conwell School is named after Kathleen Conwell Collins' father who was one of the first black principals in Jersey City and was there from 1963 until he was elected assemblyman in 1969.

From 1959 Lincoln High School Yearbook

The Jersey Journal June 23, 1965

The Jersey Journal, September 12, 1962

A still from “Losing Ground.” (Courtesy Milestone Films)


We still lack portrayals of complex inner personhood in people, especially women, of color on the screen.  It shouldn't, but the rare representation of a black woman intellectual in Collins' films still seems radical today.

In 1984, the writer and filmmaker Kathleen Collins held a master class at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she first explained that the basis of her work was to overturn the Christian metaphysic as applied to black people. We can only be saints or sinners, she argued, and we are the scapegoats of society from which evil propagates. Because of this strict dichotomy, we are the extraordinary: outsiders located at opposite ends of the moral spectrum. The result is that we never get to be ordinary.


2022 would have been Kathleen's 80th birthday and will be the 40th anniversary of Losing Ground. 


Nina Collins, Emilio Collins, Dennis Doros (Milestone), Amy Heller, Gab & Emily