Talya Herrin

Written by Talya Herrin

Modified & Updated: 11 Jun 2024

Sherman Smith

Reviewed by Sherman Smith

Source: Mubi.com

The movie “Killer of Sheep” is not your typical Hollywood blockbuster. It’s an indie gem that holds a special place in the hearts of cinephiles and film enthusiasts alike. Directed by Charles Burnett, this critically acclaimed film is a poetic and introspective portrait of life in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Released in 1977, “Killer of Sheep” offers a unique perspective on the African-American experience, taking viewers on an intimate journey through the struggles and joys of everyday life. It’s a film that challenges traditional storytelling and invites the audience to reflect on the human condition.

In this article, we will delve into 50 fascinating facts about “Killer of Sheep,” from its humble beginnings to its enduring legacy. Whether you’re a fan of independent cinema or simply curious about this iconic piece of art, join us as we explore the untold stories behind the making of “Killer of Sheep.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Killer of Sheep” is a timeless independent film that captures the resilience and beauty of everyday life in the Watts neighborhood, inspiring audiences with its authentic storytelling and powerful portrayal of the human spirit.
  • Despite its low budget, “Killer of Sheep” gained international recognition for its honest depiction of urban life, challenging stereotypes and paving the way for future independent filmmakers to tell their own meaningful stories.
Table of Contents

Killer of Sheep is a groundbreaking independent film.

Set in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, it was directed by Charles Burnett.

The movie was released in 1978.

Despite its low-budget and limited release, it received critical acclaim and has since been recognized as a cinematic gem.

Charles Burnett wrote, directed, and produced the film.

He drew inspiration from his own experiences growing up in Watts.

Killer of Sheep portrays the daily struggles of a working-class African-American family.

The film offers an honest and unflinching glimpse into the lives of its characters.

The movie showcases the resilience and humanity of its characters.

Despite the challenges they face, they find beauty and joy in the simple moments of life.

Killer of Sheep was shot on a shoestring budget of around $10,000.

It demonstrates that a compelling story can overcome financial constraints.

The film was initially not widely distributed.

However, it gained recognition through film festival appearances and word-of-mouth praise.

Killer of Sheep was added to the National Film Registry in 1990.

It was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.

The cinematography in the movie is stunning.

Burnett skillfully captures the essence of the Watts neighborhood and its inhabitants.

The film features a predominantly non-professional cast.

They deliver authentic performances that give the movie a raw and realistic feel.

Critic Roger Ebert described the movie as “one of the greatest achievements in the history of American cinema.”

His praise helped bring more attention to the film.

Killer of Sheep explores themes of identity, family, and the human condition.

It delves into the complexities of race and poverty without resorting to stereotypes.

The movie’s title is a metaphor for the dehumanizing effects of labor.

It symbolizes how the pressures of societal expectations weigh heavily on the characters.

Killer of Sheep is shot in a documentary-like style.

This adds to its realism and allows the audience to connect with the characters on a deeper level.

The soundtrack of the film features soul music from the 1970s.

It enhances the overall mood and atmosphere of the movie.

The movie initially had a limited release but gained recognition internationally.

It was praised for its honest portrayal of urban life and resonated with audiences worldwide.

Killer of Sheep was restored and re-released in 2007.

This allowed a new generation of moviegoers to experience its powerful storytelling.

The film’s black-and-white cinematography adds to its timeless quality.

It gives the movie a sense of nostalgia and highlights the stark contrasts of the urban landscape.

The movie received the Critics’ Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1981.

This recognition further solidified its status as a significant piece of cinema.

Killer of Sheep showcases the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.

It serves as a reminder of the strength that can be found even in challenging circumstances.

The movie was inspired by Italian neorealism.

Burnett drew influence from filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini.

Killer of Sheep was partly funded through grants and donations.

This allowed Burnett to bring his vision to life despite limited resources.

The film explores the intersection of race, class, and gender.

It challenges stereotypes and offers a nuanced portrayal of its characters.

Killer of Sheep received renewed attention in the 2000s.

It was hailed as a masterpiece and gained recognition from a new generation of film enthusiasts.

The movie has a minimalist narrative structure.

It relies on visual storytelling and the emotions conveyed by the characters to drive the plot.

Killer of Sheep is often compared to other influential independent films.

It shares similarities with works such as Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood.

The movie’s underground success earned it a cult following.

It remains beloved by cinephiles who appreciate its artistry and social commentary.

Killer of Sheep is a poignant depiction of the human experience.

It captures the universal struggles and aspirations that transcend cultural boundaries.

The film’s poetic and lyrical style sets it apart from traditional Hollywood narratives.

It embraces ambiguity and allows the audience to interpret the story in their own way.

Killer of Sheep is an example of the power of independent cinema.

It shows that important stories can be told without big budgets or star-studded casts.

The movie highlights the impact of economic inequality on communities.

It sheds light on the systemic challenges faced by marginalized groups.

Killer of Sheep was praised for its authentic dialogue.

Burnett captured the natural cadence and rhythms of everyday conversation.

The film’s black-and-white cinematography enhances its visual storytelling.

Burnett uses light and shadow to create striking and memorable images.

Killer of Sheep invites viewers to reflect on the social and economic disparities in society.

It challenges conventional narratives and encourages empathy towards marginalized communities.

The movie’s non-linear narrative adds depth and complexity to the story.

It invites the audience to piece together the characters’ lives and experiences.

Killer of Sheep remains relevant today.

Its themes of inequality and the human spirit continue to resonate in today’s society.

The film was largely overlooked upon its initial release.

However, its enduring impact has solidified Killer of Sheep as a classic of American cinema.

Killer of Sheep captures the essence of the Watts neighborhood.

It portrays the community’s struggles and resilience with authenticity.

The movie’s subtle storytelling allows the audience to connect with the characters on a deep emotional level.

It immerses viewers in the everyday realities of the characters’ lives.

Killer of Sheep is an homage to the people of Watts.

It celebrates their strength, resilience, and humanity.

The film’s cinematography is influenced by the works of photographers such as Gordon Parks and Roy DeCarava.

Burnett uses visual composition to convey the emotions and experiences of the characters.

Killer of Sheep sparked conversations about the representation of African-Americans in film.

It challenged the limited and often stereotypical roles offered to black actors at the time.

The movie’s documentary-like style blurs the line between fiction and reality.

It provides an immersive and authentic portrayal of the characters’ lives.

Killer of Sheep stands as a testament to the power of independent filmmaking.

It proves that meaningful stories can be told with limited resources and without compromising artistic integrity.

The film’s use of natural lighting adds to its realistic and gritty atmosphere.

The visuals evoke a sense of authenticity and intimacy.

Killer of Sheep challenges conventional storytelling techniques.

It avoids a traditional plot structure and instead focuses on capturing the essence of everyday life.

The movie has been praised for its nuanced portrayal of masculinity.

It explores the pressure and expectations placed on men in a patriarchal society.

Killer of Sheep delves into the complexities of community and belonging.

It examines the bonds and divisions that exist within neighborhood settings.

The film’s success paved the way for future African-American filmmakers.

It inspired a new generation to tell their own stories and challenge established industry norms.

Killer of Sheep continues to be celebrated as a landmark in American cinema.

Its impact and influence can still be felt in the realm of independent filmmaking today.


In conclusion, “Killer of Sheep” is a groundbreaking film that holds a special place in the history of American cinema. Its raw and honest portrayal of the African American experience, as well as its unique blend of documentary-like storytelling and poetic visuals, have earned it critical acclaim and a dedicated following of fans.The film’s director, Charles Burnett, masterfully captures the everyday struggles and joys of working-class life in Watts, Los Angeles. Through the eyes of the protagonist Stan, we witness the countless moments of humanity and resilience that define the lives of ordinary people.”Killer of Sheep” is a timeless piece of art that continues to resonate with audiences today. Its exploration of themes such as identity, family, and the human spirit make it a must-watch for any lover of cinema. Whether you’re a film enthusiast or simply curious about African American culture, this film is sure to leave a lasting impact.


1. What is the plot of “Killer of Sheep”?

The film follows the life of Stan, a slaughterhouse worker in Watts, Los Angeles, as he navigates the challenges and joys of everyday life.

2. Is “Killer of Sheep” based on a true story?

No, the film is not based on a true story. However, it is inspired by the real experiences of director Charles Burnett and his observations of life in Watts.

3. When was “Killer of Sheep” released?

The film was released in 1978 but gained wider recognition and critical acclaim in the early 2000s.

4. What is the significance of the title “Killer of Sheep”?

The title refers to the soul-crushing nature of the slaughterhouse work that Stan and many others in the community are trapped in, metaphorically symbolizing the loss of dreams and aspirations.

5. What makes “Killer of Sheep” a groundbreaking film?

The film’s use of a non-linear narrative, naturalistic performances, and realistic portrayal of working-class life were groundbreaking at the time of its release. It offered a fresh perspective on African American cinema and challenged traditional Hollywood storytelling techniques.

6. Has “Killer of Sheep” won any awards?

Yes, the film has been recognized with several awards, including the National Film Registry selection by the Library of Congress in 1990.

7. Can I watch “Killer of Sheep” online?

Yes, the film is available for streaming on various platforms. Check your preferred streaming service to see if it is available in your region.

8. Is “Killer of Sheep” suitable for all audiences?

While the film does not contain explicit content, its themes and subject matter may be more appropriate for mature audiences.

Killer of Sheep's enduring legacy continues inspiring filmmakers and cinephiles alike. Charles Burnett's masterpiece showcases the power of independent film to tell authentic, deeply human stories that resonate across generations. Burnett's poetic vision and the film's groundbreaking approach to storytelling have cemented its place in cinema history. Exploring themes of race, class, and the human condition, Killer of Sheep invites viewers to reflect on the world around them and the resilience of the human spirit. Its success has paved the way for a new generation of filmmakers to push boundaries and challenge conventions.

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