Women's Activism NYC

Barbara O. Jones

1941 - 2024

By: Teri Graham | Date Added:

Barbara O. Jones was an actress best known for her work in the films of the L.A. Rebellion movement of 1970s black filmmakers. Barbara Olivia Minor was born in Asheville, N.C. Her father, Samuel, was an auto mechanic, and her mother, Alberta taught high school business classes. She received a bachelor’s degree in speech and theater from Wright State University in Dayton and a master’s degree from Antioch University. Jones was a radio personality who went by the name Bobbie Montgomery, “the Black Fox” for WDAO, Dayton’s first Black-owned radio station. Starting in the early 1970s just a few miles from Hollywood, a generation of students at the University of California, Los Angeles, began making films that pushed hard against many of the tropes of commercial moviemaking. Budding filmmakers like Charles Burnett, Julie Dash and Haile Gerima eschewed polished scripts and linear narratives in search of an authentic Black cinematic language. They relied on actors like Ms. Jones, drawn from far outside the mainstream, to bring their work to life. Ms. Jones was in some ways the typical Los Angeles transplant, having moved from the Midwest in search of a film career. She took acting classes, but rather than gravitating toward Hollywood, she fell in with the politically charged, aesthetically adventurous scene around the U.C.L.A. film school, a movement called the L.A. Rebellion. Ms. Jones worked in television and had smaller roles in other 1970s films, often appearing under the screen names Barbarao, Barbara-O and Barbara O. Her credits included “Black Chariot” (1971) and the 1977 science fiction horror movie “Demon Seed,” starring Julie Christie. She had a larger part in the 1979 mini-series “Freedom Road,” in which she played the wife of a formerly enslaved man, played by Muhammad Ali, who becomes a U.S. senator. Ms. Jones’s last major credit was perhaps her most accomplished and most significant. In Ms. Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” (1991), she played Yellow Mary, a former prostitute who grew up among the Gullah people of the Southeast coast, and who returns home to a family struggling with the push and pull of community and the modern world. A critical darling, Daughters of the Dust played at Sundance and was the first American feature by an African American woman to receive a general theatrical release. The film went on to influence the director Ava DuVernay and the makers of “Lemonade,” the 2016 Beyoncé musical film that accompanied her album of the same name.

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