The first major studio production directed by an African-American, The Learning Tree is a solid film that doesn't need that historic fact to be enjoyed. 57 years old when the film was released, photographer-turned-director Gordon Parks took credits as writer, producer, director, and music composer. His next film, the action-filled Shaft, was a huge hit, leaving critics to wonder what other great films he might have been made had been allowed to start his directing career earlier. Unlike Shaft, Parks' work in The Learning Tree is quietly paced and more realistic. It's one of the few films of its era to present an insider's view of black life in the United States. The story is solid, the acting good, and the cinematography by Burnett Guffey superb. The film was not a commercial success, but in 1989, it was one of the first 25 films chosen for protection by the Library of Congress's National Preservation Board.