Parks, who was also an accomplished photographer, author and composer, died at home Tuesday of cancer, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Parks first broke ground as a top photographer for Life magazine from 1948 to 1968, covering everything from high society to the dregs of poverty and the civil rights movement.
His first movie was "The Learning Tree," based on his own semi-autobiographical novel, for Warner Bros., making him the first African-American to direct a film for a major Hollywood studio.
"The Learning Tree" was one of the first 25 films honored by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989.
He went on to spark Hollywood's "blaxploitation" genre in 1971 with the Richard Roundtree vehicle, "Shaft." His other directing credits included "Shaft's Big Score," "The Super Cops,""Leadbelly" and the TV movie "Solomon Northup's Odyssey."
"He was the real thing," sports photographer Marvin Newman told the Times. "He broke a lot of taboos, a lot of ground."
One of his four children, Gordon Parks Jr., who also became a Hollywood director, died in a 1979 plane crash.
Parks is survived by a son, two daughters and several grandchildren.