New Faces of Filmmaking: Blacks Creating Their Own Opportunities
3 months ago
More directors are going the indie route to bring their projects to the big screen
And so it goes.
Yet another Oscar season has come to a close with little if any recognition for African Americans, especially those behind the camera.
In the 84-year history of the ceremony that just aired Sunday night, coveted Oscar nominations have resulted in only 14 wins for African American actors and just one for a black director, producer or screenwriter (of a non-documentary) -- Geoffrey Fletcher for his adaptation of the novel "Push" into the movie "Precious." This year saw more of the same, with Oscar turning his back on Denzel Washington and young Quvenzhané Wallis for their acting turns in “Flight” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” respectively. Reginald Hudlin also lost out on an Oscar this year as one of the producers on the Best Picture-nominated “Django Unchained.”
The last two decades definitely saw black filmmakers from Spike Lee and Allen and Albert Hughes (“Menace to Society”) to Darnell Martin (“I Like It Like That”) and Tyler Perry making inroads in Hollywood. But increasingly, today’s up-and-coming African American directors are finding success along the less trodden road of the independent film industry and its kingmaker, the Sundance Film Festival.
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Rashaad Ernesto Green, whose debut feature "Gun Hill Road” premiered to a sold-out crowd at the 2011 Sundance festival, says that in some ways, Hollywood is opening the door for independent black filmmakers to tell their stories -- even if it doesn't necessarily mean to.
"There are two parts to the industry: the indie world and the Hollywood Machine," says Green. "And the Machine is taking less and less chances on, for example, dramas because they need to make money so they're making blockbusters, but then audiences become more and more hungry for human stories and that's creating an opening in the indie world to explore the heartfelt."
Green’s “Gun Hill Road,” which he wrote and directed, tells the tale of an ex-convict who returns home to find his son undergoing a gender transition. It received a standing ovation at last year’s Sundance, which has a history of recognizing black filmmakers.
At the 2009 festival, Lee Daniels was heralded for "Precious," his directed and produced story of an overweight, abused and illiterate pregnant teen that went on to win both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic film (and became the first black film to do so). The following year, Tanya Hamilton was the only African American director at the festival, where she showcased her debut feature film "Night Catches Us," the Kerry Washington- and Anthony Mackie-led portrayal of a former Black Panther's return home. In 2011, the same year in which Green’s “Gun Hill Road” garnered praise, it was writer-director (and Spike Lee mentee) Dee Rees's "Pariah," the tale of an African American teen lesbian embracing her identity, that took home Sundance's Excellence in Cinematography Award. This year, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler achieved the same feat as Daniels with his Oscar Grant-inspired "Fruitvale."
Despite such acclaim from juries like Sundance, not all black filmmakers have confidence or are convinced that such steady recognition is a sign that the film industry is further opening its doors.
"I bought a camera and we said we're going to do this motherf—ing film myself. We didn’t even go to the studios,” Lee said. “I don’t want to hear no motherf—ing person from a studio telling me something about Red Hook, [Brooklyn]. They don’t know nothing about black people. Nothing."