The legendary and pioneering Black author and filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux, who was the son of slaves, made over 40 films without the help of Hollywood. Many credit him as the quintessential director, who started it all for a long lineage of history making Black directors in the film and television industry.
From the genius of the Hughes Brothers delivering inner-city tales like Menace II Society, Reginald Hudlin giving us the cult comedy classic, House Party and the forever mood of Black excellence with Boomerang, John Singleton, who is a legend among legends, Malcolm D. Lee providing the smash hit romantic comedy, The Best Man, Spike Lee coming through with the timeless, Do The Right Thing, to Ava DuVernay giving us the powerful and poignant, When They See Us, Black directors have painted the pictures we live and the world needs to see from our cultivated lens.
While there are still many barriers that need to be broken, Black directors, producers, and writers are making strides in today’s industry that we have not witnessed thus far. From Shonda Rhimes massive Netflix deal to Ryan Coogler’s gargantuan success with Black Panther, Black excellence is finally being recognized in a way that we always knew it while others ignored it or even syphoned it without us benefiting from the fruits of the talent and labor. We labor on in this industry trying to find our way or there are others like Tyler Perry, who are just kicking the door down and building their own doors. Either way, we are witnessing a true renaissance and this list consists of a just a few Black directors who have their foot on the proverbial gas and don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
While Lee Daniels is a triple threat in that he is a director, producer, and screenwriter, today we focus on his work as one of Hollywood’s premiere directors. Daniels has been in the game for a while and he was first recognized largely as a producer with the success of Monster’s Ball when Halle Berry became the first and only Black woman to win an Academy Award for leading actress in 2002. Ever since then, Lee Daniels has been on a role.
Daniels directed Precious in 2009 and the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including two nominations for Daniels (Best Director and Best Picture). MoNique ended up winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the powerful role she played in the film. In 2013, he directed Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a drama that tells the story an African-American butler who served at the White House during seven presidential administrations. In 2015, Daniels co-created and directed Fox’s Empire and served as executive producer for all six seasons. Now the critics are raving about this new directorial project, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, which stars Andra Day. The film is already getting nominations and awards buzz so the sky is the limit for Mr. Lee Daniels once again.
Regina King has had “it” since she was Brenda on 227. We all know the dynamic work she did on Boyz N The Hood and Poetic Justice but Regina went on to flex her incomparable acting skills in many more dynamic roles that showed her true talent. While she has won an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and several Emmy’s for her acting chops, she is beginning to build an illustrious directing catalogue as well.
Of course there are other Black directors who have done more, however Regina King is on the rise and after directing episodes of Being Mary Jane, Southland, Insecure, This is Us, Shamless, Pitch, and several other television shows, she has now ascended into the world of film. With her directorial debut in the world of film with One Night In Miami, which she she also served as the Executive Producer, Regina is slated for more success.
It’s something about the Chi that can’t be denied. Salli Richardson-Whitfield is a Chicago native that has made left a significant footprint on the television and film industry. While she has lended her acting skills to the small and big screen, we can find all of her directing accolades via television.
Whitfield has been a true force in the world of television when it comes to directing. Since 2011 she has done a masterful job behind the camera while still blessing us with a few appearances on the camera. Black-ish, Luke Cage, Queen Sugar, Chicago Med, America Gods, Survivor’s Remorse, Scandal, Lethal Weapon, and so many more shows have benefited from Whitfield’s talents as a director.
To put it simply, Ryan Coogler is dominating the game as a film director, producer, and screenwriter. Since his powerful entry into the the industry with his debut film, Fruitvale Station that won the top audience and grand jury awards in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Coogler has not looked bac. He has gone on to co-write and direct the two Creed films and we all know the monumental success of the Marvel film Black Panther.
Since coming on the scene with the success of Fruitvale Station, he and actor Michael B. Jordan seem to have the keys to Hollywood as many view them as an unstoppable tag team. Coogler will be returning as the director of Black Panther II and he also will be directing Lebron James’ Space Jam II film.
I can literally recall when Ava DuVernay used to call the office for Radio Facts magazine, where I was working at the time, to request interviews for her clients when she was running the DuVernay agency, which was a PR agency. Fast forward many moons later, DuVernay is one the most sought out after directors in Hollywood with the outstanding work she does on Queen Sugar as well as the powerful fim, Selma.
DuVernay’s 2018 Disney children’s fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time made her the first black woman to direct a live-action film earning $100 million at U.S. box office. The following year, she created, co-wrote, produced and directed the Netflix drama limited series When They See Us, based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, which has earned critical acclaim. The series was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series and won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Limited Series.
F. Gary Gray
Like many other directors, F Gary Gray started off directing music videos for artists like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, TLC, Outkast and a host of others. Once he directed the cult classic, Friday, his career took off from there. He has since directed the films Set It Off , The Negotiator , The Italian Job, Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen, and Straight Outta Compton. He also directed the eighth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise, The Fate of the Furious, which is the 18th-highest-grossing film of all time.
Gray is well deserving of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which he received in 2019 for his illustrious career in Hollywood.