Black Directors Taking Over Hollywood


(Left to Right) Filmmakers Jordan Peele (Get Out Director), Ava DuVernay (Wrinkle in Time Director), and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther Director) Photo: Charley Galley. Provided by Getty Images

Jazmyn Davis , DVC News Editor

Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther has zoomed past the billion-dollar mark at box offices worldwide the weekend of March 10-11, 2018, earning the No. 1 box-office spot for the fourth week in a row. Following closely behind, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time finished in second place, marking the first time in history that films by black directors have held the top two spots at the U.S. box office.

Over the years, Actors and Actresses in the African American/Black community have generally been offered typecast roles, usually falling into one of three themes: “rags to riches”, “thug life”, or segregation, often undermining and underrepresenting them.

Black entertainers have often been overlooked and misconstrued, but so far, 2018 has been their year, especially when focusing on Black directors.

At the age of 27, in 2013, Ryan Coogler, filmmaker and creator gained attention at the Sundance Film Festival with the release of his debut film “Fruitvale Station,” a film that highlighted the story and aggravated death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American man who was fatally shot in 2009 by BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California.

Coogler’s relationship with Black Panther’s storyline began with his childhood in Oakland, California. He faithfully hung around a comic book shop near his school, where he was handed his first copy of “Black Panther”, “after inquiring about comic books with black people”, Coogler told NPR.

With two low-budgeted films, both made in his 20’s, Coogler is definitely not worrisome when it comes to tackling career challenges, making Black Panther no exception.

With an estimated $200 million budget, Coogler was able to bring a voice and perspective to those within the African American community, by bringing the long-awaited black superhero to life.

“This is the first project that I ever did that I felt like I had to make peace with the fact that I would never be caught up in my work,” Coogler told The New York Times. “I had to figure out how to let myself rest. You could work 24 hours a day and it still wouldn’t be enough on a film like this.”

Coogler told Entertainment Weekly that after receiving the “go” to direct the film, he and his wife went back to the same comic book shop he used to visit, where they purchased two “Black Panther” comic books, and sent it to the president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige.

“He’s making this movie for his 8-year-old self,” Feige told CNBC, a business and financial news television channel. “Most importantly, you do it for other 8-year-olds, to inspire the next generation the way we were inspired. And in this case, when Ryan was growing up, perhaps there weren’t that many of these heroes to be inspired by that looked like him.”

With a predominantly Black cast and crew, Coogler and his team have challenged any negative assumptions about the success of minority films. Worldwide, the film made $404 million in its opening weekend, which Vanity Fair reports are the highest opening of all time for a film released in February.

Katrina Dorsey, film critic and film teacher at Campbell Hall High School, a prestigious film school in West Hollywood, California, feels that the recent films directed by black directors have shined a light on the positives in the black community, something that has been lost for a while.

“Black Panther was revolutionary, for it highlighted components that are often overlooked,” Dorsey expressed. “The movie depicted everything that the African American community has wanted everyone to know for the longest; we are smart, wonderful, and beautifully made.”

Black Panther is now the seventh-biggest unadjusted domestic-grossing movie of all time.

But it doesn’t stop there, Ava DuVernay, an American film director, producer, screenwriter, film marketer, film distributor and director of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, joins Coogler in the first ever black director duo to break records at the weekend box office.

According to Los Angeles Times, similar to Coogler, DuVernay’s presence became noticeable after becoming the first African-American woman to win the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, the story of a young medical student who “considers leaving her long-imprisoned husband for a charming bus driver”.

DuVernay has tackled many projects like the civil rights drama “Selma” and the documentary “13TH,” shining a light on mass incarceration, using her activist platform that seems inseparable from her voice; but, in “Wrinkle”, she found a different range.

Based off of the 1963 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, DuVernay brought the multi-racial sci-fi fantasy revolving around 13-year-old Meg Murry, played by 14-year-old Storm Reid, creatively to the big screen.

Two weeks before preproduction, her beloved stepfather died, suddenly changing the dynamic and tone of the movie faster than anyone could have realized. In “A Wrinkle in Time”, DuVernay’s voice and tone were heavily incorporated, bringing the film to life, as the main character, Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, had been without their scientist father, giving DuVernay an unbelievable vision.

DuVernay has become the first black woman to accomplish the feat of not only a $33 million opening weekend, helm a movie with a $100 million budget, but bring in a new wave of diversity, both behind and in front of the screen.

Finally, “Get Out” director, Jordan Peele, American actor, comedian, writer, and producer, has epitomized a true change in “Hollywood.” Peele has become the first African-American to win the best original screenplay Oscar, an award that has overlooked innumerable talent.

“Get Out” was a film that showed the milestone in an interracial couple relationship, where the couple leaves for a getaway weekend at the girlfriend’s parents house. Although the family seems very much accommodating and accepting of the couple’s relationship, as the weekend progresses, “a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could never have imagined”.

“I stopped writing this movie about 20 times. I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work,” Peele tweeted after receiving the best original screenplay award for “Get Out.”

“What is most meaningful for me, is what kind of impact this will have on artists of color and anyone who feels like the outsider can hopefully see what we did with this film and be encouraged that with hard work that they can achieve their dream — and that they can achieve anything,” Peele told Deadline, an online magazine founded by Nikki Finke in 2006.

Debuting a year ago from Universal Picture, Get Out’s budget of around $4.5M, ended up with a $176.5M domestic gross, making it one of the most profitable films of 2017.

Peele suggested that Hollywood was experiencing “a renaissance,” adding: “I feel proud to be at the beginning of a movement where I feel like the best films in every genre are being brought to me by my fellow black directors.”

Although we, as a society, have a long way to go before there is the true representation of all that the black community has to offer, Coogler, Duvernay, and Peele have exemplified what true black excellence looks like through their groundbreaking films.

“I know this industry was not made for me. But I’m not going to apologize for being here,” Lupita Nyong’o, tritagonist of Black Panther powerfully noted.