In late January, Jordan Peele became the fourth African-American filmmaker in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for best director. The 39-year-old director of “Get Out” is preceded by John Singleton, who in 1992 was the youngest-ever nominee for best director at age 24 when he directed “Boyz N the Hood”. Others in this small club include Lee Daniels, now 58, for “Precious” (2009), and Barry Jenkins, 38, for “Moonlight” in 2016.
None of these nominees actually won an Oscar.
The Academy and all of Hollywood are under increased scrutiny for racial inequality as the March 4 awards ceremony approaches.
The Hollywood Reporter interviewed all four directors. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Lee Daniels: When you come from the African-American experience, you don’t really think about doing anything to get an Oscar. You don’t even know whether the movie’s going to be seen, let alone be appreciated by your peers or accepted into the Oscar category … You just don’t feel a part of the party.
Hollywood Reporter: You four are part of an exclusive club now. Which directors deserve to be in it who aren’t?
Barry Jenkins: The list is far too long. You’d have to include both men of color and women. But the fact that Spike (Lee) is not sitting in this room …
Jordan Peele: Both “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz N the Hood” are masterpieces. For me, I always wanted to be a director. Since (I was) 12 years old, it was my dream. And I think one of the reasons I didn’t go into it was because I had John, I had Spike, we had the Hughes brothers and Mario Van Peebles at the time, and it felt like these geniuses were the exceptions to the rule. And I felt like, race aside, it’s the hardest thing to do to convince people to give you money to make your vision, and I think I was protecting myself and I moved away from that dream. I followed acting because it was this immediate response from the audience, and clearly my soul needed that kind of fortification. But then in recent times, seeing what Lee has done and what Steve and Barry have done and now it’s Ava (DuVernay), Dee (Rees), Ryan (Coogler), F. Gary Gray, it feels like this renaissance is happening where my favorite filmmakers are black, and it’s a beautiful club to feel a part of.
Hollywood Reporter: I’m curious to hear what doors these nominations did and didn’t open up for you. Were you suddenly on the lists for big studio movies?
Lee Daniels: If you really want to be real, we could only do “black” stories. And until recently, it was, “How can black movies make money?” I don’t know if you can call it racism, maybe it’s just the business and the naivete about who our audience was. People have learned through “Empire” and through “Black Panther” and through “Get Out.”
John Singleton: Even though there’s America and there’s black America, there’s a pluralism in entertainment right now. Jordan’s film is not a full black cast, but it’s a black movie and it’s also not a black movie. It’s a piece of popular culture.
Barry Jenkins: Jordan Peele is America.
John Singleton: He can go do a movie with anybody. He can do a movie with a full cast of different types of people.
Lee Daniels: And that’s the door that he opened.
Hollywood Reporter: Are there certain subjects that would be better left to white or black filmmakers?
Barry Jenkins: I have an interesting perspective on this now having made “Moonlight”. I debated if I should even make that film because I’m not gay.
Lee Daniels: And yet he was able to tap into the human condition that transcended sexuality.
Hollywood Reporter: What was that process of getting to a “yes”?
Jordan Peele: … anybody can make any movie, they just gotta do their homework. That being said, when I was in the middle of writing the party scene in “Get Out”, where (these white people are) coming up to Chris (the black boyfriend of Allison Williams’ character) saying their black “in,” like, “I know Tiger [Woods],” it was this epiphany. I was like, “This has to be a black person directing it.” This experience, a white person won’t (get it). I can tell them what it’s like, but there’s something else that is intrinsic to my experience. And so that’s the moment I realized I had to direct this movie because we don’t have the guys who are going to come down and do a $5 million horror movie that has this kind of risk. It’s a moment I looked back at and was like, “Shit, I have been training for this all my life. Not only in the industry but in life. I know this story.” And speaking to other directors, there’s a wide skill set needed, but nothing is more important than being the world’s foremost expert on that story and being able to impart that.
Hollywood Reporter: “Black Panther” opened with a record-breaking $242 million in the U.S. and Canada. Do you have a black superhero movie in your back pocket?
Lee Daniels: We all have our own version of one, I’m sure. And he has paved the way now.
Barry Jenkins: One of the cool things is, if you do the work, you can make any film you want right now. You can manifest your own destiny. If Ryan Coogler wanted to, he’d be sitting in this room. He could’ve gone from “Fruitvale (Station)” to his version of “Moonlight” or “Boyz N the Hood” or whatever. But he saw his career. He saw it. And it went from “Fruitvale” to “Creed” to “Panther”. I remember I had dinner with him back in 2013 — I was living in Oakland at the time, and it was the month before “Fruitvale” premiered at Sundance, and it was me, him and this other filmmaker, Rashaad Ernesto Green, and Ryan’s wife. And he said, “I want this (career path), and I am going to create it.” And Rashaad and I just looked at him and we smiled because we could see it. And so, if he wanted to be here, he would be, but this is not the only game in town for someone who looks like us anymore.
Read more at The Hollywood Reporter.
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