Since Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively, in 2001, Jamie Foxx, Don Cheadle, Jennifer Hudson, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and Octavia Spencer have also been awarded the gold statuette. African Americans have also been recognized in music, sound mixing and documentary as well. But in spite of our enfranchisement, we have yet to be recognized in the two top categories — Best Picture and Best Director.
Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin is a producer of Django Unchained, which is up for Best Picture this year, so that hurdle may soon be crossed. In the past, filmmakers John Singleton (1991, Boyz N the Hood) and Lee Daniels (2009, Precious) have been nominated for the top directing prize. In fact, there’s already Oscar talk for Daniel’s next project, The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. But are there other filmmakers on the horizon who have the potential to break Hollywood’s Best Director color line?
There has been an influx of black talent winning at the Sundance Film Festival, since Daniel’s Precious won the Audience and Acting awards. Last year, Ava DuVernay was the first African American to win the Directing prize for her sophomore feature, Middle of Nowhere. Ryan Coogler’s debut, Fruitvale, won both the Audience award and the Jury award (a rare feat) this year. Fox Searchlight, the company that acquired Beasts of the Southern Wild at Sundance in 2012 and promoted it to four Oscar nominations, picked it up.
More black films are being produced now than ever before. Validation by the Academy cannot be the ultimate goal. We must build our own sustainable infrastructures for the support of our work. However, now that that door is open, it is just a matter of time before we produce a filmmaker of color who will be recognized on the same level as modern greats like Scorsese, Spielberg and Eastwood.
Michael Dennis is the founder of Reelblack, a film promotions company based in Philadelphia, and the director of BLACK FILM NOW, an upcoming documentary on the current state of African American films. To support this project, visit www.indiegogo.com/blackfilmnow.