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Should Black Directors Be Obilgated To Direct Black Films?

Should Black Directors Be Obilgated To Direct Black Films?

Well should they?

How appropriate to follow the Clark Johnson item below with this question, revisiting an issue that I’ve thought about from time to time. Should black directors be obligated to direct black films? I’ve always been of the belief that black directors should have the right to direct any kind of film they want to, from A to Z; from family films, to porn, regardless of the makeup of the cast. Other directors, regardless of race, creed or color make all sorts of films, so why should black directors be limited to black films?

However, what if a black director makes a conscious decision not to ever make a black film for whatever reason: bigger budgets, bigger paychecks, a desire to be part of the Hollywood “in crowd”, not wanting to be stuck in the “black” box, whatever; You name it. How would you feel about that? Would you consider that a betrayal? A failure to live up to their responsibilities for being a black director? One could argue that, yes they should, simply because we need all the black films we can get, to explore all facets of black life and culture. It can’t be all Tyler Perry all the time.

Then again, others may argue, why should they? A film director should be free to make whatever film they want to do. Why should they have this burden of “representing the race”? No one said Ang Lee should just stick to making Asian films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when he also made Sense and Sensibility, Ride with the Devil, The Hulk and Brokeback Mountain.

Ok, folks lets hear you views on this matter…

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Oh, I get what you are saying, Vanessa and I agree with you. But no matter what label we use (or if we use one at all), it’s ultimately up to (white) directors and audiences to change their perceptions.


Can Shadow & Act please post the critieria of what is considered a black film?

I’ve read a lot of great posts in the tread, to many to address.

Does it have to be a cast of all black actors? Speilberg directed The Color Purple which was based on the Alice Walker novel.

It is about storyline? Ed Zwick directed Glory with was about American blacks fighting during the Civil war. Is this a black movie?

Or is it the director? The Hughes Brothers directed The Book of Eli staring Denzel but it wasn’t a story about black people. Is this a black film.

How about television, Shonda Rhimes’ shows. She owns them, are they considered the property of black film/television?

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BLACK FILM!!!!! But there are stories that illuminate the black experience. There are only stories that are told through the medium of film and if they are black, brown or yellow it is about the story.


@Misha – yes I thought about “I Will Follow” even though I haven’t had the opportunity to see it. I understand what you’re saying about not caring if it doesn’t have “crossover” appeal. However, that is the same reason why many white directors and even black are hesitant or just plain out refuse to cast black leads in films. That’s what’s unfortunate in this case.


I feel as though ALL directors should try to make a diverse array of films.

Xay B.

I definitely don’t agree with this. Individuals need to choose whether they will be a black director or director that is black.

Neither is bad, but they should not feel obligated to make black movies.


No they shouldn’t be limited to black films only.

Even when guys do well in directing or writing nonblack films-jobs still are hard to get and they get passed over for lesser talent.

The late Dwanye McDuffie had 3 hit shows (Static Shock, Ben 10 & Justice League) and still got passed for writing gigs at DC and Marvel. Then had to deal with protests when wrote Justice League or AMerica comic that featured 4 blacks (added on by management not him).

Tim Story direct Fantastic Four 1 & 2 and made $300 billion-yet can’t sniff a job?


@ some of the prior comments: Directing a film with Black people doesn’t have to harp or even mention race. A ‘Black flm’ simply has to reflect the aesthetic from the perspective of a Black director, producer or director. That’s it (though for some, that’s even up for debate). BOOMERANG has very little mention of race, and I think THE BEST MAN may have none but they both show perspectives that were seldom seen prior to their release.

That said, I personally find it a bit of a betrayal to be a Black film director and NEVER make a Black film. Or better yet, a film with actualized, strong Black characters. Though this example is TV, Shonda Rhimes comes to mind since her produced shows don’t necc. have primary leads, but does have strong Black characters in its cast that aren’t just the BBF. That’s real.

Still, if you’re a Black person who has little to zero attachment to your culture or community, and you just happen to be Black acc. to this thing we call race, well then you’re better off not trying to do anything ‘Black’.


I don’t direct; I do however write. Do I feel the need or obligations to write “black” stories? Nawl, I don’t. I have the want and desire to write stories I want to read and usually those stories involve a Black female lead at the helm. Similarly, though not so similarly, I would think most black filmmakers would want to make the kind of film they want to see… Or tell the stories they want to tell, heavy-laden with “Black” obligation or no. But its a different system, isn’t it? So, long answer, “no”, Black filmmakers shouldn’t feel an obligation to create “Black film”. They should however feel an obligation to create “their” art. I think just from observation and having read of the uphill wars and battles Black filmmakers suffer already, knowledge of this added burden would further stifle their endeavors. Too much extra frustration to have to deal with. Short answer; “still no”.

Great topic. Excuse errors.


I’m sorry Vanessa, let me try that first paragraph again without all the errors (lol):

@Vanessa, there was a film recently released with two black leads that has nothing to do with race: I Will Follow. But to me it’s still a “black film” because it’s a story about black people. Perhaps some folks consider that an unfortunate characterization but I don’t because I couldn’t care less if such films have any “crossover appeal.”


@Vanessa, there was a film recently released with two black leads that had nothing to do with race: I Will Follow. But to me is was still a “black flim” because it was story about black people. Perhaps some folks consider that an unfortunate characterization but I don’t because I couldn’t care less if the film has any “crossover appeal.”

To me, it’s similar to this very discussion that were having about black directors making “black films.” Some people are totally against the idea because of the belief that it limits you creatively. Similarly, there is this belief that if a film is labeled a “black film” it limits it to only a black audience. And to that, I say, so what? One, because white folk aren’t likely to see it regardless and two, not everything needs white approval to be considered a success. :D


Those before us opened doors for us to uplift black film AND to expand creatively. To have the freedom to have that choice to tell whatever story with whatever ethnic cast you want.

Succeeding in the mainstream does them proud just as much as succeeding with just black films. As long as you don’t sell out the people’s dignity with stereotypes.

Also, just because their is a white cast doesn’t always mean their are no black PRODUCERS or crew people. It doesn’t always have to be about the front of the camera.

The real progress is going behind.


Well, to use Martin Scorsese as an example, making films outside of your own race can be a great thing, for instance, films like “After Hours” and “The King Of Comedy” are brilliant movies, and they have none of Scorsese’s trademark Italian storylines, sub plots, etc, they’re unique and ambitious films that are arguably his best work.

Back to the black side, some of the best and most sympathetic characters in Spike Lee films have been either white or Italian, for example, John Turturro in “Jungle Fever”, Danny Aiello in “Do The Right Thing”, Harvey Keitel in “Clockers”, etc. So why are these called black films when most of them have white main characters that are more sympathetic than the black ones? It makes no sense to me, and I agree that “Summer Of Sam” didn’t benefit from that black perspective scene, even though it was a short scene, it actually hurt the film’s quality, so that’s something to think about.


I agree with Tambay and CareyCarey. Unfortunately, in Hollywood a movie with black leads is considered “black” regardless of the race of the supporting cast.

There was a study somewhere online that showed most white young adults wouldn’t be interested in seeing the exact same story if the leads happened to be black. The explanation was that they automatically assumed the movie was not for them. This issue is rooted in our obvious history of racial segregation for the most part IMO.

I agree that just because you’re black, you don’t necessarily have a “black” story to tell. What is a black story if it’s not a historical piece about the racial inequality struggle specifically? I would love to see a movie with black leads that is not about race. Maybe just a love story. Something like the movie “Blue Valentine” but with black leads.This issue runs somewhat deep.


funny – this is a question only posed to black directors. in fact – why is this question even being posed?????


yes, we’ve been here before and I have to follow Tambay; what exactly are we talking about?

Until we define a “Black film, or even a “black story”, it’s impossible to answer the question.

Tell me, how are our stories any different from “their” stories? Now I am just asking the question because it’s obvious our “history” is somewhat different, but when did/does our worlds collide? But do we wnat to always see a “history” story?

I mean, personally I hate the question. I am what one would call a movie freak. I might watch 3 movies in one day. I might take a day off (or not) and do nothing but read, but movies are my love. Anyway, when I see a “story” (and that’s what I see…. the story) I’ve seen hundreds of movies that could have been played by black actors. Would it then be a black film? Or, even a black story, if the story was told (spoken) in a black venacular ( surely we all know what that means)?

Life is life, and throughout that life, black, brown or green, we all have struggles, happiness, joy and pain(stories to tell), which has absolutely nothing to do with the color of a man’s skin.

IHowever, I do “understand” some of the arguments because I believe many of use (or “them’) hear and see different messages and when we hear it’s a “black story”. I am thinking… pain and struggle and woe is me, and I wish the white man would let us free. That’s not MY story.

But see, our leading filmmakers, and networks play right into that mess. People were cheering when 2 negroes were hired at BET. 2 of which have shown their hands and their view of “black life”. Again, that’s not my story.

The argument and the question pisses me off. How in the hell is anyone, or should anyone be required to make a particular type of movie because of the color of his skin? I say a person should do what they do best.

And lets be real, every person with black skin does not have a “black” story to tell… whatever in the world that is.

In short, the question is based on an ambiguous premise.

“Is it just a matter of casting? If I’m a filmmaker with a script that tells the story of a lawyer who becomes a target by a corrupt politician, when he accidentally receives key evidence to a politically motivated crime that implicates the corrupt politician, and I cast a black actor in the lead role, does that make it a black film?”

Cougars Marque

I agree with James Madison, Misha, Ricky and Yoshi – all of whom have made points I feel very deeply about.

I’m a Black writer/director, and as such, I feel I should be allowed the artistic freedom to make any film I want. However, I feel an utmost RESPONSIBILITY to my people and to tell stories about them (almost to the point of obligation). How could I not? I love my people and we’re desperately in need of varied visions and stories. No one tells a white director who only makes or has made movies featuring whites that they’re putting themselves in a box. Why should such a charge be levied at a Black director who does the same?

The trick is white directors get to play in every genre imaginable, and white moviegoers accept and watch all genres. Black directors (like our people at large) are pigeon-holed into two to three genres – even though Black moviegoers watch all genres as well (with white people in them; if they were Black… that’s another post). In the long run, though, a story is a story; it can be told through the filter of any race. If you’ve noticed, the best movies have themes that are UNIVERSAL – so why can’t I just tell a story of that nature and have it filtered through Black characters?

The answer is I can, and if that’s all I ever do with my career, then I’ll consider myself successful – and not having been put in any box.


Ah yes, the old “obligation” question revisited…

To add to the thought bucket… it’s hard to answer the question without first defining what a “black film” is, or what “black stories” are.

Is it just a matter of casting? If I’m a filmmaker with a script that tells the story of a lawyer who becomes a target by a corrupt politician, when he accidentally receives key evidence to a politically motivated crime that implicates the corrupt politician, and I cast a black actor in the lead role, does that make it a black film?

Don’t black people exist in those realms? And even if we didn’t, who says we can’t make the shit up? It is cinema; revisionist history films are becoming the rage these days it seems.

And what happened to the idea that at the core of every story are themes that can be understood and appreciated universally, regardless of the color of the characters.

But if it does come down to casting, then should the question instead be, are black filmmakers obligated to cast black actors in lead roles in their films? Or are black writers obligated to write stories about black people.


I agree with what you’ve said, but what was the ‘black storyline’ injected into “Summer of Sam”. I’ve only seen it once


I’ll use Black director in my following comments but should we make a distinction between a “Black director” and a “director who is Black?”

In my opinion Black director’s should have artistic freedom. If they want to explore another experience they should not hesitate in doing so solely because the cast or experience may not be considered Black. Zora Neale Hurston is not any less Black for writing “Seraph on the Suwanee”, and James Baldwin is not any less Black for writing “Giovanni’s Room” in my opinion.

However I do not approve of a Black director making a conscious decision to avoid a “Black story.” I do believe that everyone from a Black community has an obligation to that community to give back as their success rest on the shoulders of ancestors who gave their lives for them. In return I do think Black directors, writers, actors, etc. have an obligation to at some point to also tell more Black stories.

I also don’t agree on there being a “Black box.” I am with Toni Morrison in that the Black experience is a very wide and deep one full of an unlimited amount of stories to tell so if a Black director dedicates his/her life to telling only Black stories they have not limited themselves at all.


Oh and Jug, I responded to you in the Vin vs. Dwayne showdown post. LOL


@Jug I don’t get it. How is only directing “black stories” bad? That to me implies that there are limitations with the type of black stories one can tell and that ain’t true. There is as much diversity within “black cinema” as there is in any other genre….certainly enough to avoid “killing your creative growth.”

I don’t see anyone telling Tarantino (whom I like) to stop making “violent, expletive-filled films, lest he stunt his creative growth. No doubt, the implication here is that folks believe Tarantino is going to come with a twist or something different every time whereas a black director who directs “black films” isn’t capable of the same thing. How troubling.


No. There are career decisons and there are artistic decisions. We all get the idea about pigeonholing. Thats career. But artistically speaking, I’d consider it stupid to not want to do other stuff…there are INFINITE ideas that are intriguing and get the juices flowing, if you’re truly open to your humanity, to yourself. I LOVE Arthurian legend & sword and sandal stuff. Does it bum me out that there aren’t black people in them? Sometimes, mainly because I wouldn’t be in them because I love them so much. Directors are no different. They want to direct, and what their passion may be may not be what they’re directing, but they find it pleasurable nonetheless-they make it work. When you have a chance to create about your own (hopefully), it is an even more special work.

Only directing “black stories” is just as bad as never directing any “black stories”. Again, much as I love him, Spike is a prime example. The two times he stepped outside of the “black” story, he had SON OF SAM & INSIDE MAN, two really good movies. The worst parts of those movies tho, were when he injected “black storylines” which were totally unneccesary and contrived. Woody Allen is gettin real old & played too, but he’s still lauded, lord knows why, for the same sort of thing. Folks laughed at Michael Bay when he said “I’m going to direct a small budget drama” after TRANSFORMERS 2, to which the studio laughed too, pulled his clause and he made TRANSFORMERS 3. But Forrest Whitaker can direct STRAPPED about gun sales in the hood & HOPE FLOATS about country folks dealing with family dynamics & rebuilding your life. Or Bill Duke can do RAGE IN HARLEM but also an adaptation of the NERO WOLF novel series, a sophisticated white Det. in the 40s.

When you polarize your own work, you kill its organic, creative growth & then your career.


I loved your comments James. I concur. I feel a NEED to direct black stories precisely because SOULPLANE still gets referenced and that is not all we are as a people. I long for the the day when black films are made with a respectable quality regularly. When that day comes, I suspect I could feel less of a need to “represent” but as of now, I want to see another Renaissance.


Directors should direct stories they love. Besides just because a person is of the “black” race doesn’t mean they understand a cultural asthetic that will reflect “blackness.” My father used to say just because a person’s skin is dark doesn’t make them black. If you are black and grow up completely isolated from black people, no black friends, no black history, what would then qualify you to direct black movies, your skin? That makes no sense to me.


I agree that Black directors should not have to only direct Black films. To change the question, does a Black film have to be directed by a Black director?

james Madison

And I should be more responsible for proofing what I type!

James Madison

I think there should be a “responsibility”.

I believe once someone says, I will not date, communicate, acknowledge etc., a part of my culture, then you are part of the problem. Because a statement or act of that nature is an absolute and it shows a disregard and/or hate of yourself.

We are not 7 decades removed from Jim Crow and much less from stereotypical images of Hollywood. We “need” as many directors male/female of color as possible to have a “love” of their culture and
not a shame/disregard of it.

I find more than annoying when a person, who obviously
have facial characteristics of a person of African descent, says they are mixed with every other ethnicity but seemingly shun their African heritage.

African culture is not a pathetic bastard culture. No culture is, so African culture should not have the honor of being the one that is always viewed in contempt.

A director/actor etc. all should have the free will to do whatever they want to. I can understand if the roles offered were in the vein of “Soul Plane” and there is a rejection to those roles/films but to say “No” simply because it is a certain ethnic group is a definite sign of a much maligned way of thinking.

Do I feel they are obligated i.e. restricted to a particular function or mode of life? No. What I feel is that there should be a sense responsibility and love.


I’m with Lynn. If they so choose to they can, but it severely limits their potential as directors.

Look at Gregory Nava, a Mexican director, who directed “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” Funny how so many believe that to be a “black film” just based off of the cast.

And what would “The Color Purple” have been like had Steven Spielberg, a Jewish/Caucasian director decided not to direct it? Another film that is seen as merely a “black film.”

One bad example is Jessy Terrero, the Dominican director of the cinematic abomination known as Soul Plane.


I’m conflicted. LOL On one hand, I don’t think they should be obligated to direct black films. But on other other hand, if we aren’t directing/producing or own films, who else is gonna do it?

And can I just say that I hate the fact that there is such a stigma attached to being a black director (i.e. ony directing black films). Why does it have to be viewed as being “put/stuck in a box.” I don’t see the same being said about the likes of Tarantino or Scorsese who aren’t exactly the most versatile of directors.


No. They should be inspired to, to have a burning desire to. If they don’t, then oh well.


no I don’t think they should just “stick” with black films. Just like I don’t think white directors should stick to directing films with white leads.


I agree w/ Laura we need to “mix things up” a bit time to time. We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck in a “box” but that’s how we are viewed in Hollywood if you take a good look at the majority of H-wood films Blacks, Asians and Latinos often are viewed in stereotypical roles.

So when a Black, Latino or Asian director steps on the scene and decides to cast and direct his/her own people i applaud them because they are creating opportunities for themselves. But nobody should ever limit one’s self to just one particular thing but it is good to switch it up time after time.



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