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by Ramzi De Coster
September 19, 2013 3:05 PM
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John Singleton Asks if a White Director Can Make a Great Black Film

"Boyz n the Hood" writer-director John Singleton's The Hollywood Reporter column wastes no time in illuminating what has thus far seemingly been "a banner year" for black-themed films.  

In naming some of 2013's black-themed films and films to come that Singleton suggests should, hypothetically, inspire the optimism that "the success of any black-driven movie" will ultimately translate "into more jobs and stories about people of color," the Oscar-nominated director has nonetheless armed himself with skepticism and concern. While endeavoring to not trivialize the success of films like "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and "Frutivale Station," Singleton worries that the success of black-themed movies like "The Help" and "42" point to a trend: "the hiring of white filmmakers to tell black stories with few African-Americans involved in the creative process."  

"What if the commercial success of 'black films' like '42' and 'The Help,' which also had a white director, are now making it harder rather than easier for African-American writers and directors to find work?" Singleton remarks as he fortifies his main point that white directors are not the problem, but rather that, "there was a time, albeit very brief, when heroic black figures were the domain of black directors, and when a black director wasn't hired, the people behind the film at least brought on a black producer for his or her creative input and perspective."

In a nutshell, the director laments that Hollywood execs need to realize that black-themed stories are uniquely American and thus have solid mainstream appeal but that making a black-themed film absent of black filmmaker participation is tantamount, "to cooking a pot of gumbo without the 'roux.'"

For John Singleton's full The Hollywood Reporter article here.



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10 Comments

  • Donella | September 23, 2013 5:35 PMReply

    Norm Jewison is one of a very small class of White directors who told the Black experience well.

    The list of directors with his skill is extremely small and growing smaller as the Twitter generation, lacking emotional depth and cultural awareness and historical knowledge, rear their stupid heads and spew forth ignorance across everyone's computer screens.

  • VM | September 19, 2013 10:49 PMReply

    I never understood why the director's color has anything to do with making an honest film. Black or white, characters should be filmed honestly. Dreamgirls, The Color Purple, The Help, and Claudine are great films. And just because you're black doesn't mean you always portray black stories in an honest light. *cough* Tyler Perry *cough*

  • parsyeb | September 19, 2013 7:12 PMReply

    Read also: John Singleton: "Can I get a job?"

  • J Guerra | September 19, 2013 5:07 PMReply

    How about Taylor Hackford's Ray......Oscar for Jaime Fox...

  • jgoesing | September 19, 2013 3:36 PMReply

    He makes a good point, and refreshingly asks upon the point instead of stating it like it's fact. I think that films about black history becoming more prominent today is amazing in itself. All that really matters is who is gonna be most responsible and honest towards the subject. Spike Lee was that exact thing toward Malcolm X, and apparently so was Steve McQueen toward Twelve Years a Slave, and also Hunger, which was about a white Irish revolutionary.

    The problem is most likely inherent in the studio system which chooses for the film rather than the other way around where the director moves forward strictly on their passion to tell the story and is picked up by someone who allows their voice to remain the same for the final product. Red Tails is a good example of how that shit can fall apart because of studio handling. Lucas wanted to tell the story his way, so it was inevitably ruined from the get go. The people writing and directing basically had to do the man's bidding despite them being African American.

    And while it's always a good thing that people of color are allowed the spotlight that mostly white directors and writers have had access to, it still falls on whether the film itself is good. Red Tails might have had an African American cast and crew, but I'm sure it's failings made a few ignorant and narrow minded producers rethink if films about black history will sell, which of course will lead to more and more scripts being shoved aside for material that's "safe" to make.

  • Donella | September 23, 2013 5:31 PM

    " Lucas wanted to tell the story his way, so it was inevitably ruined from the get go. The people writing and directing basically had to do the man's bidding despite them being African American. "

    True this.

    And that ruination by Lucas the Interfering Producer included retro-conversion of intelligent military men of skill, pride, and dignity into immature Black versions of Anakin Skywalkers screaming "Yippppeeeee!" in the pod race.

    The Tuskegee Airmen (PBS, 1995) remains the best fictionalization of this group of WW2 fighters.

    Fortunately, with 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley's script has been treated with respect by Brad Pitt who played his correct position. One of very few men in Hollywood who "gets it."

  • Ian | September 19, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Why is it okay for black people (especially in the movie biz) to make everything about race? If a white guy did this, they'd be racist and intolerant.

  • sean | September 20, 2013 11:35 AM

    If a white guy said that Hollywood rarely makes any movies about white people, and that when they do they often have only black people in all of the important creative positions and shut white people out from the process entirely (whether deliberately or not), they wouldn't so much be called racist and intolerant, more like ignorant, stupid, delusional, possibly even insane if they insisted on it.

  • written by a White person | September 20, 2013 1:12 AM

    White guys do make films about race. It's called 99% of films from Hollywood. Most film don't have black actors in main or secondary parts. Black actors are lucky to get extra roles. Most film have only white people in them and this has become the standard. To make films without a diverse group of people usually ends in boring material. Having a team of black, white, men and women means the project benefits from various opinions and experience making a better film. People say doing this is political correctness but it's just logical. Nobody says anything about the film industry run mainly by White and Jewish people but when any other race comments on it, Asian, Latin, Black etc people say things like "what does it have to do about race?"

  • WhatAboutYou | September 19, 2013 5:55 PM

    I think it is racist for you to refer to them as "black people"...what has their race got to do with anything?...and why do you refer to others as "white people"...why focus on their race?