On January 15, 1929, the world-renowned African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. MLK dedicated his life fighting for the rights of African-Americans and left behind a legacy of courage and grace for all Americans to be proud of.
In honor of MLK, DMG Entertainment highlights the top eight African-American filmmakers that not only left their own legacy on the film industry, but inspired other African-Americans to chase after their silver screen dreams. Check out the best work of these incredible filmmakers and enjoy a slice of cinematic history, especially as the Academy snubs Hollywood’s African-American talent with no significant nominations for any black actors, actresses or directors this year including our first filmmaker…
Born in 1957, Spike Lee has established himself as one of the most talented and influential filmmakers today. Since 1983, the NYU Tisch School graduate has produced over 35 films, such as SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986), MALCOLM X (1992), CROOKLYN (1994), 25th HOUR (2002), OLDBOY (2013) and CHI-RAQ (2015). Lee has never shied away from controversial topics and often highlights society’s complexities in his work. Lee’s fearlessness not only won admiration from other filmmakers, but also gained him recognition from the industry. Spike Lee’s writing, directing, acting and producing abilities have earned him two Academy Award nominations, an Honorary Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and an Atlanta Film Festival Award. But one question remains… is it the shoes?
Born in 1884, Oscar Micheaux is often considered the industry’s first African-American filmmaker. Micheaux began his career as a prominent writer, penning such novels as THE CONQUEST: THE STORY OF A NEGRO HOMESTEADER (1913), THE FORGED NOTE (1915) and THE HOMESTEADER: A NOVEL (1917). In 1918, a film company manager noticed one of Micheaux’s novels and approached Micheaux to adapt the book for the silver screen. After Micheaux expressed interest in the film’s production, the manager refused Micheaux’s participation, and ultimately dropped the project. Micheaux responded by developing his own production company, Micheaux Film and Book Company. Micheaux went on to produce over 44 films, including THE HOMESTEADER (1918), WITHIN OUR GATES (1920) and THE CONJURE WOMAN (1926). The industry still pays tribute to Micheaux’s legacy to this day, including the Oscar Micheaux Award for Excellence, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even a 44-cent stamp.
Melvin Van Peebles
Born in 1932, Melvin “Block” Van Peebles, an Ohio Wesleyan University graduate, joined the Air Force, married a German actress, painted in Mexico, and operated cable cars before joining the film industry. Although he has developed several short films and feature films, Peebles’ crowning achievement was SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG (1971). With a $150,000 budget, Peebles changed the industry after his portrayal of an African-American male prostitute aiding a Black Panther’s member after attacking racist policemen. The all African-American casted film not only earned 15 million dollars, but also sparked the entire “Blaxploitation” genre. SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG has been an inspiration for many African-American filmmakers, including Gordon Parks and Spike Lee. Melvin is also the father of talented actor and director Mario Van Peebles.
Felix Gary Gray, a well-known African-American film director, film producer and actor was born in New York on July 17, 1969. After directing numerous music videos, include Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”, Gray directed his first film, FRIDAY (1995). After FRIDAY, he continued his success with such films as SET IT OFF (1996), THE NEGOTIATOR (1998), and THE ITALIAN JOB (2003). Gray’s outstanding work has earned him awards at the Acapulco Film Festival and Black American Film Festival. Gray has no plans of stopping anytime soon, he is already in the process of creating, “Marvin: The Life Story of Marin Gaye”.
Born as Emmitt Perry Jr., the African-American producer, director, screenwriter and actor broke into the entertainment industry by turning tragedy into triumph. Raised by an abusive father, Perry wrote about his dysfunctional childhood and turned it into the musical stage performance I KNOW I’VE BEEN CHANGED (1990). Although his musical received poor reviews, Perry continued to rewrite it until it was a smash hit. Using the profits, he produced his first feature film, DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN (2005). The film introduced Perry’s signature character Madea, a large, abrasive and tough grandmother. Perry went on to develop a series of films based on his Madea character, such as MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION (2006), MADEA GOES TO JAIL (2009) and MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION (2012). His string of films have grossed over $500 million in five years. Perry also developed the TBS television show TYLER PERRY’S HOUSE OF PAYNE, a popular television show valued at $200 million. Although some filmmakers criticism his lowbrow humor, Perry has left an undeniable mark on the film industry.
Allen and Albert Hughes
Born in Detroit in 1972, twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes went from high school dropouts to critically acclaimed directors and producers. After shooting several music videos, the Hughes Brothers made their first feature film, MENACE II SOCIETY (1993). The movie quickly gained recognition from film critics around the world, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and earning an Independent Spirit Award nomination. The Hughes Brothers went on to create DEAD PRESIDENTS (1995), AMERICAN PIMP (1999), FROM HELL (2001), and THE BOOK OF ELI (2010). Although the Hughes Brothers have taken a break from filmmaking, their work is still highlighted as the core of the 1990s gritty black youth genre.
Antoine Fuqua, born on January 1966, started his entertainment career directing music videos for artists such as Toni Braxton, Prince and Coolio. Fuqua’s first feature film, THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS (1998), starring Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat in his Hollywood debut, it earned over $19 million at the box office. Fuqua’s continued his directing success with films such as TRAINING DAY (2001), TEARS OF THE SUN (2003), SHOOTER (2007), BROOKLYN’S FINEST (2010) and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (2013). Fuqua received a Best Director nomination from the Acapulco Black Film Festival for his work on OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. Fuqua is currently directing the remake of the iconic western, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016).
Film director, screenwriter and producer, John Singleton, was born on January 6, 1968. After graduating USC film school, Singleton directed several music videos until he made his breakthrough feature film, BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991). For his work on BOYZ N THE HOOD, Singleton received a nomination for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, making him the first African-American and the youngest person to receive the Best Director nomination. Since then, Singleton has directed such films as POETIC JUSTICE (1993), HIGHER LEARNING (1995), SHAFT (2000) 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003) and ABDUCTION (2011). Singleton has also dabbled in television, directing an episode of EMPIRE (2015) and currently directing the television movie, SNOWFALL (2016).
Happy Martin Luther King Day!
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