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January 21, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | January 21, 2009 |

As I was watching the inauguration yesterday, the idea of a Best African-American directors lists occurred to me. I assumed, somewhat naively, that it would be a difficult list to create; that history has given us a slew of talented black directors that were under the radar, and that with a little research, a lot of names and a lot of great movies would be triggered in my mind.

Not so much.

We’ve come a long way, folks. But … there have been a meager 10 African Americans to win an Oscar in the history of the Oscars: Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, and Jennifer Hudson. All of those were in acting categories. No black director has ever won an Oscar. Only two — Spike Lee and John Singleton — have been nominated, and Lee hasn’t even been nominated in the best director category.

The point: We’ve still got a long way to go. And Tyler Perry sure as hell ain’t helping matters. Nor are the Wayans Brothers. There have been a few exceptional actors who were not exceptional directors, however. Those include Sidney Poitier (Stir Crazy), Ossie Davis (Black Girl) and Forest Whitaker (First Daugther, Hope Floats) and even Denzel, who has two decent films under his belt (Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters). But as for black directors, a few have created exceptional films (Gina Prince-Blythewood’s Love & Basketball and Tim Story’s Barbershop come to mind), but a few have created a body of work large enough even to be considered for this list.

The top five are as follows:

5. F. Gary Gray: With only one pretty decent flick (Friday) and a few mediocre to less than mediocre films (Set it Off, The Negotiator, Be Cool, The Italian Job), F. Gary Gray nevertheless breaks the top five. He may actually jump a spot, if his next project, Marvin: The Life Story of Marvin Gaye ever gets off the ground. He’s also set to make a thriller starring Gerard Butler (Law Abiding Citizen). Unfortunately, we can also thank F. Gary Gray for the rise of Chris Tucker and Ice Cube, the Family Film star.

4. Antoine Fuqua: Although he shares a lot of similarities, stylistically, with Tony Scott, I don’t think that Fuqua gets enough credit, and he’s rarely recognized as a great black director because he doesn’t make “black” films. But he did make Training Day, which gained Denzel an Oscar. He also made the fairly entertaining action pic, The Shooter, as well as a couple of decent action films, Tears of the Sun and The Replacement Killers. He also just sold his next film, Brooklyn’s Finest, tarring Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, and Ethan Hawke, which debuted at Sundance this year.

3. Carl Franklin: Franklin is not as talented as the top two on this list, but he’s actually my favorite of the five. He doesn’t get offered a lot of projects, unfortunately, but he’s made three great, unappreciated films (two of which starred Denzel): One False Move, Out of Time and Devil in a Blue Dress. Unfortunately, he also made the Ashley Judd stinker, High Crimes, and the Meryl Streep weeper, One True Thing. He also helped to launch the career of Don Cheadle, with his 1986 short, Punk. You also might recognize him as Captain Crane, from “The A-Team.”

2. John Singleton: He’s the second most talented director on this list, but he’s also a guy that’s wasted a lot of it on throwaway movies. But then again, just because you’re an African-American director with a talent to do so doesn’t mean you actually have to make good flicks. God knows, talented white directors make shitty films all the time. So, good for Singleton: He’s joined an elite cadre of talented directors — both black and white — who’d rather make shitloads of money than a decent flick. But we’ll always have Boyz n the Hood, and Higher Learning wasn’t bad. Unfortunately, the rest of Singleton’s filmography is far less impressive: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers and Shaft. Fortunately, he was smart enough to pull out of The A-Team and Tulia, currently in production and starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, shows some promise.

1. Spike Lee: Spike Lee is the greatest black director of all time, and he knows it. He’s a bit on the egotistical side, but the man deserves to be. Remarkably, he’s one of the few directors — black or white — that has been able to maintain his artistic credibility while gaining (some) mainstream success. He’s got 44 directing credits, and over half of them are at least good, led by Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, He Got Game, “When the Levees Broke,” The Original Kings of Comedy, Inside Man, and my favorite: The phenomenal 25th Hour. Granted, his highest grossing film in Inside Man, with $88 million, but Lee understands that artistic credibility and box-office success rarely intersect. I know his signature movie is Do the Right Thing, which was amazing, but I gotta go with the trailer for 25th Hour, a movie that’s so intensely hard to watch, it’s nearly impossible to make it to the end without sobbing your fool goddamn head off.

A Seriously Random List XLV / Dustin Rowles

Lists | January 21, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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