New York: Black directors including Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) have enjoyed huge success in recent years — but for many African-American filmmakers, Hollywood remains far from welcoming.
Charlie Buhler, who is mixed race, set out to make an action film set against the backdrop of a pandemic, long before the coronavirus. Unable to secure the funding she needed, Buhler had to direct parts of Before the Fire on her grandmother’s farm in South Dakota. “I knew that no one was going to give me the opportunity to do the movie that I wanted to make,” said Buhler.
“It’s hard enough for women to direct action movies, but especially women of colour,” Buhler added. Her film was selected at the Harlem International Film Festival, which was held online earlier this month.
Buhler’s struggle comes despite signs of progress for African-American filmmakers, the most visible being Coogler’s $1.3-billion grossing, Oscar-nominated Black Panther. “Things have changed because there’s a lot more (minority) filmmakers, a lot more demand, a lot of quality,” said Cheryl Hill, a black movie producer and former Disney executive. “We can’t speak for 2020 but 2018 and 2019 were good years. I’m hopeful.”
Reasons for optimism include the growth of streaming giants such as Netflix — whose massive and diverse range of productions have opened up new horizons for minorities — as well as cheaper equipment lowering costs for newcomers.
“When I was starting out they were literally saying there’s no market,” for black stars, said Hill. “That’s been proven ridiculous.”
“I wasn’t getting anywhere while seeing my white male peers rising in the ranks because people were just giving them a shot with no experience,” said Buhler, now 32.
Last year, 15.7 percent of actors in US movies were black — slightly above the African-American share of the overall population (13.4 per cent) — according to University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. But only 6.3 per cent of directors were black. And a staggering 93 per cent of all producers were white men.
In a bid to address this, Hollywood’s motion picture academy this month unveiled strict new eligibility rules to boost diversity. From 2024, behind-the-scenes senior leadership, technical crew members and marketing teams must include historically disadvantaged groups. Offering internships and training to underrepresented workers will also help films qualify.
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