While we celebrate the achievements of pioneering Black filmmakers and creatives like Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Shonda Rhimes, Tyler Perry, Gina Prince Bythewood, Will Packer, and Barry Jenkins, it raises the question: Who’s next? Who is bubbling under the surface and will become the next power player to expand the images of Black life on the big and small screens, whether as writer, producer, or director?
There’s little doubt that we’re in a moment where Black art and creativity are in high demand. Perhaps the powers that be have finally opened their eyes to see what has always been in front of them, or perhaps they’re bowing to public pressure and are giving marginalized voices the space they need to bring their art to life. Whatever the circumstances may be, we’re thrilled that our list of Black creatives are poised to shine during this unique moment in time.
Some of our choices are new to the biz, others have been toiling away for years making films that went under the radar, and some even came to filmmaking after success in other industries. One creative included on this list is already a household name, but her directorial debut should launch her into another stratosphere altogether. While it’s impossible to accurately predict who will shine and who will fade in a highly competitive landscape for Black creatives, we made our selections based on quality of work, potential, industry support, and who seems to want it most.
Here’s our list of Black filmmakers who got next.
The musician and restaurateur turned filmmaker has garnered glowing reviews for his second feature, Sylvie’s Love starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as lovers in Harlem in the ’50s and ’60s who follow a circuitous route to happiness. Ashe, 55, whose first feature, Homecoming, based on his Off-Broadway play, was released in 2012, made Sylvie’s Love as a tribute to the classic movies and TV shows that he loved in his own Harlem-based youth.
Why he’s next: Ashe’s romantic, hopeful film centers African-American love in lush settings, and is beautifully shot to highlight Black people as upscale, loving, and luminescent. We need more of that sensibility on-screen as our joy is as worthy as our suffering.
A big, Black, grown woman on-screen is most often played for laughs, pushed to the background, or the subject of heartbreaking trauma. Not so in Radha Blank’s boisterous, affirming, funny The 40-Year-Old Version, about a “mature” woman who finds empowerment and love as a rapper, loosely based on her own experience as an MC.
Her directorial debut, Version, won her the U.S. Dramatic Competition Directing Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Blank made her way to the big screen as a playwright getting the critically acclaimed Seed to Off-Broadway in 2011. Since then the 44-year-old New Yorker has worked as a writer for Empire and writer-producer for Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix.
Why she’s next: She’s a fresh, original, and funny female voice whose first film was supported by the Black List’s Franklin Leonard, who spread the word, and Lena Waithe, who came on as one of the producers. Blank cowrote the upcoming movie Monster, directed by Anthony Mandler, and starring Jennifer Hudson and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.
Nia DaCosta’s Little Woods did win the Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018, but wasn’t exactly a box-office sensation. However, it apparently attracted the right eyes, including Jordan Peele’s, who helped DaCosta get the coveted job as writer and director for the Candyman reboot. Though that film was pushed to 2021 due to the pandemic, once again the right folks were impressed. Now the 31-year-old New York City native has been tapped for the sequel to Captain Marvel, which is expected to hit screens in 2022.
Why she’s next: “She’s going to be huge because Candyman has the potential of making $100 million,” says Wilson Morales of Blackfilmandtv.com. “No one has seen it, but I’m sure that Marvel saw it and they made the decision to give her Captain Marvel 2. [And when] you have somebody in your corner like she has Jordan Peele…his name carries a lot of weight.”
DEBORAH WILEY DRAPER
Being a documentary filmmaker means having a keen eye for not only the untold story, but also one that resonates with a variety of audiences. Former advertising executive Deborah Wiley Draper’s first two features Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution and Olympic Pride, American Prejudice were focused on topics you might have thought you already knew all about:
The historic achievements of Black fashion models, and the 1936 Berlin Olympics that featured the triumphs of Jesse Owens. It turns out you didn’t know the whole story behind either until Draper uncovered it. In 2019 Draper expanded her reach, signing on to write and direct the adaptation of April Sinclair’s 1994 book Coffee Will Make You Black, with Gabrielle Union in the lead role.
Why she’s next: A Black female documentarian telling stories from a unique perspective is something that is necessary in America’s (most recent) racial reckoning. “She has the ambition, the vision and the drive to climb the highest mountain,” says friend Gil Robertson, president and founder of the African-American Film Critics Association.
You can’t put Travon Free into any kind of box, mainly because where would a 6-foot 7-inch tall, bisexual, college basketball player turned stand-up comic turned TV and screenwriter even fit? The 35-year-old Compton native and Long Beach State grad is also one of the few Emmy-winning Black writers for a comedy show, scoring two so far: one for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and another for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Why he’s next: Free’s script for an unnamed spy romance thriller set in Africa starring Idris Elba inspired a bidding war, which was won by Apple. He directed a short in 2020, Two Distant Strangers, a kind of Groundhog Day about a police shooting. And he’s still a staff writer for Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, making him one of the few Black writers in the late-night TV comedy show space.
CIERRA “SHOOTER” GLAUDE
Over the past four seasons Queen Sugar has become one of OWN’s most critically acclaimed original TV series. Through the show’s run, creator Ava DuVernay did more than pay lip service to promoting Black female directors — she hired them. Her protégé, Cierra “Shooter” Glaude, left school to learn from DuVernay, working her way up from production assistant to director.
Glaude helmed three episodes for season five of Queen Sugar. Championed by Lena Waithe, Alabama native Glaude recently completed her second short, Spilt Milk, for the AT&T Hello Lab filmmaker program.
Why she’s next: “I first met Cierra on the set of Selma as a P.A., where she was very engaged in understanding what we were doing and how it was done. Just five years later, she returns to the set of Queen Sugar as a director. It’s the only time in my career I’ve seen someone who started as P.A. return as director, during one of the most challenging times in production, and is successfully pulling it off,” says Paul Garnes, head of physical production at Array Filmworks
RASHAAD ERNESTO GREEN & REINALDO MARCUS GREEN
Writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green isn’t afraid to tackle complex material: His 2011 debut, Gun Hill Road, dealt with a Latino father’s struggle to accept his son’s gender transition, and his 2020 film, Premature, is a coming-of-age tale that explores a young woman’s burgeoning maturity and sexuality. His brother, Reinaldo Marcus Green, is also not daunted by difficult topics.
His short film, Stop (2011), and feature, Monsters and Men, both dealt with police violence, and his latest, Joe Bell (2020) starring Mark Wahlberg, is based on the true story of a man who walked across the U.S. on an anti-bullying crusade after his son’s suicide. Reinaldo is also now completing the biopic King Richard, which stars Will Smith as Venus and Serena Williams’ visionary father. You may at some point see the siblings, who are Bronx, New York, natives, work together, as Reinaldo told Filmmaker in 2015 it was something he hoped would eventually happen.
Why they’re next: The brothers are putting together a solid body of work with intensely personal subject matter that is intentional, nuanced, and honest.
It takes a singular vision to go from short films to features with little space in between, and that’s the space that nascent director Shaka King inhabits. Known for his subversive shorts Newlyweeds and Mulignans, King is now poised to become one of Hollywood’s new directing stars with Judas and the Black Messiah, the true story of the Black FBI informant who aided the murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Daniel Kaluuya stars as the charismatic Hampton and has since won a Golden Globe for his riveting performance.
Why he’s next: “The movie is excellent and it illustrates that he’s a director to watch,” says Robertson.
After participating in the Sundance Feature Filmmakers Lab in 1999, Locke became a TV and film writer, ultimately writing and producing for the prime-time music industry soap Empire the Emmy-winning Netflix limited series When They See Us, and for the Hulu adaptation of the book Little Fires Everywhere. Somehow, between 2005 and 2019, the Houston native also wrote five gritty crime novels, a genre in which Black female writers are a rarity.
Why she’s next: She and her sister, actress Tembi Locke, have been tapped to write the “sequel” to Waiting to Exhale which will expand into an ABC TV series with Lee Daniels as producer and Anthony Hemingway as director.
CHANNING GEOFFREY PEOPLES
The Fort Worth, Texas–born Channing Geoffrey Peoples used her roots to inform her debut feature, Miss Juneteenth which stars Nicole Beharie as a struggling single mother pushing her daughter into adulthood by way of her hometown’s local holiday pageant. The actress turned writer-director was also mentored by fellow Texas native Charles Burnett, the pioneering film director of Killer of Sheep and To Sleep With Anger. Peoples won both the 2020 SXSW Louis Black “Lone Star” Award and the Best Narrative Feature Award at Black Star Film Festival the same year.
Why she’s next: “It was a heartwarming story that offers a nice balanced representation of a Black American family moving through crises,” Robertson says. “Peoples has a lot of promise; it’s a quiet movie but it was well done.”
DEON TAYLOR AND ROXANNE AVENT TAYLOR
It must be great to have a writer-director and a producer in the same household. Even if you don’t always work together, you can certainly bounce projects off each other. Fortunately for them, most of the time the married couple of Deon Taylor and Roxanne Avent Taylor do combine talents. Deon is the writer-director who called the shots on Traffik (2018) and Black and Blue (2019), and directed Fatale, a recently released thriller starring Michael Ealy and Hilary Swank. Roxanne produced all three through the couple’s Hidden Empire Film Group.
Why they’re next: Deon, a former college basketball player, is a producer on the Jamie Foxx sports dramedy All-Star Weekend, scheduled for 2021. Roxanne is next producing the horror film The House Next Door with hubby Deon directing.