Often coined as the golden era of black films, the 1990s spawned cult classics that can still be found on television and streaming services. Right before the decade began, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) catapulted him into superstardom—although it took him 30 years to win an Oscar—and inspired other legends to follow suit, namely John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood (1991) and 1992’s Juice by Ernest Dickerson.
Despite the doors that opened for black directors—specifically black women—after these releases, it seemed like it quickly closed after their first releases. The influx of black storytelling became stifled due to Hollywood’s on-going issue with inclusion and diversity. In a recent report by The New York Times, prominent directors from the ’90s like Dickerson, Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), and Darnell Martin (I Like It Like That) spoke about their experience with discrimination in Tinsel Town.
Martin emphasized the treatment she encountered from executives for being a black woman and her desire to tell stories that represent her community. “As an African-American woman who speaks up and fights against things that are racist or misogynistic, I felt a very big backlash,” she said. “If I had a penny for every time I was blacklisted and somebody told me, “You will never work again,” I’d be super, super wealthy.”
Martin also discussed the curse of the sophomore slump in Hollywood’s game of “Jekyll and Hyde.” Interestingly enough, her second film Prison Song is about how the criminal justice system swallows up young people of color, but she didn’t have the full creative support she needed at the time.
“I think also that if it’s your second film, you tend to want to push more. My second film was Prison Song,” she continued. “I wanted to make a film about how kids of color were marginalized and pushed directly into the prison system. And I wanted it to be a hip-hop opera. That was really kind of wild at that period. But you think, ‘It’s O.K. — you’re like every other filmmaker.’ But then you realize, no. If you stretch and have the art film, they’re not going to catch you and support that.”
Others like Dash assumed the business didn’t want to make room for black women in general. “After Daughters, I tried to get representation at the Gersh Agency in New York,” she said. “They told me I didn’t have a future. They saw no future for me as a black woman director. What were they going to do with me?”
Now, things have taken a turn for the better with directors and program creators like Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay creating their own lanes. The When They See Us director makes it a point to give those before her a chance to be included. According to USA Today, DuVernay hired Dash to direct episodes of her OWN series, Queen Sugar and ensures she has a seat at the table in Hollywood.