Hamri’s goal as the director of the newly released Just Wright, a romantic comedy starring Queen Latifah and rapper-actor Common, was to tell a universal story of love that happens to star black people. She says that creating such stories will require directors, studios, and producers to work together to ensure that tone, language, and themes of scripts are inclusive but still unique to cultural expression. And Hamri is just the filmmaker to bring those elements together—and produce an efficient profit.
THE AUTEUR Rick Famuyiwa
Rick Famuyiwa, 37, director of Our Family Wedding, understands that the recipe for success in Hollywood is learning how to balance art and commerce. Famuyiwa got his start while working on a screenplay for The Wood in the writers and directors lab at Sundance, the famous film festival for independent movies. All of his movies received the green light from a major motion picture studio, providing him with resources to produce, distribute, and market his movies. Famuyiwa credits his continued employment in Hollywood to his ability to write and develop screenplays on his own and advises other young directors to pave their own way.
But becoming a part of the studio system doesn’t keep you there. And he concedes that he’s had to deal with limited material for black actors, miniscule budgets, and theatrical releases restricted to minority communities. “It occurred to me that when scripts get written the assumption is that these characters are white … and the filmmakers involved will be white,” says the Nigerian-born Famuyiwa. “Because I write, I can come in and put my spin on [a screenplay] and bring my vision to the project.”
While his films have not been box office smashes, they have been profitable because he keeps production budgets tight. Over the past decade, Famuyiwa has directed such films as The Wood and Brown Sugar, and he wrote the screenplay for the movie Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle. The average budget for his movies has been $8.8 million, while the average gross receipts have been $24 million per picture. Despite his proven track record, Famuyiwa has not been given the opportunity to showcase his skills on a big-budget film. “It is harder to penetrate these mainstream films when you are an African American filmmaker and writer,” says Famuyiwa. “Even though I work in the Hollywood system, the budget levels I am at, the schedules I am given, the margins that I have to work within, still feel very much like independent cinema.”
(Continued on page 7)