As Black History Month continues and the Academy Awards approach, conversations around what real diversity looks like for Hollywood's highest honor will become more prominent. In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the only African-American directing Oscar nominees in the Academy's 90-year history, Lee Daniels, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele and John Singleton, all sat down to talk about their own experiences as one of the very few to even be nominated, the doors their work has opened and the game not being designed for them.
Singleton, who was the first ever to be nominated in 1992 for Boyz N the Hood, recounted feeling like the whole thing might be a setup. " I thought it meant my career was over. I thought, 'That’s their way to get me out.' I was really very humbled by it, too." Jenkins expressed similar thoughts about his 2017 nomination for Moonlight. "I was shocked the whole way," he told THR. "I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop."
With hashtags like #oscarssowhite, it's obvious these men are part of a very exclusive club but there are other directors they feel should be right alongside them. "You’d have to include both men of color and women. But the fact that Spike [Lee] is not sitting in this room..." said Jenkins. Singleton went on to add that he feels like his own nomination came as a result of the Academy making up passing over Lee for Do the Right Thing in 1990.
The four directors see their own work and the work of other black directors as opening doors not only for each other but future black directors. Get Out director Jordan Peele added, "Seeing what Lee has done and what Steve and Barry have done and now it’s Ava [DuVernay], Dee [Rees], Ryan [Coogler], F. Gary Gray, it feels like this renaissance is happening where my favorite filmmakers are black, and it’s a beautiful club to feel a part of." Daniels, who was nominated for Precious in 2009, remembers when there was far less of the kind of progress we see today. "That’s the beauty of what is now," he said. "I grew up in a time when there could only be one."
Outside of Hollywood, the realities of being black in America is something that stays at the forefront of the directors' minds. The country's current and often frightening state and the ways discrimination bleeds into everything from entertainment to sports to politics is not new to most black people, including Peele. "People are talking about this day and age we live in, and we hear so much about the racial climate and this idea of, 'Where did this come from?' Black people know it’s the same damn world we’ve been living in all along. It’s louder and a little more emboldened now than it was a couple of years ago, but it’s all the exact same sentiments."