Jordan Peele

The 6 Black Filmmakers Nominated for Academy Award for Best Director

In its 92-year history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has only ever nominated six filmmakers of color for the Best Director Oscar, with half of the nominations occurring in just the last five years. As the Academy, and the industry as a whole, pushes harder than ever to become more inclusive to writers, cinematographers, producers, and directors of color—as well as women and LGBTQIA+ filmmakers—New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a brief look at the first six black visual artists to be nominated for Best Director. To date, no black filmmaker has won the prize.

John Singleton

In 1991—not even 30 years ago—John Singleton became the first ever African American to be nominated by the Academy for Best Director, for his work on the seminal South Central, LA drama Boyz N the Hood. With the nod, the then 24-year-old Singleton also became the youngest nominee ever in the category—a record still unbroken today. In 2019, Singleton went on to direct films like Poetic Justice and Rosewood, as well television series including Empire, American Crime Story, and Snowfall. Singleton died tragically as a result from a stroke at the age of 51.

Lee Daniels

It was nearly two decades until another African American was nominated for a Best Director Oscar; Lee Daniels broke the streak by earning a nod for his work on Precious, the 2009 gritty study of an overweight young woman who endured years of poverty and abuse. Daniels followed Precious with the critically-acclaimed drama The Paperboy, and created the hit television series Star and Empire, both of which featured predominantly black casts. 

Steve McQueen

British filmmaker Steve McQueen had already made a name for himself on the indie scene with dramas like Hunger and Shame before landing a mainstream hit with the harrowing true drama 12 Years a Slave in 2013. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Director, and won three, including Best Picture. Since his Best Picture win, McQueen has directed and produced the star-studded Widows, and the British miniseries Small Axe.

Barry Jenkins

Like 12 Years a Slave three years prior, the 2016 drama Moonlight by Barry Jenkins also secured several Oscar nominations while still not earning a Best Director win despite earning Best Picture. Director Barry Jenkins did pick up an award for Best Adapted Screenplay however, and has since made the Oscar-winning film If Beale Street Could Talk and the period dramatic series The Underground Railroad.

Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele started out as an actor and comedian on sketch series MadTV and Key & Peele before pivoting to producing, screenwriting, and directing, making a huge splash with his debut film, the horror-thriller Get Out, which combined genre filmmaking with a thoughtful exploration of race relations in America. Peele lost Best Director and Best Picture for the film but won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and has since become a major force in the industry, producing numerous films and television projects, including BlacKkKlansman and the latest reboot of The Twilight Zone. Additionally, Peele sat in the director’s chair again for the haunting horror film Us, starring Lupita Nyong’o.

Spike Lee

In 1989, there was some expectation that filmmaker Spike Lee would be the first African American to earn a Best Director nomination for his work on Do the Right Thing, but that didn’t come to pass. Despite earning an honorary Oscar in 2016, Lee didn’t earn a nod in that category until 2019, when he was finally recognized for his film BlackKlansman, starring John David Washington and Adam Driver. A Hollywood icon who many filmmakers and especially those of color have cited as an influence, Lee has earned multiple nominations over the years, but it was for BlackKlansman that he finally earned his first non-honorary Oscar—for Best Adapted Screenplay.

6 Independent Filmmakers You May Have Missed

Most people know the likes of Zack Snyder, Ava DuVernay, Christopher Nolan,  — high-profile filmmakers at the helm of the big budget movies getting all the attention. While these talented folks are busy making films destined to be top grossers, there are up-and-coming indie filmmakers elsewhere using their own skills and imagination to create compelling stories. Below you’ll find only a handful of the many great independent filmmakers currently honing their own style while making films worthy of your time.

Jordan Peele

This New York City native had already proven his comedic prowess via the popular sketch series Key & Peele, which he co-created and starred in. But in 2017, Peele took a stab at the director’s seat and found success with his debut horror film Get Out, which received critical acclaim and earned numerous nominations, not to mention an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Peele is currently producing another horror project, an HBO series titled Lovecraft Country.

Nacho Vigalondo

Vigalondo has been in the filmmaking business since 2003 after releasing his Oscar-nominated short film 7:35 in the Morning. The Spanish filmmaker has since worked on a number of films that managed to impress, including 2007 sci-fi thriller Timecrimes and Colossal, a 2016 homage to the Godzilla franchise praised for its genre mash-up and a great performance by Anne Hathaway. Whatever Vigalondo is cooking up next, fans of strange, genre-defying sci-fi films should definitely check it out.

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Gordon and Nanjiani served as writers and co-producers for The Big Sick, one of the highest grossing indie flicks of 2017. The romantic comedy film turned a budget of $5 million into $56 million, while also earning universal praise for its entertaining mix of humor and heartbreak. It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards.

Diandrea “Dee” Rees

Rees has been making a name for herself for the last decade with a number of acclaimed projects. Last year she became a must-watch director with Mudbound, a period drama that received nominations everywhere from the Golden Globe Awards to the 90th Academy Awards. Rees also became the first female nominee for the American Society of Cinematographer’s Outstanding Achievement award.

Lone Scherfig

This Danish film director and screenwriter has been using her amazing talents for almost three decades. Her most recent film, a British war comedy-drama based on the 2009 novel by Lissa Evans, is among her best. Their Finest currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 89 percent and was widely praised for its great plot twist and strong chemistry between actors.

Taylor Sheridan

This Oscar-nominated actor and writer is mostly known for his role as Deputy Chief David Hale in FX television series Sons of Anarchy. In 2017 he made his directorial debut with Wind River, a neo-Western murder mystery that grossed $40 million from a budget of $11 million. The smart writing, compelling characters, and a story based on actual accounts of sexual assault helped propel Sheridan forward as one of the most promising filmmakers out there.

Who are your favorite up-and-coming indie filmmakers? Share your list with us in the comments below! And learn how to make your own film at New York Film Academy.