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Octavia Spencer Doesn’t Agree With John Singleton’s Claim That Black Directors Are Being Shut Out

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by Sergio
April 9, 2014 11:32 PM
16 Comments
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Octviva Spencer

As we all know, John Singleton caused some controversy recently, in an interview he gave to The Hollywood Reporter last month, in which he said that he was very much troubled by the increasing trend of black directors not being allowed to tell black stories (HERE).

As he said: "They ain't letting the black people tell their stories. And you're like, oh ok, we're going to take your stories but you know what, you're going to go starve over here and we're not going to let you get a job...

This came months after an op-ed he penned also for The Hollywood Reporter, in which he discussed the lack of black directors helming black films, in a piece titled "Can a White Director Make a Great Black Movie?," which was published in September 2013.

In that guest column, Singleton pointed out examples in The Help, and the upcoming James Brown biopic, Get On Up, both of which were directed by white filmmaker Tate Taylor

A month after that piece was published, actress Octavia Spencer, who’s a close friend of Taylor and who, of course, had a Oscar winning supporting role in The Help, and will also appear in Get On Up, challenged what Singleton said.

In an October interview she gave to The Grio, as she shared, the problem for her is not so cut-and-dried as Singleton makes it out to be, stating: “Black directors don’t get the funding for their films. That’s the problem, not that white directors are telling these stories. It’s a Catch-22 really.

She continued on: “Do I feel that white directors have to tell only white stories? No. Do I feel that black filmmakers should only tell stories about black people? No. If we say that, then that means Asian people cannot write about anybody but Asians. I don’t think a woman should only write about women…I think you, as an artist, you are driven by what compels you to tell that story.

And finally, she added that: “If you’re a black director and the protagonist of your story happens to be black, if you have the same background, then you might have a better insight to that story. But I don’t think it lessens the impact of the story or is valued more if a person is of the same race or the same gender. .Singleton is going to put everybody in a box.

So whose side are you on, Singleton or Spencer? Or perhaps you have a different take altogether. What do you say?

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16 Comments

  • Steve | April 11, 2014 9:45 PMReply

    two words for johnny singleton: craig brewer

    can a white director make a good black movie? i'd say lil johnny has already stated his opinion

  • Chris | April 11, 2014 10:58 AMReply

    I hate to be so blunt, but when was the last time John Singleton made a great film? He was all the rage with "Boyz N the Hood" and he followed that up with "Poetic Justice" and backdoored that with "Higher Learning," two very subpar films. There was "Rosewood" that nobody saw and how could I forget "Baby Boy?" And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him because he feels like black directors aren't getting the support they need to make a film? This is 2014 and I get so tired of hearing this same thing about black filmmakers not getting the funds or support from Hollywood to make a film! To hell with Hollywood, man! With all the technology that's out there now, there is no excuse to make a film! Pick up a Black Magic Cinema Camera or a good DSLR camera and shoot the damn thing! I can't sit here and feel sorry for Singleton or even Spike Lee because it's a new day. Just shoot it. Put it out there and if it's good, the audience will come. It will get seen. Say what you want to about Master P and those hideous hood movies of his but he had an audience and people supported his work. The same goes for Tyler Perry. Even his worst films make at least $10 million at the box office. Time's out for all that noise.

  • NO BRAINER | May 1, 2014 1:23 AM

    Chris says, "I hate to be so blunt, but when was the last time John Singleton made a great film?"

    What does this have to do with his point? SMDH!

  • Donella | April 10, 2014 12:37 PMReply

    Octavia just admitted that BLACK DIRECTORS DO NOT GET THE FUNDING FOR THEIR FILMS.

    Her unspoken statement is, White directors DO get the funding for their films.

    She proves Singleton's point and then follows that with blah blah.

    Hey, thanks for coming in today, Octavia! Heckuva job!

  • kirk | April 10, 2014 9:56 PM

    Black directors create your own funding for films. Stop with all this hollywood nonsense.


    Who distributed Fruitvale Station and The Butler? Oprah? No, Weinstein company. Isn't that hollywood? Ava Duvernay and Ryan Coogler dug their own path. Ryan went to film school and Ava didn't. Kind of like the slogan for nike right? Just do it.

  • kirk | April 10, 2014 11:50 AMReply

    Let's just beat this hollywood thing to death! I wasn't going to say anything with the singleton topic but I might as well. It's great when a black director working for 'HOLLYWOOD' makes a statement like that.
    Is shadow and act going to keep beating the hollywood thing to death. Those damn bastards in hollywood. Singleton knows the game. It's not the almighty hollywood it's the readers.
    The readers work for the studio and they get paid by how many screenplays they read.

    They give scripts a Consider, Consider with reservation or a PASS. So if fruitvale station landed on their desk what would they give it. You know what they would give it. But so what, Ryan Coogler made the damn thing anyways didn't he? Ryan took it to the sundance screenwriters lab, got Forest Whitaker interested and made the damn thing. He didn't need the so called 'hollyyyyyyyyyyywoood.'
    And if you want a big budget, you make the 'ride alongs' and corny superhero movies. You expect them to give you 40 million for your black story that no one will see? Please.

    Technology is outstanding now like Cybel has mentioned many times on this site. You can take matters in your own hands or you can bitch about HOLLYWOOD like a BLACK hollywood director is doing now. In the mean time I'll be sitting back waiting for our own 'Nebraska' or a black jason bourne (and no James Bond won't count; i.e. ORIGINAL).

  • Boykin | April 10, 2014 1:05 PM

    Kirk, you made my day.

  • Katie | April 10, 2014 11:23 AMReply

    Like others have said, she COMPLETELY missed the point. Black films do not get the same funding. I read in a book that most don't get more than 40 million. But let a white director come in with the same story can he get got 40 million an then some. It's some bullshit and she knows it. But then again, why act surprised? She did defend The Help, a grossly inaccurate portrayal of black female domestic workers in the 1960's. The woman who inspired the story didn't even see a dime.

  • T.M | April 10, 2014 8:48 AMReply

    I think Octavia may have missed Singletons point . John wasnt saying whites should make stories about whites and blacks about blacks. The point in his argument is the first point she brought up which is funding. Blacks DO NOT get the same funding for their movies as whites. Spike Lee took Jackie Robinsons story to the studios with Denzel attached to play Jackie but they turned it down .. years later its aproved for a white director. You cant use Steve Mcqueen as an example because 12 Years was entirely independent, and was later given distribution. The problem is these big studios dont trust black people to tell our stories, but they trust white people to tell some of the stories weve tried to tell. NO, this doesnt happen to everybody but it does happen often. The Help was good, I dont like the cliche black girl loves fried chicken theme, but those black stereotypical cliches come with a white director trying to depict black life with out the creative input of blacks to help. Just as Singleton said. You wouldnt make a movie about the Chinese and just go and try to do it without any input from the chinese an expect to get an accurate nonoffensive depiction of their life.. these points are more what John was getting at .. not including blacks in the creative process of films that depict black life, and not being given the same trust to tell our stories as white directors are given to tell OUR stories. I can see why he's frustrated. Not everybody has the money to just make it on their own like Mcqueen who even before the help of Brad Pitt an others is well off from his artwork. And of course Octavia is gonna stick up for Tate, the man got her an Oscar. STILL LOVE HER THOUGH!

  • justasimpledp | April 10, 2014 4:19 AMReply

    I agree with Ms. Spencer. Getting a project funded in Hollywood is difficult - period - regardless of race, gender, etc.

    Steve McQueen
    Lee Daniels
    Tyler Perry
    John Singleton
    Spike Lee
    Kevin Hooks
    Antoine Fuqua
    Forest Whitaker
    Ernest Dickerson
    Denzel Washington
    Gordon Parks
    Hughes Brothers
    F. Gary Gray
    Bill Duke
    Kasi Lemmons
    Julie Dash
    Thomas Carter
    Vondie Curtis-Hall
    Carl Franklin
    Rob Hardy
    Malcom Lee
    Tim Story
    George Tillman
    Bille Woodruff

  • PJM | April 10, 2014 1:24 AMReply

    I have to agree with Octavia, too. Steve McQueen directing 12 Years a Slave basically undermines Singleton's entire argument. The story being told is what's important, not the skin color of the director. She's right in that, if the director has a similar background to the movie's protagonist that it will be an advantage, but I don't think it should be a requirement, particularly if you're going off of a script based on a book or other material. I will say, though, Spike dug his own grave with his attitude, and Tim Story lost his cred from Barbershop by making the two crapola Fantastic Four movies.

  • gwhiz4 | April 10, 2014 12:28 AMReply

    Maybe the real issue is that less established, white directors are given more opportunities in Hollywood? Two out of three of Tate Taylors films have dealt with African-American related themes. I don't have a problem with him making these films (although, I do take issue with the quality of The Help) BUT it is odd that directors who have been around a lot longer and happen to be African-American have a much tougher time getting their films made. Ava DuVernay is amazing, but she is the exception and not the rule. I think the issue is much deeper - more along the lines of who studio execs and producers are more comfortable working with rather than their experience (John Singelton or Spike Lee) or even box office numbers (Tim Story).

  • CAM Jr | April 10, 2014 12:12 AMReply

    I'm with OCTAVIA. NOBODY is preventing black directors from making the films they want to make. White people don't care what films black directors make. If you want to make a film, you FIND the money to do so and it's done. AVA DUVERNAY and countless others have shown that. If John is WAITING for white people to GIVE him money to make a film, then the fact he's STILL waiting is on HIM. The old saying, "you GET what YOU pay for" can be applied to filmmaking, too, Mr. Singleton. #ThatIsAll

  • Hardly | April 10, 2014 10:55 AM

    JUSTASIMPLEDP, we may make up on 13% of the population but that means little in this conversation. Jazz, hip hop, soul, R&B, hell rock and roll, these all began as "niche African-American" pursuits before becoming commercially viable.

    The visual IMAGE of blacks for whatever reason has always been othered and deemed unapproachable (unless filtered through the white gaze). THIS is what Mr. Singleton is talking about and it's a thing he rightly feels does not make sense.

    To completely get at what Mr. Singleton is speaking most directly about and address your 13% argument, women make up 50.8% of the US population. How do you think the industry reflects THAT stat?

  • justasimpledp | April 10, 2014 4:26 AM

    I believe individuals forget that African Americans make up only 13% of the population. There's likely a very small niche, for African-American indie films, but studios are wanting stories that are commercially viable. No one is stopping Mr. Singleton from writing a script and getting it crowd sourced, etc.

  • Jasmine | April 10, 2014 3:03 AM

    I like the 'get up and go' attitude of this comment but the point I think Singleton was trying to make was Black directors being shut out of studios from directing 'black stories'. If we want to make our own stories yes I understand your point of going out and making your own stories as Ava Duvernay has done. But the point is with studios which are mostly white-owned and white-run allowing a disproportionate amount of white people:black people to tell 'black stories. I think we have to acknowledge the inequalities there.

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