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Until a few years ago, if you were asked to name ten POC filmmakers on a game show, it would be a near-impossible question to answer. With Hollywood taking a closer eye on its lack of diversity, not only in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, a significant amount of space has been created for the voices of people of color to shine on the big screen. For example, Nia DaCosta was discovered in 2018 for her debut film and she’s already the director for the new Candyman and Captain Marvel movies.
Looking ahead, we have our eyes on a number of exciting up-and-coming POC filmmakers. Check out the directors we think you should be following right now:
Carlos López Estrada
One of the gems of 2018 we're still talking about today is Blindspotting, the critically-acclaimed movie starring, written and produced by Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, was helmed by Carlos López Estrada. Blindspotting, which centers on lifelong friends and a police shooting, was Estrada’s first feature film ever. Since the timely flick impressed, the 32-year-old Mexican-American director has directed a number of standout music videos, including Billie Eilish’s heartbreaking “When the Party’s Over” video. Estrada is a co-director on the next Disney animated film Raya and the Last Dragon and said to be directing Disney’s live-action version of Robin Hood.
While it seems that people of color are often hired on to serious projects about subject matters pertaining to race, these POC filmmakers should be able to reach into other spaces such as comedy. Daughter of immigrants of Iran to the U.S., 47-year-old Nahnatchka Khan has been working behind the scenes as a writer and producer on shows such as American Dad!, Don’t Trust the B----- in Apartment 23 and Fresh off the Boat. Last year, Netflix hit Always Be My Maybe, a rom-com starring Ali Wong and Randall Park was her first movie and Khan will return to the director’s chair for White Girl Problems, a comedy about shopping addiction.
In the summer of 2018, Searching surprised when it became a breakout for newcomer writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, an American born director with parents hailing from Andhra Pradesh, India. The thriller cleverly used technology to tell the story of a father (John Cho) in search for his missing teen daughter. The movie impressed critics and did well for itself financially on its indie budget. Chaganty has already made another thriller, Run, starring Sarah Paulson. The movie coming to Hulu his November is about a wheelchair-ridden and homeschooled teen who starts to believe her mother is keeping something sinister from her.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Back in 2014, Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour screened her inventive vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night to the Sundance Film Festival to wide acclaim and ever since she has been rising through the ranks into becoming a major Hollywood director. Amirpour has directed episodes of Castle Rock, Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone and Netflix’s Homemade. Coming up next for the filmmaker is a thriller called Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon starring Kate Hudson, Craig Robinson and Ed Skrein and a Cliffhanger remake starring Jason Momoa.
If you don’t know her name yet, three times is a charm. Nia DaCosta’s first film Little Woods, only came out two years ago, but it has already scored her a major horror film and a Marvel movie. Little Woods stars Lily James and Tessa Thompson, who play sisters living in a timely story about the titular fracking boomtown in North Dakota. The director hailing from Harlem has since gone on to work with Jordan Peele to revitalize the Candyman franchise coming out next year. Over summer, DaCosta also signed on to helm the second Captain Marvel film, which is eyeing a 2022 release.
When your name is connected to a future Star Wars movie, we have to perk up and pay attention. J.D. Dillard is the writer and director of two buzzy sci-fi independent films, 2016’s Sleight and 2019’s Sweetheart. The Black filmmaker also got his start as a receptionist for J.J. Abrams, which led him to getting a production and technical support credit on 2015’s The Force Awakens. Abrams has apparently been a mentor to Dillard. Back in February, it was reported that he would be helming an unknown Star Wars movie next.
You should also keep watch on Chinese-American writer/director Lulu Wang. Last year she made waves during Oscar season with her film The Farewell. The heartwarming and deeply personal film followed the relationship between a Chinese-American woman (played by Crazy Rich Asian’s Awkwafina) who is asked to honor tradition and not tell her grandmother her days are numbered. The film earned Awkwafina a Golden Globe. We don’t have the details about what is next for Wang, but we’ll be on the watch. Cool sidenote: Wang’s partner is Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight and soon the next Lion King movie.
Heard of a little music video called Formation by Beyoncé? Bronx-raised Melina Matsoukas directed it. Within the music community, Matsoukas is hardly up-and-coming either. Since 2006, the Black filmmaker has made videos for Beyoncé consistently, along with Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, Rihanna and Alicia Keys. In the past few years, the director has dabbled in TV by directing episodes of Master of None and Insecure. Last year, she helmed Queen & Slim, a 2019 standout starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as Tinder dates who go on the run after an encounter with the police. In the near future, she is directing the pilot to a post-apocalyptic set TV show called Y: The Last Man.
Chicago-born rapper turned filmmaker Boots Riley dropped the mic in 2018 with his directorial debut, Sorry To Bother You. The movie starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun and Danny Glover told a unique story about a telemarketer (Stanfield) living in an alternative present-day Oakland, who gets caught into a corporate conspiracy. Riley proved he has a defining voice to bring to the world of film, so we’re definitely paying attention to any future projects. Right now, it seems Riley’s next one is a television series called I’m A Virgo with Jharrel Jerome of When They See Us.
The last POC filmmaker on our list to watch is Chinese filmmaker, Chloé Zhao. She’s another independent writer/director who has impressed the film festival circuit with her early work Songs My Brother Taught Me in 2015 and The Rider in 2017. Zhao struck big when she was hired to make the upcoming Marvel blockbuster, Eternals. The superhero team-up film assembles Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry for an epic original film that will span thousands of years. Eternals hits theaters on November 5, 2021. Before that, Zhao’s other much smaller project Nomadland, could be an Oscar season contender.
There’s so much more incredible work being done right now that Hollywood has opened its doors to more POC voices. It makes all the difference in seeing different and unique stories on the screen.