In honor of Black History Month, on February 28 the African American Steering Committee (AASC) virtual meeting featured the panel discussion, The Future of Black History. In a conversation moderated by AASC Co-Chair Jeffrey W. Byrd (Our Kind of People), Director-Executive Producers Ernest Dickerson (Raised By Wolves), Olatunde Osunsanmi (Star Trek Discovery) and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (The Gilded Age) spoke about their process on set, looking at the past and the future of what Black people are doing in front of the camera, how we all can look to advance Black storytelling and how to tell historical Black stories that don’t always rely heavily on slave narratives.
Prompted by Byrd, Richardson-Whitfield started the conversation with a dip into the past and a discussion of how she was drawn to The Gilded Age, a series set in 1880s New York City. “At the end of the day it’s all about telling that story. What I do is sort of completely immerse myself in that world, reading books, watching classical films, wrapping my brain around it. Then I kind of mix my newer style of directing with that old style. I’m pretty good at infusing me with something that seems like it could be stuffy.”
Reaching into the far future of the 32nd Century, Osunsanmi shared how Star Trek Discovery has affected him on a personal level. “The whole thing about star trek is they have a motto, ‘What should the future be?’ When you have a universe where aliens exist, it really puts into perspective who we are as human beings. The show understands that we’re different races, but the same human entity. We highlight that through Sonequa Martin-Green as the first black female captain. And it’s great to make something that my daughter and my son can see and say, ‘She’s the captain of that starship that goes warp 9.9 and she’s doing it in her braids.’”
Slightly reversing course into the near future, Dickerson shared what little he could about his work on the upcoming series DMZ, which is set on Manhattan after the 21st Century civil war and the USA is fractured into separate parts. “We shot in Atlanta and tried to make it look like post-apocalyptic Manhattan.” He also shared his work by him on the planet colonization series Raised by Wolves, where I shot the first block of the second season. “I got a call from producer David Zucker who said, ‘How would you feel about directing the first two episodes of the second season? Ridley Scott designed the look of the first season, but this takes place on a part of the planet that hasn’t been seen so you get to redesign the look of the show.’ And I said, ‘I’m in!’”
Fielding questions from Byrd and the online audience, the panelists also discussed what they are looking for when hiring Directors and Crew on their respective shows, how stressed critical preparation is to the process and encouraged attendees to challenge themselves and focus on improving their skills in order to hone their craft.
Video from this event coming soon to the gallery below
About the Panelists:
DGA member since 1992, Dickerson’s directorial credits include the feature films Juice, surviving the game, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, never die alone and double-play; and episodes of television series including TheWire, The Walking Dead, Dexter, Bosch, House of Cards and Man in the High Castle as well as the series DMZ where he also serves as an Executive Producer He is an eight-time nominee for the NAACP Image Award, winning their Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series award for his 2009 lincoln heights episode, “The Day Before Tomorrow” and his 2011 Treme episode, “Treme: Do Watcha Wanna.”
Osunsanmi’s directorial credits include the feature films The Cavern, The Fourth Kind and Evidence; as well as episodes of falling skies, extant, The Last Ship, Sleepy Hollow, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, timeless, Gotham, blind spot and Bates Motel. He is currently an Executive Producer and Director on Star Trek Discovery. Osunsanmi joined the DGA in 2011.
Richardson-Whitfield was best known for her work in front of the camera before she made the move into the directing chair with episodes of the Syfy network’s hit series, Eurekaand Ava DuVernay’s queensugar. Her directorial credits de ella now include such shows as wheel of time, reprisal, Altered Carbon, american gods, Survivor’s Remorse, Chi, scandal, blackish, luke cage, Winning Time and The Gilded Age where she also serves as an Executive Producer. Richardson-Whitfield joined the DGA in 2010 and served as a Co-Chair of the African American Steering Committee from 2018-20.
Jeffrey W. Byrd (moderator)
About the Committee:
The African American Steering Committee (AASC) was born of a desire to address the specific needs of the African-American members of the Directors Guild. One of the primary goals of the Committee is to establish a productive line of communication between African-American members and the creative community. The Committee meets monthly to plan events throughout the year celebrating the achievements of African-Americans, as well as forums with industry executives to proactively address what can be done to hire more African-Americans.