Rick Famuyiwa is a Nigerian-American Hollywood film director, producer and screenwriter of films such as The Wood (1999), Brown Sugar (2002), Talk to Me (2007), and Dope (2015). Famuyiwa is a graduate of the University of Southern California (USC) and
has Bachelor of Arts degrees in Film & Television Production and Critical Studies, from the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and the School of Cinematic Arts, respectively. Rick Famuyiwa is a member of the Director’s Guild of America.
Rick Famuyiwa grew up near Los Angeles, California in the City of Inglewood. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Famuyiwa is a first-generation American. Reflecting on his time growing up in Inglewood, Famuyiwa recounts,
“The thing you gotta understand about L.A. is that everything is suburbia. Los Angeles isn't set up like San Francisco or New York. People come to L.A. and they expect to see a ghetto like the projects, but that's not the way it's set up. Inglewood, in particular, is the furthest thing from a ghetto. It's a middle-class community, but it's gotten a bad rap over the years...because of Grand Canyon and Pulp Fiction and other films.”
Famuyiwa continues about his hometown, “I would be lying if I said there isn't a negative element in the city, but I would say it's no different than any other city. You come across gangs and you come across negative things -- but it's like everywhere else, if that's what you gravitate toward and that's what you want to do, you're gonna find trouble no matter what you do. But we were never into that. My group of friends were never into that.”
After high school, Famuyiwa attended the University of Southern California (USC) and double majored in Cinematic Arts Film & Television Production and Cinematic Arts Critical Studies. During his time at the University, Famuyiwa worked intimately with film professor Todd Boyd, who would later help write and produce his first feature film. In 1996, prior to graduation, Famuyiwa created a 12-minute short film entitled Blacktop Lingo that garnered critical positive feedback and led to his invitation to the Sundance Filmmaker’s Institute. In 1997, during his time at the Sundance Director’s Lab, Famuyiwa perfected his craft and put the finishing touches on The Wood, what would later be his first feature film. In 1999, Famuyiwa married Glenita Mosley whom he met at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Rick Famuyiwa’s first feature film was a semi-autobiographical account of his upbringing in Inglewood. Working at the Beverly Hills Niketown while formulating the script, Famuyiwa wanted his first film to be reminiscent of what he knew best—his family and his friends.
Famuyiwa and his family had moved to Inglewood while he was in junior high and The Wood, which Famuyiwa wrote and directed, reflects select experiences he had with his close friends and family. The Wood is based loosely on the real-life experiences of Famuyiwa and his best friend Palo Alto firefighter Geoffrey Blackshire. Commenting on the film, Famuyiwa states, “It's not a complete autobiography of me. I mean, kind of a small portion of it is real and I just made that up bigger. It's definitely based on me and my best friend.”
During his time at the Sundance Director’s Lab, Famuyiwa perfected the film’s script and identified close to half of the cast, Omar Epps and Taye Diggs included. In the film, the characters played by Epps and Richard Jones struggle to bring Diggs’ character back to consciousness after he unexpectedly becomes intoxicated a couple hours before his own wedding. While attempting to sober him up and bring him back to reality, the three friends from junior high reminisce on their times as adolescents in “the Wood,” an affectionate abbreviation for their hometown of Inglewood.
The film was produced by MTV Films and was released on July 16, 1999. Speaking of his partnership with MTV for The Wood, Famuyiwa states, "[MTV Films] had the best concept and could deal with it better because it was young, [it had] the music and they wanted to make a film with predominantly African-American characters.” The Wood was produced for an estimated cost of $6 million and went on to gross over $25 million at the box office in the United States alone.
Famuyiwa once again employed a predominantly African American cast (some of the actors also played roles in The Wood) in Brown Sugar, lifelong friends Dre, played by Taye Diggs, and Sidney, played by Sanaa Lathan, cross paths and although each has their respective responsibilities and obligations to their significant others, they ultimately find that their affections for one another extend beyond platonic friendship.
Hip-hop music plays an intricate part in the film as both Dre and Sidney are connected through their passion for the music genre and culture that emanates from it. Brown Sugar was released on October 11, 2002. The film was marketed extensively by distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures and made $10 million in its opening weekend, ultimately grossing close to $28 million nationwide.
Talk To Me was co-written by Famuyiwa with the film's inspiration’s son, Michael Genet, and close friend Kasi Lemmons ultimately directed the film.
In the film, influential 1960s African American radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene and his contributions to American popular culture and the Civil Rights movement are chronicled. The film explores the construction of race and race relations during this volatile period of American history.
Talk To Me was released on August 3, 2007. The independent film grossed $400,000 in its opening weekend and nationwide, the film made close to $5 million.
\Our Family Wedding starring Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera, Carlos Mencia, and Lance Gross. Famuyiwa first became attached to the project two years prior, in 2008, when the presidential campaign was in full swing. With Barack Obama possibly becoming the first African American president, Famuyiwa was interested in making a film that would be reflective of the exciting, changing times. Recounting on the film, Famuyiwa expresses, “At the time the entire debate seemed to be around Hispanics voting for an African-American president. We’ve all seen these projections of how society is going to look in 50 years. We’re all going to have to deal with each other culturally. It felt like a great opportunity to tell that story without being preachy.”
The New York Times critiqued the film saying, “Like weddings, wedding movies have their traditions: the dress is white and, usually, so are the characters. Fox Searchlight’s Our Family Wedding, which opens this Friday, subverts that custom…”
In Our Family Wedding, two college students, portrayed by Ferrera and Gross, decide to get married and must break the news to their family and loved ones. Commenting on his film, Famuyiwa states, “Wedding films are always about the differences between people but they haven’t quite dealt with African Americans and Latinos.” While playing to stereotypes and common rhetoric, the film transcends these boundaries and strives to provide an overarching message of acceptance despite racial and class differences that so often hinder everyday life.
Our Family Wedding was released on March 12, 2010. Produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the film made nearly $8 million in its opening weekend and overall, $20 million nationwide.
Dope (2015), both written and directed by Famuyiwa, is a coming-of-age film that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Best Editing award there for the work of editor Lee Haugen. It stars Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Tyga, Kimberly Elise, Keith Stanfield, Casey Veggies, Vince Staples, Chanel Iman, Quincy Brown and Rick Fox.
In April of 2015 Famuyiwa was announced as the director of Confirmation, an HBO original movie. The film starred Kerry Washington as Anita Hill and was based on Hill's accusations of sexual harassment and testimony against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court nomination.
In 2003, Famuyiwa served on a panel of directors for a discussion conducted by the Directors Guild of America African American Steering Committee. In the panel, other African American directors Kasi Lemmons and Gary Hardwick joined Famuyiwa as they discussed the challenges and opportunities faced by African American directors in the cinema industry. Reflecting on his own experiences of securing funding and support for his films, Famuyiwa believes that there are still many stereotypes and barriers to break down in the industry in order for African Americans to be accredited the respect they deserve.
A common belief and reality for African American filmmakers like Famuyiwa is that films with a majority black cast and direction often face obstacles in securing funding and support for such projects. Famuyiwa explains that there is a formula to be followed in order for anything to happen for a black director saying, “Make it under $10 million, put this much into marketing, make 25 to 35 million dollars and we'll walk away with a profitable film. And as long as you can deliver scripts that are under $10 million with no effects, that you can shoot in 30 days and get back 'X' amount, I think you can always have a steady stream of a certain kind of film.”
While working on The Wood, Famuyiwa experienced difficulties in generating the kind of support he would need to make the film a box office hit. In sum, it was hard for Famuyiwa to have others take him seriously at times. Although the film did recuperate its costs, it did not reap the kinds of financial success that major Hollywood directors often experience, some say because of the African American cast or that it was directed and written by an African American.
Famuyiwa’s films mainly explore themes of racial diversity and acceptance of oneself and others, especially within communities of color. In the majority of Famuyiwa’s films, friendship plays a central role to the characters’ development and progression throughout the film.
In 2000, The Black Reel Awards nominated Famuyiwa for Best Director (Theatrical) for his work on The Wood. Later on that year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards nominated The Wood for Outstanding Motion Picture.
In 2003, after completing work on Brown Sugar Famuyiwa was once again nominated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture.
In 2008, while working on Our Family Wedding, Famuyiwa was recognized for his work on Kasi Lemmons’ Talk To Me by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards. The Association nominated Talk To Me for Outstanding Motion Picture and in a pleasant surprise, Famuyiwa won for Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television).