• Directing The Marvels will make DaCosta the youngest director and the first Black female director to helm a Marvel film. (Getty Images North America)Source: Getty Images North America
“It’s not necessarily overtly racist, but it is shocking the way people have talked to me in my position as a director.”
By
Saman Shad

2 Sep 2021 - 1:28 PM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2021 - 1:49 PM

You may not have heard about Nia DaCosta yet – but it won’t be long before this film director becomes a household name – not least because DaCosta has become the first Black female filmmaker to have a movie debut at No. 1 in the US Box office.

Candyman 2, which she directed, as well as co-writing the script with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, is currently sitting atop the US film box office.

And if this alone doesn’t make her a household name, the fact that she is set to direct The Marvels – the upcoming sequel to Captain Marvel – will firmly cement DaCosta's position as a film director of note.

Directing The Marvels will make DaCosta the youngest director and the first Black female director to helm a Marvel film. All this and she’s only 31.

DaCosta’s career has so far been a short and sharp ride to the top. After finishing at film school, her script Little Woods, landed her in the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab in 2015. She ended up directing her script, starring Tessa Thompson (who also appears as Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). The resulting film caught the eye of Jordan Peele, who directed Get Out – one of the most popular horror films of all time – and the rest, as they say, is history. 

But it’s not like DaCosta has had an easy ride. As she mentioned in her interview with The Guardian it surprised her how she was treated as a Woman of colour. Especially as she and Peele were often the only people of colour at a decision-making level on the movie.

“It’s not necessarily overtly racist, but it is shocking the way people have talked to me in my position as a director,” she said.

There were thoughtless comments about Black hair as well as one of the crew members who “jokingly asked” if she was “hooking to make money on the side.”

If anything, it was a lesson in learning. “That happened to me so many times, with people who work above me, who work laterally to me, below me. In the moment, you’re just like: ‘Push on.’ You just deal with it. But in retrospect, I will never do that again,” she said.

DaCosta is also cautious of the way Black people are portrayed in the mainstream. As she told Variety, when she signed on to direct Candyman 2 she wanted to make sure there were creative ways to portray the violence and horror against Black people. 

“From the beginning I was very clear about my tolerance for violence against Black people,” she said. “I love gore; I love body horror; I love all that stuff. When it’s about enhancing the psychological terror, go for it. But I didn’t want to depict what we see every day.”

So she used paper shadow puppets to depict many moments of violence in the film.

“I think everyone is aware there’s something wrong about the way violence is enacted against Black people in this country,” she said. “It feels like [Candyman] should be prescient, but Black people carry this pain with them all the time and have for a long time.”

DaCosta’s identity as a Black woman is strongly tied to her work. “As a Black woman growing up, you slowly but surely learn you’re Black,” she told WSJ Magazine. “And the earliest instance of what that meant for me was when Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times by the NYPD in 1999, and none of the officers were convicted. Every time another Black person is killed by the police, I remember Amadou Diallo…”

Despite the gains in diversity within Hollywood, it largely remains an industry that is led by white men. A study by the Directors Guild of America in 2018 found that when it came to directors, the vast majority of films were still being made by white men. 

All this points to the fact that not only should we celebrate Nia DaCosta making waves in the industry, but we should encourage more films by women, especially women of colour. DaCosta is aware of how so many people are looking up to her, which carries pressures of its own. As she told The New York Times:

“I try not to read anything because the bigger the things I do, the more pressure it is. The pressure can be so distracting and overwhelming, and it can stop you from doing well and consume the process.”

Despite the pressure, DaCosta who is currently directing The Marvels, is tipped to have another number one movie at the box office with her next film.

Saman Shad is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @muminprogress

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