June 18, 1973
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One of the more distinguished indie writer-directors to emerge in the late 1990s and early 2000s, African-American filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa built his reputation on a series of critically acclaimed features, many woven around the themes of racial diversity and self-acceptance. A native of Los Angeles, Famuyiwa grew up in Southern California as a first-generation Nigerian immigrant. Following graduation from high school, he attended the University of Southern California as a film student, with a dual emphasis on critical studies and production. One of Famuyiwa's earliest shorts, the 12-minute "Blacktop Lingo" (1996) drew such a favorable reaction that it elicited an invitation to the Sundance Filmmakers Institute, and that ultimately led to the production of his debut feature, "The Wood" (1999). Produced by MTV Films and co-starring then newcomers Omar Epps and Taye Diggs, it presented a fictionalized account of Famuyiwa's experiences coming of age in Inglewood, California. "The Wood" was a financial success; produced on a budget of $6 million, it grossed over $25 million, and paved the way for many additional motion pictures. Follow-ups included the Taye Diggs-Sanaa Lathan romantic drama "Brown Sugar" (2002), and "Our Family Wedding" (2010), an ensemble comedy starring Forest Whitaker and America Ferrera set against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election. Famuyiwa also scripted his friend Kasi Lemmons's directorial effort "Talk to Me" (2007), a chronicle of 1960s radio DJ "Petey" Greene's colorful life and career. Famuyiwa's fourth outing as director, the drama "Dope" (2015), found a berth at Sundance; it reteamed the artist with Forest Whitaker, telling the story of a young man who gets caught in the cross-fire of a botched drug deal.