This year marks the 20th Anniversary of largest class of African-American directors in Hollywood history. During 1991, there were 17 films directed by people of color and throughout the year we’ll spotlight their films and their cultural significance.
First up is the debut film by Brooklyn filmmaker Matty Rich entitled, Straight Out of Brooklyn. The film is a gritty story about Dennis (played by Larry Gilliard Jr.), an African-American teen living in a housing project with his sister, mother and abusive, alcoholic father. Fed up with his family’s seemingly hopeless future, he plans with his friends to rob a drug dealer.
Rich wrote the screenplay when he was 17. The film was made over a period of two years with an amateur cast working for free. Rich himself plays Dennis’ friend, Larry. He financed much of the budget with credit cards and donations from family members. Rich also raised money by going on a New York City radio station and asking listeners for donations. Listeners donated a total of $77,000. The total budget was $450,000. Upon release, the film was critically acclaimed and grossed $2.7 million at the box office. He was just 19 years old when the film was released.
His film was critically acclaimed and Rich won many awards including an Independent Spirit Award. The success of the film introduced Rich as another major young African-American talent during a time when new filmmakers like Spike Lee, John Singleton, Mario Van Peebles and the Hughes Brothers were also being hailed for their films about African-American culture.
Rich drew the sharp ire of Lee when during interviews, he proudly stated that even though he dropped out of New York University’s (NYU) famed Tisch School of the Arts after one month (accusing the faculty of racism), he still made a successful film. Lee, a Tisch graduate, accused Rich of being “ignorant.”
Rich’s second film, 1994’s The Inkwell, received mixed reviews but was a commercial failure. He has not made another film since. In 2005, Rich re-emerged as the director and screenwriter of the video game, 187 Ride or Die which also was a commercial failure.
Currently, Rich lives in Los Angeles with his wife, publicist Leah “Reid” Johnson. While he enjoys the “City of Angels,” surely Brooklyn is never far from his thoughts!