the industry

Fox Didn’t Think John Singleton Was Qualified Enough to Direct Empire

87th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Oscar-nominated director, John Singleton. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Variety has a long, damning article about the lack of diversity in TV directing. The story is a familiar one: White men make up the vast majority of TV directors (about three-quarters of the gigs) — a fact as true for first-time directors as it is for established ones. Apparently, it’s even hard for someone like John Singleton to break through. “The initial response was the kind of automatic response, which is ‘We can’t, he’s never done it before. He doesn’t know how,’” said Ilene Chaiken, one of the showrunners of Empire when she brought him up as a possibility.

That’s right: Oscar-nominated director of Boyz n the Hood, Shaft, and Rosewood was considered under-qualified to direct a Fox drama. The concern was that Singleton hadn’t directed television before, so it wasn’t clear if he would be able to handle the quicker pace of TV. “It’s that classic Catch-22 that plagues us in the television business,” said Chaiken. “You can’t do [TV] unless you’ve already done it.” Eventually he convinced them. “He went through a series of interviews and went about making everybody comfortable in the way he made me comfortable, and then we gave him that opportunity that doesn’t usually get given,” Chaiken says. “But it absolutely takes advocacy.”

Fox Didn’t Want Singleton for Empire at First