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Filmmaker Spotlight: David Oyelowo

Cat Elliott

Many may know David Oyelowo for his work in front of the camera in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 biopic Selma as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and he’s recently appeared in big titles like Chaos Walking and The Midnight Sky. But, the actor is also a multi-hyphenate whose Yoruba Saxon Productions recently announced a two-year, first-look deal with Disney for a number of projects. Before we explore what the rising filmmaker is up to next, though, let’s take a look at the journey that got him to this point.

Oyelowo’s acting career started garnering attention just two years after he graduated from drama school when he booked the title role in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Henry VI, the first time in its history that the company cast a Black actor to play an English monarch. As for his on-camera work, Oyelowo’s breakout role was playing Danny Hunter in the BBC series Spooks. From there, he went on to accumulate a number of impressive titles to his name and was well-reviewed for his solo performance in HBO’s 2014 psychological drama Nightingale. Oyelowo stars as the only actor in the 83-minute film that is set in just one location, and The New York Times called his work in it “nothing less than amazing.” 

That same year, Oyelowo gave his critically-praised performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a role that put him on the map, even though his work was left off the list of Best Actor nominees for that season’s Oscars. Other films Oyelowo led include titles such as Paramount’s Captive, FilmRise’s Five Nights in Maine, Searchlight’s A United Kingdom, Disney’s Queen of Katwe, Amazon’s Gringo, Relativity Media’s Come Away and RLJE’s The Water Man. Yoruba Saxon was behind a number of those films, fulfilling part of Oyelowo’s original purpose for creating the production company. “The projects that we’ve done thus far — there’s been an evolution,” Oyelowo told IndieWire.Initially, they were projects that were driven by the lack of opportunity I was getting as a Black creative and really struggling to find narratives where I could be the protagonist.”

He developed Yoruba Saxon with his wife Jessica Oyelowo, and the two shared during the same interview that their purpose behind starting the company had expanded beyond telling complex narratives about Black people, women and people of faith. They also wanted to ensure that their children could see themselves represented in film and TV. “Now that I see my kids watching movies — and they are seeing more representation — I see how important it is to them and how it’s shaping their worldview,” Oyelowo added during an appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show

The multi-hyphenate is taking an active role in making inclusive projects and recently had his feature directorial debut with The Water Man. He’s also slated to snag his first feature writing credit with Nate Parker’s upcoming biopic on Sugar Ray Robinson, in which Oyelowo will also star as the iconic boxer. There are a slew of new and developing projects tied to the filmmaking thespian, including those coming from Yoruba Saxon. Two such examples include the Disney+ series First Gen and the onscreen adaptation of journalist Gary Younge’s nonfiction work Another Day in the Death of America. So even though Oyelowo’s already well known for his various roles in front of the camera, we think his continuously emerging work behind it deserves a special spotlight.

 

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