It is no secret that in America Black directors do not get the same love as their white counterparts. This is particularly apparent when one looks at the history of award bodies like the Oscars which still has never had a Black person go home with the Academy Award for Best Director. Similarly, there are only four Black Americans to ever have a feature-length film in the Criterion Collection – which is reputed to have a collection of the best and greatest DVD and Blu-ray classic and contemporary films and contains more than 1,000 films by more than 450 directors. Simply put, Black directors do not get the same amount of opportunities as their White counterparts. This fact makes it extra important to spotlight the Black directors that can rise above this and thrive in an industry that doesn’t make it easy for them to do so. One of such directors is Lionel Cook.
Lionel Cook grew up in Philadelphia, gaining his education at Tempe University. Like so many others, he worked a 9 to 5 job while he pursued his dream. He started out creating for the corporate world before he would eventually move to Los Angeles, and find his real passion. Cook eventually got into documentaries and finally moved into feature films once he settled in Los Angeles. When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit America and the world in 2020, surprisingly many people found themselves opening up businesses all over the country. Americans were working from home and getting inspired by others on social media. It also opened up more doors for companies to need more content-savvy people; mostly editors, copywriters, social media marketing, etc. Cook was able to bag several gigs as an editor and soon, his career took off in a direction he never saw coming.
Sitting down in the popular Hollywood Mama’s Shelter bar/restaurant, Amplify Africa’s Sarita Walker got to talk with Lionel Cook, following the release of his new feature film “The Haitian Wedding”. Over drinks, the two discuss what it is like being a Black Film Director in today’s Hollywood, Cook’s 16-year-long career and what is next for him.
Amplify Africa: How long have you been directing?
Lionel Cook: About 16 years now.
AA: Your production company is ILL Visual Productions. Where did that name come from?
LC: (laughs) I like dope visuals.
Naw, I originally started with RAG productions (Reaching and Achieving Goals) where I created a couple of films. But, I am a Big Nas fan and a fan of his 1994 album Illmatic. That’s where I came up with ILL Visual Productions.
AA: How was it like working on the movie Available Wife and what was it like working with the actors?
LC: I helped edit the project and KJ was the producer. It was fun. I’ve actually done multiple projects with Clifton and let’s say Roger is an interesting person(in a good way) And Terayle Hill, we are still cool to this day.
AA: You worked with some talented people. Clifton Powell is a favorite of mine, personally. Any particular person you would like to work with that you haven’t?
LC: LaKeith Stanfield is at the top of my list, I think he is a fantastic actor. I also want to work with Halle Berry and Jonathan Majors.
AA: Absolutely! All three are dope! Do you have a favorite project that you have worked on?
LC: I am so hard on myself and I am still increasing my craft, but recently we just wrapped up a movie called The Haitian Wedding. It’s a Romantic Comedy/Drama about a Haitian woman who comes from a well-off family but moves to America to find herself. She ends up getting engaged to this guy who just launched a pretty big tech company and he ends up finding out the real reason she left for America.
AA: Sounds like a good watch! Why was this your favorite? And when can we see this Haitian Wedding?
LC: It should be released this November! It’s my favorite because I got to both edit and be Director of Photography!
AA: How do you feel about directing Music Videos?
LC: I’ve done about five in the early 2010s. I only like doing them if there is a strong story behind them. Like an R&B storyline. But, I really don’t have an interest in doing it now.
AA: Fair enough! Any other Film genres you want to dabble in that you haven’t yet?
LC: I’m a big horror fan. I also wouldn’t mind foreign films. I like “Nightmare on Elm Street,” type of movie.
AA: For filmmakers out there aspiring to do what you do and just trying to make some kind of impression on the industry, what would you say to them?
LC: You don’t have to go to film school. Not anymore. Youtube everything! Practice your craft. Study the craft. Get mentors if you can. I learned the camera on my own for the most part. A lot of my education was hands-on.
AA: So, what’s next for ILL Visual Productions?
LC: Well, all I can say is you’ll see. (laughs) I have a few projects coming up. But, definitely look out for The Haitian Wedding!