4 Black Screenwriters You Should Know About

Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay

We all have a favorite TV show - one that we can’t wait to watch every week. We become so invested in the story and characters that we sometimes prioritize watching the newest episode over other life tasks. Although we don’t tend to think about it much, behind every scene and line of dialogue is a writer who initially put those words on a page. These Black screenwriters have created some noteworthy works and have a few interesting stories of their own to tell.

Tyler Perry

Whether it’s film, television, or even the stage, Tyler Perry has made his mark on multiple genres throughout the years. Born Emmitt Perry, Jr. in 1969, Perry later changed his first name to Tyler to cut off relations with his abusive father. To cope with the hardships in his life, Perry turned to writing in a journal. These letters to himself would become the basis for his 1992 musical I Know I’ve Been Changed. As his career progressed, Perry would go on to create memorable and beloved characters such as Madea, who would help really kick off his career.

Notable Works:

  • I Can Do Bad All by Myself
  • Diary of a Mad Black Woman
  • Love Thy Neighbor
  • The Haves and the Have Nots

Ava DuVernay

Originally the owner of her own publicity and marketing agency, Ava DuVernay eventually realized that she’d rather be the one writing the screenplays instead of marketing the films. Since releasing her first full-length film in 2010, DuVernay has demonstrated real talent for the art of screenwriting. In 2014, she became the first African American female director to receive a Golden Globe nomination as well as a Best Picture nomination, both for her film Selma.

Notable Works:

  • Queen Sugar
  • Middle of Nowhere
  • I Will Follow
  • A Wrinkle in Time

Shonda Rhimes

The creator of several beloved television series, Shonda Rhimes has become a noteworthy writer, director, and producer throughout her career. A graduate of Dartmouth College with a BA in English literature and creative writing, Rhimes initially used her writing skills to pursue work in the advertising field before enrolling in a screenwriting program at the University of Southern California. Her drive and determination led her to sell her first screenplay, Human Seeking Same, in the early 90s. Though this work never became a film, it opened many other doors for the young writer.

Notable Works:

  • Crossroads The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Scandal
  • How to Get Away with Murder

Robert Townsend

You may know Robert Townsend as an actor and comedian, but he’s also well-versed in the field of screenwriting. Once he made it big in Hollywood as an actor in the 1980s, Townsend developed a passion for behind-the-camera work as well. He would go on to produce and star in a variety of shows and films.

Notable Works:
  • Hollywood Shuffle
  • The Five Heartbreaks
  • The Meteor Man
  • Partners in Crime
  • The Parent 'Hood