Born 1957, in Chicago Heights, IL. Education: Harvard University, BA (English), 1979. Politics: Democrat.
Office—4000 Warner Blvd., Building 138, Suite 1203A, Burbank, CA, 91522.
Director, television series: Angel Street, CBS; Moon Over Miami, ABC; Diagnosis Murder, CBS; Extreme, ABC; Clueless, ABC; ER, NBC; NYPD Blue, ABC, 1996-2000; Second Noah, ABC; Sliders, Fox; Brooklyn South, CBS; The West Wing; City of Angels and Fast Lane. Films: Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Juice in the Hood (also known as Don't Be a Menace), Miramax, 1996; The Cherokee Kid, HBO, 1996; The Big Time, TNT, 2002. Has also worked as a television producer, an actor, a playwright, a music video director, and an advertising copywriter. Trustee and member of board of directors, La Lumiere School, LaPorte, IN.
Director's Guild of America (member of board of directors).
Emmy Award, Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, NYPD Blue, 1998, 1999; Founders Award, Project Angel Food, 1998; Director's Guild of America Award, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series-Night, NYPD Blue, 1999; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award for Best Drama Series, City of Angels, 2000; named one of 20 black "Heroes in the Struggle," World AIDS Day, Los Angeles, CA, 2001; Stephen F. Kolzak Award, GLAAD. 2001; nominated for Emmy Award, 2002, for directing episode of West Wing. Other awards include: the Humanitas Prize, the Peabody Award, Television Director of the Year by the Caucus for Producers, Directors and Writers, and the Alma Award; nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
Almos' a Man (play), produced at Soho Repertory Theatre, New York, NY, 1985.
Paris Barclay's resumé reads like the plot for a feel-good drama. A black kid from a working-class family bucks all odds to become a power player in Hollywood. Tear-jerking twists include his struggles with racism, alcoholism, and unaccepted sexuality. It is a story worthy of an Emmy. In fact, it is this background that has helped Barclay win two Emmy Awards. "I do think because of my experience living in both worlds, living in an African American household, and also being educated in the white world of Harvard and New York, it gives me a perspective to tell different kinds of stories than are currently being told," Barclay told the Los Angeles Times. His talent for telling these stories is respected by producers, actors, and writers throughout the television industry. Barclay explained some of his appeal to David Mixner of Gay.com in saying "I want to be the director who gets to the heart of what's on the page and makes it come alive, no matter what I choose to work on. That's why I love television."
Succeeded in Mainly White Academia
Barclay was born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, in 1957. His mother was a social worker and his father was a foreman at a tile plant. "I was the third boy of what would be seven kids," Barclay recalled to Mixner. "It was a lower-middle class upbringing at best, but I didn't mind it too much. I played lots of sports." He excelled at both football and academics and soon attracted the interest of La Lumiere, an exclusive prep school in Indiana that was looking to diversify its student body. The attraction was not mutual and Barclay only agreed to accept the school's scholarship if they also took his brother Neil. La Lumiere agreed and the Barclay brothers became the only two African Americans on campus.
"The first six months of the time I was there I was completely overwhelmed and felt totally less than," Barclay told the Los Angeles Times "I felt I was not as good as these kids with their big families and big houses. It may have been responsible for my excessive overachieving. The best I could do was [study] and work at football." His efforts paid off. La Lumiere began grooming Barclay for admission into Harvard University when he was 16. He told the Los Angeles Times that he knew the school was using him as "a kind of political football, to be able to say they had sent one of their black students to Harvard." However, graduating near the top of his class, Barclay proved that he was more than a black student—he was a smart black student that could hold his own at an Ivy league school.
Barclay was accepted at Harvard University, where he earned a degree in English in 1979. He told Mixner, "I loved [Harvard] even though I barely went to class." Most of his time was spent writing musicals—16 in all—including two shows at the prestigious Hasty Pudding Theater, Harvard's comedic troupe. African Americans were still rare on campus, yet it wasn't the white students who shunned him, but the black students. "Harvard was very cliquey at the time, and the black students stuck together pretty closely," he told Mixner. "I was a bit apart, partly because of my ambi-sexuality, but also because of my love for the theater." At Harvard Barclay was able to explore his sexuality for the first time. "I guess by the time I was in seventh or eighth grade I pretty much knew I was strongly attracted to men. But I liked girls as well, and never exclusively identified myself as gay until late in college," he told Mixner
Became Two-Time Emmy Winner
Barclay was determined to make a career writing musicals and left the ivied-walls of Harvard for the rush of New York City. There he struggled with alcohol and drugs—dependencies that plagued him for nearly a decade. Despite this, he stayed focused on his goal and landed a spot in a musical theater workshop held by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). There he met famed Broadway musical composer Stephen Sondheim, who called Barclay's work "terrible but not untalented" and advised him to focus on the "black experience." Barclay recalled to the Los Angeles Times that Sondheim said, "Unfortunately you're writing musicals with white people, which means you're competing with me and everybody else who's white." Though he thought the comment racist, he did go on to adapt a short story by African-American playwright Richard Wright, Almos' a Man, which made it to the Off-Broadway stage.
Unlike Sondheim, whom Barclay described to the Los Angeles Times as "[someone who] never had to work a day in his life," Barclay had to work in advertising to make ends meet. He started out as a copywriter and moved up the ranks, not only because of his talent, but also because of his skin color. He explained to the Los Angeles Times, "I was in demand, just for diversity, just so they could show me at the meetings. I was a big token at that time. I moved to a lot of different agencies, always upping my salary by using that token status." He eventually went from writing commercials to directing them. From there he made the leap to music videos, working with such artists as Luther Vandross, Barry White, and Bob Dylan. "And the rest, as they say, is a small part of history," he joked to Mixner. It was a history propelled by his talent for telling stories. "What happens a lot when you see [music] videos, they're flashy but they're not trying to tell a story," John Wells, producer of the hit show ER, told the Los Angeles Times. "[Barclay] was telling a story in a fluid way, where the camera was very controlled and inventive." Wells was impressed enough to give Barclay his first television directing job on the 1992 CBS series Angel Street. The show was short-lived but Barclay kept busy directing many other prime-time shows. Eventually Wells offered him the chance to direct a few episodes of the critically acclaimed ER. His work there drew the attention of super-producer Steven Bochco, who hired Barclay to direct for NYPD Blue in 1996.
With NYPD Blue Barclay established himself as a visionary director. Of Barclay's work on that show, Emmy-winning television director Thomas Carter told the Los Angeles Times, "I was blown away by [the quality]. This was extraordinary work for television, both in terms of the performances he got from the actors and the way he translated the story visually." The television industry agreed and in 1998 Barclay received an Emmy award for "Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series" for an episode of NYPD Blue. The same year the Director's Guild of America named him "Best Director of a Dramatic Series," also for NYPD Blue. He repeated his Emmy win the following year. "Winning the Emmy for the first time in 1998 was great—winning it again, in 1999, really made people sit up and take notice," Barclay told Mixner. People also began to take notice of the fact that he was an African American in an industry where many of. the major players were white. "There are no black people who are in a position to really run a show of influence in the country," Barclay told the Los Angeles Times before conceding, "OK, maybe Oprah Winfrey." Though he still suffered from a bit of tokenism even with his two Emmys in hand, fans of Barclay are quick to point out that he has succeeded based on his incredible talent. Wells told the Los Angeles Times, "We did not hire Paris because he was a good black director. We hired him because he's a good director."
An Openly Gay Film Director
Barclay has also endured homophobia during his career, particularly while directing the Boys N the Hood spoof Don't Be a Menace to South Central WhileDrinking Your Juice in the Hood. He was not yet completely open about his sexuality when he took on the directorship. "I realized I empowered people to make it an issue by not being open about it," he told the Los Angeles Times. "So I said, 'From now on I'm not going to do this.' If I'm open about it, it can never be an issue. The people who are homophobic or feel that's important to know, [they] will not ask me for jobs." This decision brought him considerable peace of mind. "When it was a secret, held apart and inside out of my own fear, I think I felt more isolated," he told Mixner. Along the way, Barclay became a role model for other gays and lesbians in the entertainment industry. "I counsel people in their careers to be as open as they are comfortable being," he told Mixner. In 2001 the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) awarded him its highest honor, the Stephen F. Kolzak Award for his inclusiveness of and advocacy for the gay and lesbian community. He is also an active fundraiser for Project Angel Food, an organization that provides meals to people who are ill with HIV and AIDS, and was awarded with that organization's Founders Award.
Barclay continued to make powerful television through the end of the 1990s. However he also ran into powerful struggles, both with himself and his co-workers. In 1999 Barclay partnered with Steven Bochco as co-executive producer of City of Angels. The show, a drama about an inner-city hospital, was considered groundbreaking because it was the first prime-time series to feature an all-African American cast. The media interest was high and Barclay became a spokesperson for the show along with Bochco. However, the show suffered from poor ratings and its leading actress, Vivica A. Fox, made an early departure. Behind the scenes, Barclay and Bochco butted heads over the direction of the show. Barclay wanted to integrate the cast, Bochco was adamant it remain all black. "Every hospital I've researched in the inner-city has a mixed staff—blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos," Barclay told the Los AngelesTimes. Though the rift between the two men was well-known on the show, no one expected Barclay's sudden departure in the summer of 2000. Barclay made his resignation in an email sent by his agent to Bochco. The move set the television industry abuzz with gossip and rumors. It also severed the relationship between the two men. Barclay later denied that it was solely artistic differences that caused him to leave the show. "It's about what I want to do with my life," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I want to be emotionally involved with something that will make a difference." He came to this decision during a workshop held during the Sundance Film Festival. "It was such a spiritual experience," Barclay told the Los Angeles Times. "I had just planned to chill out, but it was truly life-changing. I saw how minorities working in film were respected and empowered. It was then that I felt I was in the wrong place in my life. With City of Angels I kept chipping, but I couldn't get the statue out of the rock."
Barclay went on to direct an episode of the acclaimed show The West Wing, for which he received an Emmy nomination in 2002. He also signed with John Wells Productions to develop projects, including the TNT original movie The Big Time, which premiered in October of 2002. He is also directing a series on the Fox Network called Fast Lane. Barclay returned to his original love—the musical—with the 2001 production of Letters from 'Nam, adapted from the book Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. Despite a crazy schedule, Barclay manages to find time to serve on the executive board of the Director's Guild of America, the first African American to do so. His productivity shows no signs of stopping. "I probably will never be a great dancer, and I rap only slightly better than Warren Beatty," he told Mixner, referring to Beatty's role as a rapping politician in the film Bulworth. "But aside from those limits, I can do just about anything."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), July 4, 2003, Evan Henerson, "A Loud Message in AIDS Play," p. U17.
Daily Variety, July 1, 2003, "NYPD Blue: Paris Barclay Signs with UTA," p. 14.
Grand Rapids Press, October 18, 2002, "Frenetic Pace of Early TV Depicted," p. C1.
Hollywood Reporter, December 10, 2001, p. 18.
Houston Chronicle, March 13, 2000, Greg Braxton, "A Work in Progress: 'City of Angels' Evolving into What Co-creators Envisioned," p. 4.
Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1999, p. 4; September 13, 1999, p. 6; July 1, 2000, p. F1.
Philadelphia Enquirer, June 19, 2000, Gail Shister, "Paris Barclay Leaves 'City of Angels.'"
Variety, January 15, 1996, Godfrey Cheshire, review of Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, p. 126.
If you enjoy the works of Paris Barclay, you might want to check out the following:
The TV series Third Watch, which focuses on the lives of firefighters, paramedics, and cops in New York City.
Ralph Ellison's novel The Invisible Man, 1952.
The life and work of renowned choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931-1989).
Gay.com Web Site,http://content.gay.com/ (September 10, 2003), David Mixner, "Paris Barclay Makes History as Successful Out, Black Director."*