Fuqua, Antoine 1966–
Antoine Fuqua 1966–
Critics hail Antoine Fuqua as one of a new generation of young film directors whose work possesses an edgy, energetic feel, a legacy of a career start in music videos. In the fall of 2001 Fuqua’s third film, Training Day, was released to critical accolades. The director pulled Academy Award-nominated performances out of its stars, Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington, though actors in such action-genre films rarely achieve that distinction. Paula Moore, writing in the Denver Business Journal, termed the movie a “brutal, thought-provoking story. In the world director Antoine Fuqua exposes in his latest movie, police officers make illegal searches, beat suspects, steal millions of dollars and murder drug dealers.” The success of Training Day brought several other coveted Hollywood scripts to Fuqua’s desk.
A native of Pittsburgh, Fuqua was born in 1966 and grew up watching gritty portrayals of the underworld like Chinatown and futuristic sci-fi fare like Blade Runner. In the 1980s and 1990s, he enjoyed a successful career as a director of music videos, working with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Arrested Development, Toni Braxton, and Usher, among others. He won an MTV music award for directing Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” video, and made television commercials for Miller Genuine Draft and Toyota.
Fuqua’s talents brought him to the attention of Hollywood producers. He was hired to direct The Replacement Killers, a 1998 film that starred Chow Yun Fat, a veteran of Hong Kong action films. The movie was Chow’s American film debut, and co-starred Mira Sorvino. As John Lee, Chow is a hired assassin who owes a debt to a New York city mobster Terence Wei, who was once a crimelord in Asia. Lee’s newest mission is to kill the young son of a cop in retaliation for the accidental death of the Wei’s son, but Lee is unable to commit the murder. He knows that Wei will hire a “replacement killer” who will do the job and kill him as well, and enlists the help of Sorvino’s character, a skilled forger, to help him flee the country. Lee gets his new passport, but is pursued across New York City before he can make use of it. In the DVD version of The Replacement Killers released four years later, Fuqua explained that the Chinese government forced him to cut one scene so that the film could be released in Hong Kong—where Chow is a major celebrity—and he complied. The scene was included in the DVD version, and in the same interview, Fuqua
Born January 19, 1966, in Pittsburgh, PA; married Lela Rochon (an actress), 1999; children: two.
Career: Film director. Began as director of music videos for artists including Prince, Stevie Wonder, Heavy D and the Boyz, and Coolio; films: The Replacement Killers, 1998; Bait, 2000; Training Day, 2001.
Awards: MTV Music Video award, 1996, for “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
revealed that the shooting of his first film was somewhat dangerous in itself, for Chow was harassed by Chinese gangsters for “going Hollywood.”
Fuqua met Waiting to Exhale star Lela Rochon in 1997 at Hong Kong party while there to promote The Replacement Killers. They had actually met six years earlier when Rochon appeared in a video for R&B star Al B. Sure that Fuqua directed, but the Hong Kong meeting was different. As Rochon told In Style writer Samantha Dunn, “He said hello and walked me out to the balcony to show me the view, and we have been together ever since.” Fuqua proposed to Rochon on her birthday, and the pair married in April of 1999 at Los Angeles’s Emmanuel Presbyterian Cathedral. It was an impressive ceremony, attended by numerous luminaries from the world of film and music. Fuqua hired his director of photography, Peter Lyons Collister, to light the church. A gold spotlight shone on Rochon as she walked down the aisle, and at the hotel reception, an entirely white room was lit in blue. The 300-plus guests were given silver bells to ring when Fuqua and Rochon entered the reception. Rochon said in a People interview that the wedding video is a hot property among her friends. “They were there, but they still want to see it,” she told the magazine. “I married a director, after all.”
Fuqua’s second film, Bait, was released in 2000. Jamie Foxx starred as an inept petty thief who becomes ensnared in a web to catch a master criminal. Foxx’s Alvin Sanders lands in jail after a food-service theft and meets a man framed for a Federal Reserve Bank gold heist. The man’s partner, a high-tech genius, has gone free, and Sanders’s cell mate gives him a cryptic message to deliver when he is released. A federal investigator, played by David Morse, suspects something, and has a transmitter chip implanted in Sanders’s jaw upon release. This lets him track Sanders’s every move and utterance so that the missing stash can be found. The film moves to a close at a racetrack scene in which a bomb threatens. “Fuqua definitely has what it takes to jazz up a hackneyed script,” noted Variety writer Dennis Harvey.
Training Day, Fuqua’s next work, paired Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke as two Los Angeles police officers. Hawke’s Jake Hoyt is a rookie cop, naive and moralistic, while Washington’s Alonzo Harris is a jaded veteran. Hoyt wants to join an elite narcotics unit headed by Harris, and Hawke is offered a “training day” to work with the street-smart detective. Washington’s character, in a switch from his usual hero roles, is a deeply corrupt cop who rules a tough Los Angeles neighborhood like his own personal fiefdom. Harris harasses criminals and ordinary citizens alike, and forces Hoyt to buy drugs and then use them at gunpoint. Hoyt begins to think that his “test” day with Harris may have been planned with something else in mind. David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, noted that Fuqua “plunges into rough Los Angeles neighborhoods, where rickety courtyard apartments rot in the sunlight, and tries to keep the action clear. At his best, Fuqua stretches movements of danger right to the border of craziness.”
Training Day’s plot involves a large sum owed to a Russian mobster, and presents a world in which the lines between good and evil are blurred—Hawke’s character gets much-needed assistance from some criminals at one point, for example. Supporting roles were played by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Macy Gray. Denby also commended Fuqua and a script by David Ayer (The Fast and the Furious) for turning the tables on the gritty cop-movie genre. The pair, “in making their rogue cop a brilliant African American, exploit the speed, verve, and knowingness of the black street idiom while pushing past liberal pieties about race,” Denby asserted. Film Journal International writer Kevin Lally remarked that “Training Day is so good with documentary-like detail and atmosphere, it’s a shame that old-fashioned thriller plot mechanics need to be part of the mix.” A Hollywood Reporter review by Michael Rechtshaffen commended the “taut, sinewy direction,” and opined that “For action director Fuqua Training Day’ represents a personal best. Dispensing with the kind of restless camera movements and flashy editing that have come to typify the genre, Fuqua keeps it grippingly real.”
Fuqua was quickly signed to take on several new projects. These included a film version of The Sigma Protocol, the final book from author Robert Ludlum, who died in 2001. Fuqua was an admitted fan of the best-selling novelist’s spy fiction, and was eager to bring the story of a cabal of post-World War II industrialists to the screen. He was also slated to direct a film based on a book by a nationally known wire-tapping expert who became a New Jersey police chief. Jerry Speziale wrote a manuscript, with a working title of White Out, about his days as New York City cop and Drug Enforcement Administration task-force member attempting to eliminate a dangerous South American drug cartel. Fuqua was also working with Bruce Willis on a project called Man of War, about a special-forces unit sent to a strife-torn African nation to rescue a humanitarian doctor. Fuqua’s name was also mentioned for Bloods, Wallace Terry’s tale of black soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Ebony writer Aldore Collier wrote about Fuqua and other new, relatively young African-American directors. Collier noted that while Fuqua and others like Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, From Hell) were not the first black directors to achieve success in Hollywood, their films have been the first to achieve impressive box-office receipts almost immediately with crossover audiences. “These young and talented directors defied the odds and conventional wisdom in Tinsel Town that has always held that White males are best suited to direct major, big-budget films featuring White actors,” Collier remarked.
The Replacement Killers, 1998.
Training Day, 2001.
Daily Variety, February 28, 2002, p. 4.
Denver Business Journal, October 19, 2001, p. 44.
Ebony, February 2002, p. 120.
Entertainment Weekly, February 6, 1998, p. 40; September 22, 2000, p. 48; September 21, 2001, p. 52.
Film Journal International, October 2001, p. 51.
Hollywood Reporter, September 4, 2001, p. 19; November 14, 2001, p. 4; January 31, 2002, p. 1; February 5, 2002, p. 71; April 23, 2002, p. 70.
In Style, October 1, 1999, p. 396.
Jet, March 4, 2002, p. 41.
New Yorker, October 15, 2001, p. 219.
People, July 5, 1999, p. 84.
Variety, February 2, 1998, p. 27; September 4, 2000, p. 23; March 4, 2002, p. 2.
Video Business, March 4, 2002, p. 15.
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