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Emmys 2017
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Studio execs initially resisted ''The Wood'' because it had no gang wars

But writer/director Rick Famuyiwa insisted that African-Americans aren’t just about drug lords and booty

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The Wood
Paramount Pictures

”The Wood,” which was made for $6 million, has already earned more than $20 million — a fact that has undoubtedly surprised the studio execs who initially passed on the script by first-time African-American writer/director Rick Famuyiwa. In Hollywood, a film about three twentysomething African-American friends remembering their relatively peaceful high school years in the Inglewood (hence, the ‘Wood) section of Los Angeles seems like an anomaly; an African-American movie that doesn’t include gangs and drug lords, or isn’t a raucous ”Booty Call”-esque comedy, is as probable as a James Bond movie without the gadgets and girls. But for Famuyiwa, 26, the project was very probable, considering that it was based on his own middle-class youth. ”Some people didn’t believe that these kids actually existed,” Famuyiwa tells EW Online. ”They would act as if I’d created them, like I was making ‘Star Wars’ or something. They wanted the film to be rewritten and treated in a way that would help them in their already-set-in-place machinery of how to promote a black film.”

A moment that truly perplexed the inflexible execs is when one of the high schoolers (Sean Nelson) is threatened by a local gangbanger, who comes off more like a neighborhood bully than the usual cinematic menaces to society. ”There’s a misconception that when you fly into Los Angeles, there are gang representatives waiting to stamp your passport,” says Famuyiwa. ”Where I grew up was the middle-class area. In L.A., gangs aren’t in your face like a cloud hanging over the whole city that you have to be afraid of.”

MTV Films ended up taking the script as is, and were no doubt attracted to the movie’s reliance on its ’80s hip-hop soundtrack. Each flashback in the film is introduced by an old-school rap tune that Famuyiwa selected from his own memories, with artists like Whodini and Biz Markie. ”The first flashback cue, which is by Eric B. and Rakim, was the first song I heard when I moved to Los Angeles at 12,” he says. ”That was my introduction to the city, like my ‘Shaft’ theme song.” Damn right.