Leaders of the Black New Wave -- On the heels of Singleton's ''Poetic Justice,'' Topper Carew, Ernest Dickerson, and other filmmakers discuss why they can't make the movies they want to make

By Marshall Fine
Updated July 23, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Are we the flavor of the month, or are we gonna stick around a while?” asks Spike Lee in a preface to the making-of paperback, Poetic Justice (Delta, $12.95). For John Singleton and other filmmakers of color whose work first muscled its way onto screens in 1991, Lee’s question looms large as they take their next turns behind the camera. A progress report:

Topper Carew (Talking Dirty After Dark)
”I didn’t get offered anything significant,” he says, ”but the movie (about a comedy club in South Central) was not an astounding hit.” What did hit was Martin, the Fox sitcom Carew cocreated with Talking Dirty star Martin Lawrence. Next up: a feature comedy, I Ain’t Crazy, I’m Just Black.

Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust)
Since writing and directing the turn-of-the-century sociological saga, she has been pitching projects to studios and trying to buy the rights to adapt the 1988 French film La Lectrice. ”I’m getting nowhere,” she says. ”I pitch ideas and they’re quickly passed over. But I’ll find a way to do them anyway.”

Ernest Dickerson (Juice)
After the early 1992 release of his inner-city melodrama, Spike Lee’s cinematographer was offered Juice clones. ”I wasn’t ) able to get anybody interested in an African-American science-fiction story,” he says of his project, Future Crimes. Instead, he’ll direct Surviving the Game for New Line in August, a film he calls ”a Most Dangerous Game for the ’90s.”

Bill Duke (A Rage in Harlem)
The busiest of the ’91 debutantes, Duke directed the thriller Deep Cover, the comedy The Cemetery Club, and now he’s doing Sister Act 2. ”The wave of 1991 made it easier for the studios to accept black directors,” he says, ”but it’s still difficult for the audience at large to accept black subject matter as pertinent to their lives.”

Wendell Harris (Chameleon Street)
His comedy-drama about a profession-hopping con artist won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival then languished in distribution limbo for a year and a half. Now Harris is at work on a pair of screenplays for different studios.

Kevin Hooks (Strictly Business)
Following his 1991 comedy with last fall’s action hit Passenger 57, he’s now filming Irresistible Force, a two-hour CBS pilot, and developing an HBO movie.

Matty Rich (Straight Out of Brooklyn)
Now 21, he will direct The Inkwell, a coming-of-age story set in 1976, for Touchstone. Says Rich: ”I thought it was time for young people to see a movie in which a 16-year-old can be a boy, not a man.”

Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City)
Although City was a hit, Van Peebles had to go to a British company to finance his Western, Posse. ”My father (Melvin Van Peebles) and I had a film about a middle-class black family, a thriller. Studio executives would say, ‘Can’t you put one of them on crack?”’ Next he’ll produce a film about the Black Panthers, to be directed by his father.

Joseph Vasquez (Hangin’ With the Homeboys)
”Most of the stuff I get sent is black people shooting each other in the head or Hispanics lying in alleys,” he says. Vasquez is writing Hell’s Kitchen Kids for TriStar and might direct Rice, Beans and Ketchup (he calls it a Latino Coming to America) for independent producers.