This is the memoir of Bill Duke, one of the first—and few—African Americans to direct for both television and feature films. Duke recalls his childhood, the importance of his family and mentors, and the challenges he faced as an African American—to not only achieve success as an actor, but more significantly as a director in a very white Hollywood.
Duke, a veteran film and TV actor and director, rambles through the ups and downs of his life and career in this sincere, loosely organized memoir. He begins with his working-class upbringing in 1940s and '50s Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where his family lived above a raucous beer garden. At age 11, Duke recalls, he learned about racism when he was targeted for being African-American and beaten by white motorcyclists on his way home from church. In high school, Duke started to explore his creativity through poetry, moving on to drama in college, where he took his first role in a production of The Emperor Jones. Duke eventually headed to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, going on to debut on Broadway in 1970 and in Hollywood in 1976. Duke shares lessons gleaned from notable professional experiences, such as scene-blocking in American Gigolo. He also gives short profiles of public figures he finds inspirational, such as pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, and concludes each chapter with a poem giving his thoughts on race, family, or society. Duke's memoir won't win any plaudits for its no-frills prose style, but it does offer plenty of plainspoken insights into a long and successful showbiz career.