In 1996 Dianne Houston transformed the forgotten Harlem Renaissance short story A Summer Tragedy into the Academy Award nominated Live Action Short Film Tuesday Morning Ride, which she both wrote and directed. This nomination made Houston the first African American female director to be nominated for an Oscar in that or any other directing category.
Houston is known for her unique skills as a storyteller, director, and as a builder of memorable characters. She has developed film and television projects for Showtime, HBO, Tribeca Films, Participant Films, Universal, Paramount, and many others.
Born in Washington, DC, Dianne Houston was an early writer and developed an interest in theater. Trained as an actor, she went solo to New York City in her teens to pursue that career, but became frustrated with the social/political inequality of roles available to black women. She decided to create her own. She returned to Washington, DC, and attended Howard University, majoring in directing while developing and writing on her own. Post college, Houston continued to study theater, working with such greats as Ntozake Shange, Laurie Carlos, Peter Brook, La Mama, Joe Papp, and Joseph Chaikin. She credits “life changing exchanges” with James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, and Miles Davis for informing her world view of theater, art, history, and literature. These exchanges, combined with her theater background, shaped Houston’s voice as a writer and director. Her first play The Fishermen, originally produced in 1977, has become a staple amongst African American theater companies, where it has been in production every year since its publication.
In 1994, Houston wrote the screenplay for Override, a short film directed by Danny Glover. It was Glover who introduced her to The Chanticleer New Directors Program. It was through this program that she directed and wrote the Oscar nominated Tuesday Morning Ride, which starred Ruby Dee and Bill Cobbs. Houston attributes the success of this film in part to “the generosity and belief” of Oprah Winfrey, “without whom my film may never have been made.”
Dianne Houston has written, directed, and produced for film and television for over two decades. In 2005, diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and the new mother of two, Houston checked out of the professional world to deal with matters of health and family. During this time, friendships with the likes of Ruby Dee and Rev. Michael Beckwith, as well as her longtime life partner, Crystal Cooper, kept her whole. During her illness, she wrote Take the Lead; Seacole; Knights of the South Bronx, and began her novel The House on Anchor Street. She returned to the director’s chair in 2015 with Runaway Island, immediately followed by writing Surviving Compton: Suge, Dre, and Michel’le. Surviving Compton won the Gracie Allen Award for Outstanding Limited Series of Made for Television Movie, and was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Original Long Form in 2017. Houston then directed Lifetime’s Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland, and wrote, directed, and produced for the series EMPIRE.
Houston has written the feature Freedom Hair for MPI Original Films and is slated to direct the film in 2022. Her Charley Pride biopic American Pride will be directed by Craig Brewer and produced by Dennis Quaid and Rozene Pride. Under her Universal banner, she has partnered with Rudy Langlais to develop Boley, a premium limited series based on the true story of the all Black town, Boley, Oklahoma. She is also writing and directing Sugarfoot, a memoir of her time shared with Nina Simone, starring Lorraine Toussaint as Nina.