When asked if there’s anything left on his bucket list, Kevin Hooks chuckles. Actually, one of his biggest dreams can already be checked off.
“Getting to tell the life of Nelson Mandela is a pretty big achievement,” says the director of the six-hour Madiba, which debuted on BET in February (it’s available on the BET Now app and online). “For now, I’m just catching my breath and figuring out what I will do next.”
The miniseries, based on two autobiographical tomes, Conversations with Myself and Nelson Mandela by Himself, stars Laurence Fishburne as the iconic civil rights leader and Orlando Jones and David Harewood as two of Mandela’s closest confidants.
Aside from the obvious challenge of summing up the work of an individual as exemplary as Mandela, Hooks also bore the weight of being the first African-American director to helm a story about the late South African and his struggle to end apartheid.
“Having grown up in the ‘60s — probably the most volatile decade in the civil rights movement — I saw the parallels between what was happening in the U.S. and what was happening in South Africa,” says the Philadelphia native. “It’s a haunting reminder of what can happen when we prioritize nationalism over human rights.”
Hooks began his career at age 10, acting in a Peabody Award–winning episode of CBS Children’s Hour. In the ‘80s he started directing and now often works as an executive producer and director simultaneously (his recent series include Fox’s Prison Break and ABC’s Last Resort).
“If the project is a really big one, like Madiba, it’s important for me to also be a producer,” he says. “Having that input — on everything from casting, postproduction and even budgets — is crucial to telling the right story."
But his preference is to just direct. “When I only do that, there is a real joy and relaxation.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2017