Millicent Shelton certainly has a great story. As an accomplished director, wife, mother of twins, and the first Black woman to be nominated for an Emmy in the “Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series” category, it is surprising that her story has not been told more often.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Millicent’s desire to become a director became apparent while in college. While attending a film program at NYU during the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Princeton University, she not only got a peek into the industry that she would eventually become a part of, but she also experienced life at NYU where she would later attend graduate school.
1988 was when Millicent’s career really began. She landed a job working for Spike Lee as a wardrobe production assistant for “Do The Right Thing.” From there she became a production assistant for arguably the most loved sitcom of the 80s – The Cosby Show. While the show was on hiatus, Millicent decided it was time to go back to school. She shot a short film and submitted it with her application to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She was accepted. While there, she created her own production company through which she directed over 100 music videos for popular ‘90s R&B and Hip Hop artists including Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, R. Kelley, and Salt n’ Pepa. Despite discouragement from NYU professors regarding her “moonlighting” work, as well as her realization that she wasn’t passionate about music videos, Millicent learned a lot from that experience: “I learned how to talk to a crew,” she said of her experience directing music videos. “Especially being a young black woman, I learned how to talk to older white guys–like a crew of 30 of them–and to get them to respect me and do what I needed them to do.”
In 1998, at 31 years old, Millicent made her writer/director silver screen debut with the movie, Ride, starring Malik Yoba and Guy Torrey. Though she was not satisfied with the end product, she continued to work hard and persevere. Over the next decade she directed television shows for numerous hit series including “Saving Grace,” “”Everybody Hates Chris,” “My Name Is Earl,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Girlfriends” and “30 Rock.” One of her latest projects is the upcoming “Cougar Town” starring Courteney Cox.
Millicent’s tremendous work has made her a trailblazer in the industry. Not only was she the first Black woman to be nominated for an Emmy in the “Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series” for her work on “30 Rock,” but she also was the first woman of color to be elected as an Alternate to the Directors Guild of America (DGA) National Board of Directors. She also has received an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series for her work on “The Bernie Mac Show.”
“I always believed my mother who said I could do whatever I wanted as long as I believed and worked hard enough.” It’s clear that her hard work has paid off.