Dime Davis could soon become the first Black woman to win an Emmy for directing a television series, HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. She’s also nominated as co-executive producer of the show, which is up for outstanding variety sketch series.
Recently, I sat down to talk with her by the nearly 100-year-old merry-go-round at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. “I’m really glad we did this ’cause it’s better than anything we could have done in Zoom,” she says. “We actually shot a few sketches here.”
Dime — a nickname for Dimonique — wears gold specs and a necklace with a Harriet Tubman pendant. On one finger is a ring that says “stay woke.” The 34-year-old filmmaker spent time over the summer marching in the streets of Los Angeles to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Now she could make history at the Emmys on Sept. 20.
“It’s still very surreal to me, to be honest with you,” she says. “We didn’t like, set out to be nominated, but we did set out to make something that we’d never seen before, something where we felt like we could fully express ourselves in this comedic way that’s typically not a space dominated by women or specifically Black women or women of color at all — so it was really cool.”
Davis directed all six episodes of A Black Lady Sketch Show, including one for which guest star Angela Bassett was nominated. The cast included regulars Quinta Brunson, Gabrielle Dennis, Ashley Nicole Black and Robin Thede, who created the show.
Thede says she set out to make something unique: “A cinematic narrative sketch series that was Black women living grounded experiences in a magical reality.” Thede says that was a lot for some people to wrap their heads around, “and other directors I had interviewed for the position flat out told me they didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Thede says Davis, on the other hand, understood immediately and had her own ideas. “She came with a full deck prepared, showing me images from Edgar Wright and David Fincher and everything in between, [showing] how we [could] use them to create these individual sketches more as short films, which is how we saw them.”
Thede says Davis’ versatility as a filmmaker elevated every sketch, including one called “The Invisible Spy.” Secret agent Trinity is able go about her missions undetected because, as another character explains, “her regular looking face makes her nearly invisible in the field.”
“Dime just has such a cinematic eye that when I told her, OK, I want this to look like The Bourne Identity, she’s like, got it,” Thede says. “She went hand-held with some of the running and action scenes, and made sure to give us some really moody Jason Bourne-type vibes while still integrating really broad comedy.”
Thede forsees great things for Davis: “She’s gonna be, like, one of the greats in her generation. I really believe that. She’s really, really, really special.”
Davis says as a director, she never thought she’d have an opportunity to work on something like A Black Lady Sketch Show. “I think in my work, I really try to tell Black women, hey, you are amazing, you’re magical, you are important, right? But with this, I also got to say you’re funny.”
Davis grew up in Houston and at her performing arts high school, she met a friend who’s now her producing partner, Elle Lorraine. They both went to Chapman University; then Davis trained at a prestigious directing workshop at the American Film Institute. There, she made a short film called Sugar, starring actress Lorraine as a young woman whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease.
Two years ago, Davis was hired to write and be a story editor for Lena Waithe’s TV series The Chi. She was also commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to make a short film about painter Mark Bradford. Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant by Mark Bradford debuted at the Sundance Film festival.
“I remember it so vividly when she walked in and her face would just light up. She has the most incredible smile,” says Bradford, who remembers Davis spent a few days with him in his studio for the film. “There has to be a trust between the director and the person that they’re working with, and we definitely got to that space very quickly. It caught me at that moment, and I think that’s what kind of good directing does, it looks for something that’s a little bit different and finds a place to make it. And it felt magical in some areas, and I just kind of trusted her.”
After watching the Bradford film, Waithe asked her to work on Boomerang, a comedy show she was developing, Davis says. The Bradford film “wasn’t a typical approach of how you would kind of document an artist, right?” Davis says. “So I think she saw that and she was like, ‘Oh, I want you to direct this pilot,’ which is such a leap for some people, but not for people like her, who are able to see something other people aren’t. It was really cool.”
Davis not only directed eight episodes of Boomerang, she became its co-executive producer, a title she shares on A Black Lady Sketch Show.
Filmmaker Justin Simien, who also went to high school and college with Davis, says his friend’s Emmy nominations are historic.
“Especially for Black people, Black women — that is a big deal,” Simien says. “So much of the double jeopardy of being a Black artist is that you’re fighting for the work, but you’re also fighting for validation just within the industry. Dime’s just one of those people that’s just been so ready for this moment. I just think she’s got it. I’m just so proud of her. I really am.”
Simien says Davis is someone to watch. At the moment, she’s working on an animated series, a feature version of Sugar and an upcoming episode of the Amazon Studios series Modern Love.
Nina Gregory edited this story.