Although many would likely recognize Bill Duke from his roles in such high-profile releases as Predator, Menace II Society, and Red Dragon, perhaps only a few connect the face in front of the camera with the name of the man who also directed such features as A Rage in Harlem and Hoodlum. A native of Poughkeepsie, NY, and the first in his family to graduate from college, the actor/director studied speech and drama at Boston University before earning his M.F.A. from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Subsequently penning off-Broadway plays and launching a film career with roles in Car Wash (1976) and American Gigolo (1979), Duke's early breakthrough came with a featured role in the critically acclaimed Alex Haley miniseries Palmerstown U.S.A. in 1980. Deciding to refine his skills behind the camera, the burgeoning actor later studied at the American Film Institute, where his student project The Hero earned him a solid reputation as a director to watch. In the years that followed, Duke earned a reputation as an efficient and effective television director as he took the helm for episodes of Hill Street Blues, Fame, Miami Vice, Spenser: For Hire, and Matlock. He soon moved into feature territory with the PBS drama The Killing Floor (which screened at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival and earned the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival). In 1989, Duke's adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun showed that, although his directing had thus far been limited to the small screen, he also had the potential to launch a lucrative career in theatrical features.
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After acting in such features as Commando (1985), Predator (1987), and Bird on a Wire (1990), Duke's first theatrical feature, A Rage in Harlem, was released in 1991. An effective crime drama featuring a gangster's moll, a trunk load of gold, and a slew of unsavory heavies, the film was unfairly interpreted by audiences to be a rip-off of the popular 1989 comedy Harlem Nights. For the dark crime thriller Deep Cover, Duke teamed with future collaborator Laurence Fishburne for the first time, and after lightening things up a bit with The Cemetery Club (1993), Duke earned a direct hit at the box office with the popular sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit the same year. The remainder of the '90s found the actor/director evenly dividing his duties on both sides of the camera, and, in 1997, he re-teamed with Fishburne for the throwback gangster drama Hoodlum. With all of his directorial duties, Duke found little time to accept onscreen roles, though performances in Payback and Fever in 1999 reminded audiences that he was still a compelling screen presence. Duke returned to the small screen the following year to direct an episode of City of Angels and the Nero Wolfe mystery The Golden Spiders, and remained in television to shoot episodes of Fastlane and Robbery Homicide Division. In 2003, Duke directed the moving, made-for-TV drama Deacons for Defense. As roles in Red Dragon (2002) and National Security (2003) continued to fuel his feature career, Duke was also seen on the small screen in episodes of Fastlane and the Out of Sight (1998) spin-off Karen Sisco. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi