After a stint at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, writer and director Craig Brewer moved back to Memphis, where he'd grown up. When his father passed away a short time later, the young filmmaker dealt with his grief by using his inheritance to finance his first feature film, The Poor and the Hungry, about a car thief who falls in love with one of his victims. He entered the project into competition at a number of film festivals in 2000, and was eventually purchased by the Independent Film Channel. For his next movie, Brewer perfected a script inspired by his own struggle to succeed in his chosen art form. He called it Hustle & Flow, and it piqued the interest of producer John Singleton, who signed on to produce the film. Actor Terrence Howard played the lead role of Djay, a hustler with a gift for words and music that he's never taken further than the street corner. After hearing that a platinum-selling rapper will be visiting town, Djay decides to invest in the hope of leaving the street life, despite the pervasive threat of disappointment that has kept him, and everyone else who shares his bleak, urban life, from trying. The tale of hope and redemption was praised by critics and garnered several awards and nominations, including an Oscar in the category of Best Original Song for the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia, some of whom had led Brewer through the ghetto streets of Memphis to help him research for the film.
For his next project, Brewer would direct Christina Ricci, Samuel L. Jackson, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Justin Timberlake for another film he'd penned called Black Snake Moan, the story of a nymphomaniac looking to be "cured" of her problem with the help of an older bluesman.