Watch "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" closely, and you'll get a fleeting glimpse of the movie's 6-foot-4 director Bill Duke as a hardworking store owner. Duke cast himself in the role after the actor hired for the part skipped town.

But here's one actor/director who isn't hankering to follow in the footsteps of Hollywood's best-known hyphenate - Clint Eastwood."I saw `Unforgiven' and (wondered) `How the hell did he do that?"' says Duke, a veteran actor who has directed four feature films and more than 70 television shows. "It's very difficult to direct something and do it well. But to direct and act - it's very hard."

In "Sister Act 2," which opens Friday, Las Vegas lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) dons the habit again. Instead of hiding from her mobster boyfriend, as in the first "Sister Act," she's trying to save her old high school from a group of unruly kids.

Duke, the director of black-oriented films like "A Rage in Harlem" and "Deep Cover," got the "Sister Act 2" job after Disney executives caught his work on "The Cemetery Club," a Disney comedy about three Jewish widows released earlier this year.

"The Cemetery Club" was a major breakthrough for Duke, who has campaigned hard to broaden opportunities for black directors beyond films with black story lines and small budgets.

"I don't say, `Francis Ford Coppola, what a wonderful Italian-American director,"' explains Duke, 50, during a telephone interview from Beverly Hills. "I judge him based on his film, his craft, his art. That's the way I feel I should be dealt with in this industry."

With "Sister Act 2," Duke has become one of the first black filmmakers to direct a movie with a budget over $38 million. But the stereotypes persist.

"People think of you in a very limited way," says Duke. "They believe that you should accept things based upon their perception of you. If you don't, there seems to be a problem."

Duke's attitudes about racial stereotypes developed as he grew up in Poughkeepsie under the stern guidance of his parents, Bill and Ethel Duke.

"My parents never let the color of our skin be an excuse for why we did not succeed," says Duke. They taught him "you can't be limited by the way people perceive you - you're only limited by your ability."

Duke put these lessons to practical use a decade ago, when his acting waned after a successful stint in film ("American Gigolo") and TV ("Palmerstown, USA").

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"I thought I had made it," says Duke, who also appeared in "Predator" and "Menace II Society." "Then I decided if I was going to deal with the realities of this town, I had to utilize all of my talents to survive."

Duke began his directing career after studying at the American Film Institute, then went on to direct episodes of some of the most successful TV shows of the '80s: "Hill Street Blues," "Dallas" and "Miami Vice."

Last month, Duke stretched into publishing with "Black Light: The African-American Hero," a book celebrating the achievements of blacks in education, science and art.

"Without understanding your history, you can't get a perspective about the present," says Duke. "Things are difficult now, but it's nothing compared to how they've been."

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