The near-absence of inclusion in Hollywood hints at deep institutional problems in the television and film industry.  Despite the fact that Hollywood is thought to be a liberal environment welcoming creative differences, statistics have proven that a patriarchal culture continues to dominate this industry.  This past February, The Annenberg Report on Diversity assessed 407 of the directors who premiered major movies and shows during 2014-2015.  Only 53 were people of color, and only two, Amma Asante and Ava DuVernay, were black women.  Despite these statistics, organizations such as LA Film Festival and Film Independent have continued to lead the way to make sure that Hollywood reflects the world that we live in.

This past Saturday, June 4th, creators of color showed up and showed out during the LA film Festival’s 2016 Diversity Speaks Panels, a day-long forum consisting of 4 panels featuring “content creators of underrepresented communities who embody innovation.”

The panel series opened with, “In Conversation,” where Film Independent Curator, Elvis Mitchell sat down with Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl, Insecure) for a rather casual and engaging chat. They discussed a myriad of topics, from her humble beginnings — where Issa regaled us with an endearing story of her sixteen-year-old self writing to her biggest source of inspiration, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Gina’s surprising subsequent response inspiring her to push forward with her writing aspirations — to the wonderful challenges of working with a cable network team. Issa noted a huge difference, in particular, in that the development timeline of Awkward Black Girl was, of course, widely different than the complex intricacies of a cable network’s “from script to screen” path.

Issa displayed the perfect combination of professional poise and personal, breaking down some of the tricks of trade in the development world all the while reminding us that she was a “regular ass Black girl.”  One moment that resonated with me the most, was her testament to her upcoming series’ Insecure.  She explained that the premise of the show is rooted in the fact that it’s “okay not to be perfect, to be flawed, to be confident in your insecurities.”

“You get tired of seeing the same representations, and you get tired of having the same conversations about how there’s not enough and what you could do.” – Issa Rae

After their conversation, I got a chance to privately speak with Issa and asked her — referencing her moment with Gina — how she felt about being on the brink of becoming someone else’s “Gina.” Pensively, she remarked how much she thought about that and how she strived to keep a good balance of pragmatism and motivation.

Next up, was “Art & Activism,” moderated by Dale Godbaldo featuring Jay Ellis (The Game, Insecure), Vanessa Ramos (Bordertown), Terence Nance (Swimming in Your Skin Again, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty), and Cory Hardrict (Destined, Brotherly Love), where they discussed how they use art to bring light to social issues.  The conversation ranged from measuring social responsibility as an artist, the slavery narrative in Hollywood, and the violence conversation surrounding Chicago.  The discussion was thoughtful and sometimes a bit debate-inducing, but the charisma of the panelists made for a comfortable atmosphere.  The discussion was resourceful and it definitely showcased a decent variety of perspectives surrounding the idea that, as a creator of color, “being who you are is part of a statement.”

[bctt tweet=”Feeling like you have to be twice as good really means that you’ve decided to accept half as much. – Terrance Nance, Filmmaker” username=”HBR_Media”]

Closing the Diversity Speaks Panel series was, “Low Budget in LA,” featuring the team from Spa Night, a 2016 Sundance Film Festival award-winner, to share their adventurous experiences making a sub-million-dollar film where film capitalism reigns:  The City of Angels. Panelists included Andrew Ahn, Kelly Thomas, Guila Caruso, Ki Jin Kim, and David Arinello. The crew quipped about their intriguing process of securing locations in Koreatown without the assistance of a proper Location Manager, how integral planning is to the producing process, the even bigger importance of Google Docs to a Producer (which got a big laugh from the audience), and the significance of sacrificing difficult-to-let-go, yet inconsequential components of a script for the overall good of the story. The latter aspect, was enhanced by Writer/Director, Andrew Ahn who relayed a story of how hard he fought for a specific location in the film, an eccentric Korean spa, to be exact.  He was able to secure the location, but at the expense of letting something else go, which in essence, is the heart and soul of producing a low-budget flick.

The day was vigorous with vision and inspiration.  The opening words from the festival’s representatives painted a broad stroke on the event, paraphrasing the late Muhammad Ali, “Don’t let anyone tell you who to be; be who you want to be.”

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