Everything about film is tough for women of color

Ever since I was a teenager I wanted to be a film director, but I had no idea how to even begin. I grew up in Huntington Park, CA and film and acting careers aren’t something we were told we could aspire to. My school had a drama club, and I had a lot of friends that were into movies, but in the early 2000s we didn’t have the tools we have today (cheaper cameras with decent resolution, cheaper editing software, and social media to self-distribute).

Two years ago when I had a terrible bronchitis that forced me to take time off of everything, I watched a lot of movies and cried at scenes from Wolf of Wall Street and Pineapple Express—films that don’t make anyone cry, but I was crying because when I’d see the names of the directors, I’d be reminded that this was a path I had denied of myself. Then I saw Selma and a bunch of other films and would get a heavy feeling whenever I saw DIRECTED BY…. So when I heard of Tangerine and remembered I too, had an iPhone, I thought I could finally make something.

Things have been very tough though. As it is, I work as a freelance writer, which can be an unstable job in and of itself. Though I enjoy my work, I have to deal with the fact that it’s not going to let me save enough to produce feature work. This year I worked very hard just to produce two short films just so I can learn, and I’m hoping to save enough to buy a boom or lavalier mic so I can film a short documentary.

I know crowd-funding exists but people don’t fund things unless you have a reel to share with them, and I’ve applied to a few scholarships and fellowships here and there. But even then, I feel the lack of representation of women and minorities in film and other industries is something that starts when we’re young.

When I was in junior high I tried acting for the first time and once I got the lead in a few school plays I thought I should try to do it as a career. At the time there were some commercials for casting offices, and since many schools don’t provide guidance for aspiring actors (especially not LAUSD schools where most pupils get free lunches), I asked my parents to take me to an open cast and of course I didn’t get a call back. (More on that later).

I finally decided to shoot my first short film, just to prepare myself and start learning about how to work with people, edit, and teach myself stuff. In that time, I dealt with being no one, having no money, working as much as I could so I could afford to so I could film in a few moments.

Then I had no suitable computer to edit because my MacBook was fried. Every day I read diversity reports and saw how few people of color and women of color work in front of and behind the camera. I saw #OscarsSoWhite trend on Twitter for the second year in a row and thought to myself, I’m barely starting. I know absolutely nothing and there are such wonderful people out there with talent who get few parts, have to die first, or get swabbed as a terrorist because of their name. Do I have a chance? 

I had to stop believing in chances and just focus on the story. A lot of people stupidly say they’d quit their day jobs so they can pursue their dream of making films, but I technically have no day job to quit. Plus, I don’t believe in going for broke. I know that’s not necessary. I just have to write as much as I can and make sure I can pay rent, buy food, and make sure my bank account doesn’t go into the red. Right now, my film work ethic is all about writing and doing what I can with what I’ve got. I don’t go to sleep without doing something to forward my career in some way. I paid my roommate, who graciously acted in my second short film, with some of the best sushi I could afford at the time and a bottle of wine.

I try not to worry about the fact that there are so few women working behind the camera in Hollywood, but instead focus on people who’ve succeeded, such as Ava DuVernay, Mira Nair or women in Latin America such as Lucrecia Martell. I’ve read the Weinstein allegations and decided that I’ll take some form of martial arts or self-defense classes starting in November just in case I’m ever alone with a producer that tries to get smart. I practice keeping journals, and I plan to write everything down, but I hope that it never gets to that.

You see, on top of having very few mentors, not really seeing women like myself on screen or in positions of power, and knowing that few producers will even find me marketable, I have to worry about the fact that I may not get the level of support Weinstein’s accusers have gotten because I’m a woman of color, and our pleas tend to fall on deaf ears in the world of white feminism. And look, I support every single woman who spoke up, I believe them, and I know that sexual harassment, assault, and rape are rampant in all industries and in all places, both public and private. Hell, some people live with their own version of Weinstein, some women have such men as their fathers. Few of these women have the support they need to put their stories on film, if they want to, that is.

I will keep toiling in film work, screenwriting, and all my other creative endeavors. Still, there are days when I wake up, look at my screenplay ask myself what I’m doing and why. Some days I really do feel I’m trying to face a monster on my own, and my fear of having such big dreams looms over me like a shadow. I keep going because I’m 31 years old and there’s no turning back. As stupid as this sounds, I actually trust that the universe will provide stories I have to strength to oversee from start to finish.

Maybe someday I’ll do a Kickstarter. Maybe if I keep working, networking, and being a ham I’ll find producers, or people who at least listen to my pitch for at least five seconds. Maybe someday.

I plan not to let the negativity get in the way, but I also can’t ignore it and act like it’s not real. The discrimination is always there, and we can become so accustomed to facing it, or get so tired of fighting it, that we sometimes pretend not to notice, dying a little bit in the process every time. My desire to do this is much bigger than the difficulties I know I’ll face, and much bigger than the price I know I’ll have to pay.

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#ava duvernay#film director#film work#harvey weinstein#mira nair#riz ahmed#screenwriter#sean baker#tangerine#the good immigrant

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