• February 5, 2023

What Film Schools Are Doing About Diversity In The Movie Business : NPR

Rashad Frett, hiding caption on a Keith Nixon Jr. film set courtesy of Rashad Frett

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Keith Nixon Jr./Courtesy of Rashad Frett

Rashad Frett, on the film set

Keith Nixon Jr./Courtesy of Rashad Frett

For years, People of Color have struggled to invade Hollywood. A reason? The film industry is built on relationships, and many of those relationships often begin in film school, where the right connections can open important doors. Now the best film schools in the country are trying to nurture those connections for People of Color by creating a pipeline into the industry for filmmakers whose work is still underrepresented.

Rashad Frett is one of those filmmakers. He is doing his Masters in Film from New York University, where one of his professors was Spike Lee. “He pretty much told us that we just have to go ahead and keep working and not give up,” Frett recalls. As a Caribbean American filmmaker, he says he appreciated the lesson.

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“I’m telling you how much support and guidance I’ve got from NYU, the lessons I’ve learned about storytelling, and just the community … it’s just phenomenal, phenomenal.”

While at NYU, Frett has a short film called KING. turned, about a teenager trying to bond with his estranged father. The 40-year-old filmmaker is now making another film about relapses in the Black and Brown communities for his diploma thesis. He uses scholarship money from directors Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and, most recently, Cary Fukunaga.

NYU film school alum Fukunaga, who directed the upcoming James Bond movie No Time To Die?, has established an annual production grant of $ 20,000 for underrepresented filmmakers. Frett is the first recipient.

“I think it’s always important to show the next generation that it’s possible,” says Fukunaga. He says his scholarship holders must agree to mentor high school students. “You’re a really great example of high school students, you know, college entrants who see like, ‘Hey, this is someone who looks like me, who’s from a place I’m from, or with an economic background from which I also come. ” from … And they make it. They are in a really expensive university and they somehow figured out how to fund it and they are pursuing their dreams in the arts. “

Across the country in Southern California, the Dean of the Chapman University Film School has Stephen Galloway, says he’s focused on creating a pipeline of diversity into Hollywood.

As the executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, Galloway has sponsored mentoring programs for black and brown high school students in South LA and East LA for nearly three decades. “We brought them together with high-level female executives,” he says. These included Donna Langley, chairwoman of Universal Pictures, Dana Walden, Walt Disney Television chairman of entertainment, and Jennifer Salke, who heads Amazon Studios.

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Galloway says some of these high school students are now working in the biggest movie and streaming studios. He created a second mentoring program with Oprah Winfrey. At Chapman University, he plans to expand this effort.

“Diversity is one of my big goals,” he says. And he started by recruiting various students and hiring 16 new professors of color, 11 of whom are women. He noted a particular trend he noticed since the Black Lives Matter movement emerged: “The industry is now falling on itself to make amends for decades of neglect. Everyone is looking for men and women of color who have talent. “

It’s clear the film studios are going through a settlement, says Syreeta Greene, the director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the American Film Institute.

“All of the different moves from #OscarsSoWhite, the #MeToo movement and so on have challenged the industry in so many ways,” she says. “And I think film schools have been positioned to say, ‘We’re ready to prepare filmmakers. So that can’t be used as a reason for not having the voices we need in the industry. ”

Greene was hired last November to oversee diversity and inclusion for all AFI programs. This year almost half of the institute’s students are color filmmakers. Like Chapman, AFI also works with high school students, providing mentoring and recruiting from historically black colleges.

In addition to the efforts of Chapman and NYU, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts did does a lot of the same work, in addition to an orientation program especially for black students.

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“I watch a lot more socially conscious films, a lot less of what I saw when I first came here, who has been the dean of USC film school for 30 years. “The students are so bright and very committed. But yes, our black students were very demanding and nobody objects. We still have to do a lot more. “

Daley says USC has a “first job” program for its alumni, initiated by television producer and alumnus Aaron Kaplan, to help students find their first paid jobs in the entertainment industry. The program relies on generations of successful film school alumni to connect graduates with entry-level jobs. That way, the school creates a pipeline between color students and the film industry, she says.

“If we have a diverse student body who is well educated and we send them out, they take care of the next,” she says. “So that’s my strategy for changing this thing: get enough people out.”

As an example, Daley cites director and USC alumnus Ryan Coogler: For his films, including Fruitvale Station, CREED, Judas and the Black Messiah and Black Panther, Coogler has made it a point to hire and work with mainly black actors and production teams.

For his part, Rashad Frett says he hopes to turn his 15-minute NYU theses film Ricky, which he is about to make, into a feature film.

“I think there is a change that is becoming more diverse,” says Frett of the film industry. “More and more stories from all walks of life are being produced. It’s a nice, nice time to be a filmmaker.”

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