I’m a member of the so-called USC mafia, and was mentored and prepped for the kind of success that leads to an Oscar. In addition to working my way up in “the industry” for 12 years as a grip, electric, camera assistant, camera operator, writer, director, producer and more; I also worked as a red carpet videographer watching people get famous and win awards. I’ve seen more friends and colleagues than I can count rise and fall in fame and failure.
Twitter and Instagram are full of posts about this year’s Academy Award Nominees. In some ways, I feel far away from Hollywood and its traditions, but not completely.
I could say the same as some others: The awards are for an elite club, they are a popularity contest, filmmakers of color don’t make quality work, it takes time to make change, or that old white men don’t vote for women and people of color. But all of those are excuses. (And several of them untrue.)
Here’s the truth:
The pipeline is broken. And instead of waiting for Los Angeles to fix it, I came to Oakland with a commitment to create new pathways to progress. In the film business, there is an unspoken rule that benefits the privileged: Everyone is expected to work for free in order to gain access to the Ivory Tower. Because I was once young and broke, I pay beginners – with BART Cards, or school credit, or a basic salary. We don’t ask aspiring filmmakers to work for free unless I’m also working for free. That’s been our policy for 10 years. We also recruit from diverse communities intentionally. I’ve hired White men – and also Native American Women, African-American youth, Latino elders, Asian men, LGBTQ, folks with disabilities and more to work on projects.
This company isn’t just an equal opportunity employer, we see ourselves as a diversity pipeline. Our former employees/freelancers have gone on to join the Editor’s Union, to get a Master’s Degree in Film from CalArts, and to win regional Emmy’s. It takes time to succeed in this business, but no one succeeds without one or two jobs they were ‘underqualified’ for.
The way we fix #OscarsSoWhite is with jobs. Jobs for young people who can’t afford to intern or work for free. For diverse candidates who are eager to learn how to do it the right way. Every set – whether a big Hollywood production or a humble industrial video – should have 2, 3, 10 or more jobs for women, people of color, of all abilities, and LGBTQ community. California is colorful and it matters who’s behind the camera. Represent!