Hollywood’s Diversity Controversy

Blog 3, 2016

Hollywood’s Diversity Controversy – Women in Film

It’s vox populi, women, of any ethnicity or race, writers, producers, directors, and actors, are in the minority and make less money than their male counterparts in ‘Hollywood’ or the entertainment industry. Why is that?  We could point fingers to Jews, they do run most of the corporations and are top decision makers in the industry, primarily in business to make a profit.  We can shout all day and no change would come about. How then, can change come about? We the people, the consumers, are who really run the entertainment industry. So if we want to see more diversity behind the scenes or in front of the camera, it can only come about through us, the ones at the box office, sitting in front of our TVs and gazing into our mobile devices. The media is currently overflowing with commentaries about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Shonda Rhimes, in her acceptance speech of the 2016 Norman Lear Award is laudable for saying that she did not create a new concept for television, she just wrote about life the way she sees it and courageously faced off the networks  http://bit.ly/1ROFfUK. But it took education and many years for her to get to that point.

The comments and observations created by the Oscars’ lack of diversity in nominating minority representations sparked the interest of this blogger to do some research on who has the power in Hollywood and asked Google.  Google said Jews run Hollywood.  Furthermore,  according to a Rense.com article http://bit.ly/1xtFpDF of 3/13/2 by Jewish actor Ben Stein who researched the matter, 60 percent of Hollywood decision makers were Jewish, and Jews accounted for only 2.5 percent of the US population at the time. But, he says, these are Jews who are “in love with America.”  They buy farms in the south and send their children to Ivy leagues schools where they will one day settle into their nepotistic places in the entertainment industry. They earned this privilege through hard work and dedication to a craft and business, no doubt, and we cannot take it away from them just because it does not represent the majority of the population of America.  But the movies made by Hollywood do reflect our cultural values and forge them.  We as consumers can guide their decisions by the choices we make when we watch television and go to the box office. As a woman in film, even if I were Jewish, (which I might be), being Jewish alone would not increase my chances of making it as a writer, producer, or director in Hollywood.  Instead of complaining, I ask myself, what can I do to get Hollywood’s attention to my stories? Where, who, will give me a chance, hear me out and decide that I have a profitable product that cannot be separated from its creator?

A staff writer of the New Observer, an online news publication, http://bit.ly/1QfYx1q wrote on July 6, 2014 that “Jews boast about the fact (of owning Hollywood) but if a Gentile says the same thing, they are attacked as anti-Semites.” The article goes on to say that Gary Oldman, actor best known for Batman movies, made comments on Mel Gibson’s drunk driving arrest in which he (Mel Gibson) made derogatory remarks about the Jewish people and had been “attacked” (Gary Oldman) by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for saying that Hollywood was run by Jews.  Oldman apologized for his remarks and mentioned that he had just finished reading a most interesting book about the making of Hollywood by Neal Gabler “An Empire of their Own, How the Jews invented Hollywood.”http://bit.ly/1LjMmQa.  Furthermore, the staff writer mentions several Jewish corporate decision makers by name and is hard pressed to find even five that are not. Enough about the status quo of Hollywood. Concentrating on who the kings and queens of Hollywood are will not get anyone new into the game.

Today we are able to get more content distribution than ever before through Netflix, Hulu, the Internet, YouTube, Amazon, etc. Offering the public more choices has shown the industry moguls that the young male and female audience the industry caters to, the millennials, are an evolved audience ready to watch and enjoy really ‘real’ people on TV and film, as well as esoteric topics such as past life regression and future life progression, and diversity in the scenes including behind the scenes.  Millennials are ready for real women who are not damsels on distress or looking for their royal prince. And that is exactly what Shonda Rhimes has done for television, the most diverse media of the day.  Thank you Rhonda. But Miss Rhimes is not alone, paving the way was Debra Martin Chase, who gave Rhimes an internship opportunity when she ran Denzel Washington’s Production company, Mundy Lane Entertainment where she produced “Aaron Hanks,” an award-winning documentary, before moving on to Whitney Houston’s Brown House Production company and so on. She was the first African American woman to have a solo produced deal at a major studio. The list of African American women producers and writers is long and getting longer thanks to those who pierced the wall and amplified the themes that demonstrate the dollar value of diversity and pulled others up behind them. Hollywood surely vows to the profitability of diversity.

Being labeled as this or that ethnicity is very constraining as a filmmaker whose purpose is primarily to show the big picture in the concrete.  Luckily today, developing universal, all inclusive topics and well rounded 3 dimensional characters with plot twists and turns that keep viewers on the edge followed by superb cinematography and dialogue is less costly and more distributable than ever. So we have come a long ways and the independent industry has made great gains. Among Latin women, there are basically no known producers and only one writer and director, Aurora Guerrero, a Chicana filmmaker leading the way. Of course even if they are not seen or heard they are out there, with their own voices and their own way of seeing.  One day they will be stepping into their shoes, two of them, at the store, not waiting for Prince Charming to find us but writing and producing their own way into the trenches of the Hollywood palisades.

Take for instance, here in Miami there are several women filmmakers, Angela Terga included, and there is even a Women’s Film Fest.  NATPE comes to Miami Beach on January every year bringing dozens of reps from Hollywood’s corporations. but besides being costly, you may realize if you attend attend that the relationships with buyers must be built way before and that emails to these corporate reps are not provided even after you pay the ticket to see them.  In other words, NATPE takes your money and still leaves you in the dark.  It sells hope. Those enthusiasts that think they can pitch and make a sale there are not doing their homework. Pitch Fests may seem like a good idea, but you run the risk of just giving away your best loglines which are free ideas that the corporate world of Hollywood can pay their ‘own people’ to develop.  It happens all the time, independent creators say and attest to it in conversations. How can any of those cases be proved? Not at all.  Before you pitch to any Hollywood rep you must sign a release form saying the studio may already have this idea in their files preventing any further pursuit by law if you see your movie idea developed and made into a multi million dollar enterprise a year or two later.  Just don’t pitch without first copyrighting and developing the story well, putting it out into the world with your name attached to it, create at least a sizzle reel and more than one type of platform for it. There is however, no guarantee. There are thousands of filmmakers trying to do just that, gratefully, for if no one tried there would not be any hope and hope keeps the wheel of karma turning until an opening is reached to let in one writer, producer, director at a time.  Once in, if that one person lets another climb on his/her shoulders, there will soon be a diversified Hollywood.  By soon meaning maybe another century or so.  Meanwhile if anyone knows how to find out where and when to pitch to Marvel, please leave a comment.  That’s the top entertainment industry distributor and developer of content on this blogger’s horizon.

The best way to get in is to start early on in life and pursue an internship in one of the diversified (owned by African American celebrities)  production companies out there.  Latinos in their own countries are not competing with Hollywood even in their own turfs.  When I visited Brazil I had hopes of seeing their own productions and all I saw was the same programming in Portuguese.  What a disappointment! The same happens all over Latin America. Latin Soaps are the only original content that is being made by Latinos. Independent producers of movies and content in Latin American countries are worse off than here.  The public does not respond well to their programming and movies mainly because they lack the capital to develop them with the Hollywood glitz.  Some of the independent productions have competitive quality due to extremely good craftmanship but there is no capital for marketing and publicity which requires twice as much as the cost of production.

In other words, content creators cannot make it without Hollywood and Hollywood has to want their product, otherwise it can continue to put out reruns and in-house productions that seem to be more and more detached from reality in the world, and that’s where consumers can make a difference little by little in changing the look of Hollywood’s prefabricated cool.  Nowadays African American themes, topics and culture are on the rise thanks to consumers who show up at the box office or watch TV infused with it.  So even Spielberg has jumped on the band wagon and is producing another ‘slave movie’ about Harriet Tubman, the Moses of the enslaved African people. Does that make Hollywood more diverse? Perhaps in front of the camera, but not so much behind he scenes.  If any independent producer wanted to develop their own African American of Latino history movie it would probably never make it in a pitch fest or at NATPE. It’s what’s trending in social media that Hollywood turns to, what sells at the Box Office and the popularity of Hip Hop and TV shows where men and women of African descent are more relevant than ever thanks to a Black President and the many Black actors and celebrities investing in their people and their themes and topics. This has made it more plausible than ever for educated minority representation of producers and writers on the rise to penetrate the walls of Hollywood.  Channels like BET and BOUNCE have been necessary to show that diversity sells and it sells well.  That’s just the beginning.  Let’s hope that Latinos like Iñarruti can bring more Latinos onboard behind the scenes and in front of the camera whether ethnocentric or not in their content.

Take for instance my movie, the protagonist of “Isabel” is a Spanish Florida woman who falls in love with the Black Indian who kidnapped her and integrates Seminole culture actively supporting their struggle for justice and independence. But that’s just her past life.  Today she is a Latino starlet trying not to sleep her way to the top but teases just enough. In the end, she gets what she wants, the role of her life and the boo, with the help of her friends and just how well she played the part. Talent is a value that Hollywood pursues. Working on yourself, your trade, craft and ideas will not only get you ready for the test, it will attract that which you seek to your door.

In the words of Sojourner Truth “That’s all old Sojourner has to say today.”

 

 

 

Education and Democracy

Blog 2; 2016 Education and Democracy

I’m going to talk about education.

Women in Film are educators at the highest level. Film, using visual, auditory and emotional intelligences, has the power to call to action and/or to render its pupils useless globs of couch existence. But it is ultimately the most effective marketing tool being used to brainwash millions of young minds of all genders, racial, economic and cultural composition.

How well can film, including videos, video games, gifs, apps and social media in educational settings help to engage students? If the message is delivered following the marketing principles of the entertainment industry, I’d say we could turn on scientific and mathematical geniuses.

How much is being invested in progressive multimedia programming to enhance public school’s educational experience? Who is at the vanguard of the public’s social development? These are questions we should all be asking ourselves if we want education to yield better results. Nevertheless, it doesn’t do any good to teach computer programming in kindergarten if it is not combined with compassion.

Let’s use our smart phones to record science experiments, share them on social media sites and watch the same experiments performed in other classrooms across the globe. We can compare outcomes and conditions. Let’s make a storyboard using digital pictures and have narrators around the world create the script in different languages. Let’s use classic literature themes and retell them to modern settings. The possibilities are endless.

Small children may still love school starting out and if they’re lucky to have nurturing environments at their center, they will continue to develop their social and mental skills up to third grade. That’s the age in which the state thinks children should start to be stressed out and tested every two or three weeks. If you visit elementary schools you’ll notice how third grade teachers have puffy eyes, dark circles under their eyes, are overweight and constantly under suppressed strain. That’s because children come in from a fun second grade expecting to fall in love again but are hard pressed against endless hours of drilling both on computer based programs, isolated scientific and mathematical knowledge and meaningless stories. Please, social studies, the only time devoted to global learning, art, the emancipator of the brain, and its sister, music, are none but joyless empty rigors of “follow directions, shut up, sit still, and don’t make a mess,” if they have not been cut out to the minimal.

It hurts when children’s favorite class is Lunch or P.E. No wonder we have the greatest mental illness index in the world.

For twenty years, I labored behind these prison walls of the mind, schools. I was known as the crazy teacher, the one that dressed like she was a socialite, including hats. In my best years, thanks to dynamic leader reformers (there may still be some principal out there willing to take a risk), I created a mini farm organic project where students hoed and even learned to fish in the pond. We’d turn the classroom into a rainforest and the students into their favorite animals for Lynn Cherry’s Kapok Tree. We even made it into a play and invited other grades to the performances, which student agents scheduled. During science, we’d step out into the courtyard and use student made instruments to measure the height of trees, and buildings, just to give an example. We also had a collection of bugs pinned and classified using field guides. We used jazz syncopation to learn to read with student made shakers out of recycled materials and put on Greek theatre plays and modern ballets to teach recycling and medieval times. We even choreographed a living animal cell. One of my greatest challenges, a child with adaptation issues, already labeled as emotionally handicapped in 4th grade, took it upon himself to build amazing electrical projects with a hand-me-down box I got from another teacher. He was so enthralled with what he was creating I’d forget he was under the table immersed in reading and following the directions in the book and putting his genius to work until lunch time, when he wanted to be the first in line every day. I recall among his many creations was an interactive game in which the light bulb turned on if you got the right answer and a lighthouse.

These are just some of my fondest memories. However, due to how repressed I felt as a teacher not being able to implement more creative experiential, hands-on activities and in part my inkling to grow and expand my own horizons as a person, partially imbedded in me by a class of second graders (my only second grade class), I decided to move on. That’s when I dared to have a dream. I dream of making a profit from my books and screenplays, having a good life, being able to own a home and produce my movie ideas. As a teacher, being the last in the rung in the professional hierarchy, most likely due to the fact that most teachers are women and women’s liberation hasn’t reached equal pay or enough respect for teachers (no wonder students don’t respect us), I was not able to do so. All my salary and child support went to pay necessities that granted us a low middle class status. I believe teachers should not have to repay student loans if they work at least 7 years whether or not they teach at Title I schools or ESE populations. I have taught at Title I schools all 20 years and my student loan never diminished. Teachers should also receive lower mortgage loan interests. That would help if the salaries remain the same.

So I moved on to High School teaching thanks to a friend. Oh boy, was I in for a big surprise and disappointment. My rural high school students, where I was Librarian and TV Production teacher, stole my 35mm camera, my new MacBook, and my cell phone all in one year right from my office. The following year, I went back to an urban setting and taught at an all boys “leadership” magnet school. Here I remember asking God to deliver me from the flames of hell as I walked to the parking every day. High blood pressure, migraines, eczema, and general depression were a few of the medical conditions I developed that year. It didn’t help that I was also trying to finish the production of my first movie and premier it, as well as undergoing a rigorous MFA online program.

Now, when I contemplate going back to the teaching profession, I wonder, could I make a difference? If so, how? Will God match me with a one of a kind Principal who defies the rules? Or should I go into administration?

In my opinion, public education has been designed to keep the masses out of Ivy League. The curriculum is not designed to produce scientists and mathematicians, or doctors, or lawyers. It blurs and entertains the families with testing. It buys Readers that are money- makers for the publishing industry and probably the school districts’ superintendents that adopt them.  The stories in these readers (not all of them) are vapid and devoid of meaningful content. The regular public school curriculum in spite of and because of its testing frenzy doesn’t teach much of anything.

If I were to design my own curriculum, I’d start teaching astronomy using household stuff in first grade along with the principles of physics and the elements of the periodic table. I’d use the classics to teach reading, yes, Shakespeare in first grade, why not? I’d put on Greek plays every year instead of the Christmas parade and give them extra time creating their own music and painting with fingers where you can make a mess. I’d teach calligraphy, also in first grade, and teach science and math through daily labs and experiments, and visit a museum once a month. I’d teach etiquette, create action-based social activities against child labor and environmental destruction and use solar energy to power my school. Oh yes, and videography would be an integral part of the processes. Perhaps if the monies were employed where it counts and does the most good, we’d have fewer inmates, addicts and sociopaths.

These are just some of my ideas for better education. The test would be measured across time. How many kids, what percentage stays out of prison, develops their talents, gets into the Ivy League, graduates with science majors, becomes lawyers, actors, or artists?

The real test of the school system in any country is not how well students perform on these ridiculous achievement tests. The real test, the one no one talks about is how well the education system performs in the development of healthy social, physical, emotional, and intellectual individuals and groups. Obviously, in America, it fails well. Democracy in education, has not reached the thousands of young people marred with felonies, behind bars, and incapable of developing their talents due to monopolies and nepotism. Learning, like memory, is selective and what we put our attention to is what marks our reality. Let’s put more attention to education. What values are cultivated by movies, apps and video games?

Cinderella is in its thousandth remake, but I don’t know any girls who have actually married a prince. The latest craze is Star Wars, you mean to tell me that in 30 years there hasn’t been another original story out there worth developing? I call that monopoly of ideas.

Until we as consumers, parents and educators don’t change, the world we live in won’t.

Until we as consumers, parents and educators don’t change, the world we live in won’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Report-2016 Outlook

To describe 2015 using the term ‘challenging’ does not do it justice. But God is good and I am starting 2016 with the knowing that the Universe supports my goals and I am fearless.

As an aspiring writer and filmmaker coming out of a difficult online Creative Writing MFA program in the fall of 2014, with no looming job in the horizon and tucked away in the boondocks, I relied only on Providence to see me through my darkest hour. It was the first time in 20 years that I did not have a teaching job and dared to follow my dreams of becoming an author and filmmaker.

Self-publishing the novel Spiderwoman: an Amazon Legend, along with Sandcastles, a book of poems and Isabel, my thesis screenplay, did nothing else but satisfy the ideal of being an author; at least it filled the space on my new resumé. The 50-minute movie, Spyderwoman, The Kiss of Death, produced and premiered in 2014, was just a speck in the infinite digital universe of independent film trailers fed into Social Media sites. Who, why, where, when and how would these stories have their day in the sun? The success of any of these projects has nothing to do with whether they empower women in front and behind the camera, create awareness for a new world order based on the principles of Shambhala, or teach empathy and are multicultural. It depends on whether you have a fan base that merits the attention of the media to your stories, either because you sell a lot of books or get a lot of social media hits. If you create a buzz and your hip or you have a niche market Hollywood, whoever that is, Marvel Comics, SyFy, etc., will come to you.

Spyderwoman was my first movie, it started as a 5 minute film school project and developed into 50 minutes. And although it was a nightmare to produce, I learned a lot about filmmaking in general and I’m still learning. Thinking that the movie would have a better chance of attracting a deal if it was a TV pilot, I reconstructed the script and created an outline that includes 100 episodes. Because it is based on the novel I also revised the book. Now I am looking to add FX and produce two more scenes and then premiere it again as Hybrid the TV show. But who knows, I might change that title to Legends of the Future.

Alone, with no one to help me discern or make a clear plan, how would I go about pitching it to buyers without spending a fortune in travel expenses and conference tickets where the game is already played and won even before the conference starts? The answers are still up in the air. I have pitched it at a couple of film festivals and recently entered the script in a contest. My goal for the year is to submit it to at least one film festival per month and tap into the Sundance Institute’s Programs for writers and producers.

Early in the year, my hopes of landing an internship with the only Miami-based producer vanished when I learned that what his company was looking for was a video editor and I am ill equipped in the arena, only able to do rough edits but never at the level they expect. During my second meeting with the same producer in the fabulous office overlooking the bay at Aventura, I was asked to deliver interviews of jockeys from Gulfstream, produce them, cut them and provide them to his company so he could place them. Had I had the money to produce these I would have, and I am still looking for the opportunity to do so. But in this game of guerilla filmmaking friends are all you’ve got and the cinematographer/editor I worked with on Spyderwoman is not returning my calls after I collected the measly equipment I had been able to purchase with my teaching job by moving into my dad’s run down apartment in the boondocks in order to afford the weekly production costs of the movie which included paying the crew whatever I could.

Now I had equipment, but hardly knowing how to use it, since I relied on my crew to shoot and edit, and no gigs in sight, besides living 2 hours away, I set about teaching myself the rudiments of cinematography and editing. The Film MFA program I had started and didn’t finish had not provided me with tutors when I asked for them, in order to learn how to do the basics. It was a swim or sink program, and I sank. From there, I went to another MFA program just for writing and was able to finish it. At least I learned a little bit about producing and screenwriting at the first program and then learned to produce guerilla style on my own with my crew. Given the opportunity, I would like to finish that Film MFA one day. However, my student loan debt is so high, I think I will need two lifetimes to pay it off unless I land one of these ideas on a high note.

Starting out early in the year, Providence manifested in the person of a friend and I was able to draw enough funds from creating testimonial videos, teaching a two-week career skills course and translate several educational and marketing materials for the same company.   This kept me working around the clock for weeks on end. Another friend offered me a place to stay for little or no money, and I had a whole room and bathroom to myself. I will always be grateful to these two friends who showed up to lighten up the day.

Then, while Volunteering at Zen Village I met another friend who introduced me to the author of the novel, The Nativity Conspiracy, which I adapted to screenplay, adding another copyright to my name. And although this was not a paid job, I feel like we have a chance to make this film a reality. Especially, I am not alone on this project like I am on Isabel and Hybrid. We will have a table read for the script at the beginning of the new year 2016. Our strategy is to sign on a major star or two and then visit a producer that finances films and see if we can get a green light on the project.

In the Fall, a national private college hired me to teach English Composition I and II, and although there was a learning curve here, too, and not a job I would like to continue doing, it made a big difference in my outlook to see myself as a college Professor, another fulfilled ideal.

Now, I’m writing the script which brings me to my knees in gratitude, not only is it a historical biography, never before brought to the screen, it also empowers women and enlightens. Sojourner Truth and I are a great match. But what a great responsibility it is.

To begin this year with my first paid screenwriting gig with such a high profile is more than what I ever dreamed.

I don’t know what else the year 2016 has in store for me. A month long Karma Yoga sojourn at an ashram in California in March promises to be enlightening. Already, the first three months are booked with Sojourner Truth. Today I feel confident that no matter how tough it gets the Universe supports my goals. Pitching my stories, continuing the pilot, marketing my books, publishing a children’s novel and pitching it as a TV show are part of the plan for 2016 and beyond. It never stops.

Synchronicity, being in the right place at the right time may seem like magic, but it is actually a well-orchestrated event, one in which the protagonists have been well prepared.

Once the dream is born and a clear vision formed, you begin the journey of discovery. First you are afraid of failure, of being wacko. But something inside just won’t let you stop. You are willing to go the extra hundred miles to learn, to get it done, to do it over, and keep on learning and doing. Then you start to relax and see little signs of encouragement and you hop on them as if it were Pegasus.

A shift from fear to faith takes place in your thoughts and you are no longer concerned with the who, where, when, and how because you know you’ve got the ‘what’ under control. The wind begins to sing your song and you smile instead of frown.

I am a woman in film, a writer and producer. My voice will not be silenced, even after my time on Earth expires, my work will be left for others to evaluate and build on. I’ve been on this road since 2009 when I sat down one summer long and wrote the first timid draft of a novel. Since then, the learning curve has not ceased to peak everywhere I turn; and although there is a huge machinery called Hollywood that seems impenetrable for someone like me, I know I can chisel away a space big enough for me to crawl in and that once I’m in, there will be yet another learning curve waiting for me. And I will ride the wave.

 

sojo tombstone angesojo truth speaking