This Organization Is launching An Initiative Helping Diverse Film & TV Projects Get Funded

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It’s something we often discuss in our blog posts, and it is an issue that is becoming a popular topic of conversation in Hollywood – diversity. Just recently we saw actress Viola Davis give a compelling acceptance speech at the Emmys, where she talked about what diversity means to her and a lot of it has to do with opportunity. When marginalized people are given opportunities to shine, the world becomes a little less lonely place, and a hell of a lot more interesting and dynamic.

But it is a topic that is popular enough and powerful enough to actually create change within the entertainment world in order to represent the diverse audience that actually exists? One of our mantra’s is “you can’t be what you can’t see” especially in relation to positive female role models for young girls, but it is also true of diversity. One woman who has been able to prove to prime time network TV viewers and executives that diversity IS a money-maker as much as it is interesting, is Shonda Rhimes, with shows such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Scandal’ and ‘How To Get Away With Murder’.

In fact TV and digital streaming platforms fare a lot better than film in general when it comes to representing women, people of color, older actresses and the LGBTQ community. Shows like ‘Fresh off the Boat’, ‘Blackish’, ‘Transparent’, Orange Is The New Black’, and ‘The Mindy Show’ are just a few shows that 10 years ago would never be seen as something “normal” or even possible. Another reason we know diversity is working its way through the industry, is because of the largely negative response when women and people of color are excluded, like at the Oscars earlier this year.

So how do we keep this momentum going? The most obvious one is for key decision makers and people in powerful positions at studios, networks and production companies make conscious decisions to cast the net far and wide. And let’s be clear, diversity is not just something that needs to happen in front of the camera, but behind as well, despite what people like Matt Damon might think…

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A female writer is more likely to write what she knows, a female director is more likely to hire crew like her, and so on. But what if we can’t just rely on all the industry “big wigs” to help push diversity through, where do we turn? For those who work in the film and TV world, you are already familiar with the many types of diversity initiatives that take place in a number of different companies.

One program we are excited to hear more about that is a launching on October 5 is the ‘Kickstart Diversity’ project from film & TV incubator Big Vision Empty Wallet. They have teamed up with a number of production houses and distribution companies to help filmmakers who are women, people of color and LGBTQ get their project off the ground.

Like the name suggests, they understand production can be complex and difficult, and when you add a minority in the mix it can become almost a double negative in some cases. So BVEW, formed in 2010 by filmmakers Dani Faith Leonard and Alex Cirillo, want to help independent filmmakers get their work where it needs to be: in front of audiences. They run writers labs and distribution labs, and also offer an ongoing diversity incentive program.

“In Hollywood, only 6% of film directors are women and 18% are people of color and the statistics for writers and producers aren’t much better. We want to make as much of a difference as we can. The hiring of women and people of color in Hollywood has become a major conversation piece recently,” says a description on the website about the Kickstart Diversity program.

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“The hacked Sony emails showed that female stars are paid far less than their male counterparts and ‘black films’ aren’t seen as a good investment. Powerhouse women directors like Angelina Jolie are chastised and called ‘crazy’ for attempting to be good leaders. We’re so excited that this has become a more mainstream conversation and that the public is holding Hollywood more accountable, but there’s more work to be done.”

So after submitting a project idea, what would a winning filmmaker receive if selected? They would have access to educational opportunities, receive up to 30% off film equipment from various vendors, and a distribution pipeline through the crowd-funding platform that has the highest successful rate out of them all – Seed&Spark. For the record 75% of their projects get funded, and they are a platform specifically geared to filmmakers. Through Seed&Spark they can have access to distribution channels such as Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and more.

If you are a filmmaker and are interesting in submitting for this exciting initiative, we urge you to click here NOW, but be warned, to qualify for the program you should know that BVEW have specific requirements.

“A project qualifies when the writer, director, or producer is a woman, person of color, or member of the LGBTQ community. Forming a definition of diversity isn’t easy. For this particular program, we are defining ‘diversity’ as Asian Pacific, Sub-Continent Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern, Mixed Race and/or women and members of the LGBTQ community,” says the program.

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After submissions open, the projects will be decided on by a panel of judges including actress Alysia Reiner from OITNB who also runs her own production company, Leah Meyerhoff, Director of ‘I Believe in Unicorns’ and creator of the Film Fatales group, Stevie Wong, international film journalism, and comedian Issa Rae from ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’.

BVEW co-founder Alex Cirillo says the topic of discussion surrounding diversity is positive because it creates more awareness.

“It’s wonderful that the inequality in Hollywood has become a more mainstream conversation recently, but the industry needs programs like ours to incentivize companies to work with ‘minority’ filmmakers to help make it easier to get their work made and seen,” she said.

Dani Leonard believes initiatives like Kickstart Diversity’ are geared to making a change in the industry and give filmmakers the cred they need.

“Tweeting from your couch isn’t the same as taking measurable action. We have structured the program so that recipients will be seen as better investments at the independent level than they currently are viewed as,” she said.

Overall the aim is to be a program that is as inclusive as possible and can help make a big impact in the film and TV industry by allowing independent filmmakers a foot in the door. While this is certainly not the only type of diversity initiative we have read about, Meryl Streep launched a writers lab for women over 40, Ava DuVernay’s AFFRM organization helps filmmakers of color get seen, it is a welcome addition to a very small list.

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These are the kind of programs that need more media coverage in order to A) get more filmmakers interested in diversity initiatives, B) encourage other organizations to launch similar ideas, and C) to show the industry that filmmakers are not waiting around anymore, they are creating their own opportunities rather than beating down a door that refuses to open in many cases.

It’s interesting to see what a topic of interest diversity has become in the film world, because it is certainly not the only area in entertainment that needs it. Just recently actress and Upright Citizens Brigade comedy improv organization member Rita Chin wrote a viral post about why she is quitting the Amy Poehler-founded comedy institution and blames its diversity problem.

“UCB does not care about black people or minorities. It does, has done and will continue to do the bare minimum when it comes to maintaining diversity not unlike the entertainment industry at-large. As nine openings on house teams quietly came and went, not one POC was added, despite the fact that in the past year, two POC have stepped down. We are technically less diverse from a racial standpoint,” she began her scathing post. As a British, queer, woman of color, she is fed up of the diversity programs at the comedy org which apparently haven’t actually done anything viable for diverse performers, and claims she has even experienced racism herself.

Many people shared her post, which was a great way to bring the conversation into the comedy and improv world. In response, another UCB performer as well as teacher Keisha Zollar, who used to be the coordinator of the very diversity program at UCB (from 2009-2014) that Rita believes isn’t effective, didn’t seek to soften Rita’s words at all, but instead pointed out there is a very real problem.

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“It’s important to me that POC, women, the LGBTQ+ community, people over 35, and persons with disabilities feel like there are comedic spaces for them to explore their unique voices, and tell their stories without being made the prop, the joke, or the victim. I don’t believe in supporting diversity simply because I was at one time paid to support diversity. I support diversity because IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. And for me, supporting diversity is listening when I need to listen, being an ally when I need to be an ally, asking questions when appropriate and increasing my awareness and mindfulness,” wrote Keisha in a statement.

She goes on to share her own experiences of being “tokenized” as a woman of color, and how it made her feel like she had no place in the mainstream improv world. But overall she believes Rita’s words about UCB are a wake up all to everyone in the industry that diversity is needed on all levels, in all areas.

“Injustice is real and exists on all levels in entertainment. I worry that judging where we decide to care and not care about injustice becomes a slippery slope. Even though Rita’s post is about the world of comedy, it is also important in a larger sense. Rita’s post has sparked debate, thoughtful actions and action plans, and powerful discussion, but has also unfortunately brought out the ‘Tone Police’ in some people I respect.”

Often it takes someone to speak up and shatter the mainstream idea that everything is ok and working fine for things to change, and if a program like Kickstart Diversity from Big Vision Empty Wallet can allow more filmmakers to have opportunities they didn’t have before, and if blog posts like those from comedian Rita Chin and Keisha Zollar allow our minds to be open and aware of how important it is to be inclusive, then we are on the right track. That goal of being what we can see becomes a little closer than we thought.

Hey speaking of which, we thought we would end this article with a brilliant visual representation of what the entire film industry would look like if people of color recreated iconic Hollywood movie posters. This brilliant and though-provoking video comes from the pop culture wizards at Buzzfeed, and it is indeed not something to laugh at, but to sincerely hope for.

One Comment

  1. Keisha Zollar was not the diversity coordinator at the time Rita James posted her article on diversity.

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