Are you a person of color? Please take this survey for Stareable Fest!


(James Boo) #1

Hey y’all,

I’m moderating the “Under-Representation of People of Color in Media” panel at Stareable Fest, and I’d love to incorporate POC voices from the greater Stareable community into this discussion. I’m trying to get a read on our experiences (individual and shared) as creators of color, and incorporate that information into the panel itself. We’ll still have some unique insights from the three panelists, but this way I hope that the panel is more of a dialogue and not just a one-way presentation.

If you are a person of color who would like to participate, please reply to this thread with your answers to any or all of the following questions by Friday at midnight:

  1. Based on your experiences, what is the biggest challenge that people of color face when trying to get a creative project off the ground? What’s an example of how this has played out in a project that you worked on?
  2. What’s an experience that’s made you feel singled out as a creator or producer of color (good, bad, or WTF)?
  3. As a creator of color, what is the industry problem that you most want to see solved, and why?

And of course, feel free to chop it up right here on this thread!

I’ll look forward to your replies. Here’s the panel description:

This panel will focus on actionable ways people of color can get ahead in their filmmaking careers, acknowledging how industry and culture have made this difficult in the past. It will also offer specific feedback on how indie creators can improve and empower representation in their own projects. Speakers will include:

  • Carl Foreman Jr., co-creator and co-star of IFC’s Frank & Lamar
  • Jon Truei, writer and filmmaker, creator of the web series Gamers Generation
  • Sara Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Global Video and Executive Producer of Digital Content at VICE Media

This will go down on Sunday, July 22, at 9am at Town Stages in Manhattan. Buy tickets here and use discount code James20 at checkout for 20% off!

If you’re in the NYC area and don’t already know where to buy a ticket… I imagine Bri will not approve.


Roll call: who's coming to Stareable Fest?!
(Bri Castellini) #4

(Ajay) #5

First off, thanks again James for moderating this panel! I’m really looking forward to the conversation.

For me, as a person of color who works in the industry (though I’m admittedly not a filmmaker), one major roadblock I see is that content starring PoC is seen as less “universal” and raises questions about approachability and sale-ability. This despite industry-wide metrics about how more diverse films do better at the box office, and specific examples like Get Out, Tyler Perry, Fresh off the Boat, hell even Seinfeld, that are able to disprove the concern. I once listened to a podcast interview of a TV showrunner and they made the point that when someone is casting a show, even if they have diversity as a priority, diverse actors only get chances when there’s some sort of backstory written for a character that makes it clear they’re a PoC. Which, obviously, shouldn’t be the case - there shouldn’t be a “default” for casting - if someone writes a random love interest onto a show and no one specifies the race, assuming they’ll be white is incredibly myopic.

That, to me, is the big problem facing these conversations with industry platforms - convincing them that their default is outmoded and audiences want diverse content, not just content that looks exactly like them. The exciting thing is that, given fewer gatekeepers in the digital landscape, we’re seeing creators break out without industry help - and eventually the smarter platforms will realize and see how they need to change. It’s certainly happening - look at HBO or ABC’s slates these days. But we’re also not where we need to be (yet).


(James Boo) #6

Thanks for taking the first swing at this, @ajay!

Here are my own thoughts:

  1. Speaking as an Asian American director (born in the U.S. with parents who moved here in the 70s), the biggest challenge I’ve had to deal with is a lack of meaningful access to role models and mentors. Having grown up in a house and community where the arts was discouraged in favor of safer professions (definitely reinforced by racialized expectations about Asians), not ever getting to meet an Asian American filmmaker (or musician, which was my thing at the time), and having literally 0 POC mentors in the arts in my town definitely stopped me from taking risks and really from trying to create anything. This didn’t change until I moved to New York and the early days of social media helped me connect other creative people. But not everyone has the privilege of moving to New York, and the current days of social media can be… challenging. So I think this lack of mentorship is still a really worthwhile problem to work on.

  2. I’ve been developing a podcast that takes on what it means to be American by telling Asian America’s stories (in the style of This American Life). It’s been both great and frustrating. Great because some really talented people have come on board to work on the show, and I can’t believe how awesome the team is. But frustrating because the fact that they’re working with me, a dude who has literally never produced a podcast, means that in their entire careers in media, they’ve never been given a real chance to tell the stories that matter to their communities. It means our show is working on the right problems, but the fact is that most well-produced programs (i.e. the ones that receive the most resources for reporting, production, marketing, etc.) are centered on white expectations and run by white decision-makers. The space allotted for Asian American voices/faces/experiences is incredibly narrow and limited to things that the industry has approved as being on-brand for who we are (e.g. having good food, being immigrants).

  3. More POC middle managers at media companies that have money. It would be nice to have more POC executives, but the system that fabricates executives is too racist and classist for me to trust it. I’d rather have the folks who are tasked with running the day-to-day shop (head of video, managing editor, freelance hiring manager, etc.) become more diverse in general. Maybe none of them ever get pushed up that career ladder, but at least thousands of people would have the experience of working for a POC and getting to be a part of diversity in decision-making in the setting where they’re likely to spend the rest of their careers.


(Amen J.) #7

What a great concept for a panel. Here are my thoughts:

1. Based on your experiences, what is the biggest challenge that people of color face when trying to get a creative project off the ground? What’s an example of how this has played out in a project that you worked on?

I think I may be speaking a bit around this question, based on my experiences. When working on my doc web series I realized that the people on my casting shortlist were largely white women and that I needed to cast the net out again to incorporate more diversity in the mix. I didn’t realize how hard this would be and I just wanted to get going on the project. I actually struggled with this, even though I am a POC. But I realized that I had an obligation as a POC to put in that extra effort to make sure diversity was represented on screen.

Working on other projects in the industry, including in casting (branded content) recently, I was told that diversity was a secondary priority. I think that is the default standard. The client has their criteria and clearly diversity was not one of them, even if it was a value for the production company. I was also pitching a project elsewhere and when speaking to the producer (who was also a POC), I said that diversity was really important to me and that even if none of my subjects were going to be POC, I had to make sure the host would be, even if it would take me longer with the proposal. Because of the way the industry is designed, the producer was trying to minimize the importance of this, which I thought was simultaneously interesting and disappointing to hear.

I also had an interesting conversation with a television writer, who said that names given to characters often affects who shows up for auditions; sometimes in the writer’s room they will throw their hands up and say, “let’s just call the character Jack for the time being”. Even if that is done in the interim and then the casting call goes out with the character listed as Jack, guess who is more likely to show up for the audition? So naming matters more than we think.

Finally, I’ve also been having conversations where a documentary subject is proposed and I could very easily see that if a producer who was not sensitive to or part of the community being represented on screen were involved, how the doc could be easily reduced to tired narrative that feeds mainstream Western perspectives (ex. in this case it would be related to “honour killings”),

2. What’s an experience that’s made you feel singled out as a creator or producer of color (good, bad, or WTF)?

I have not had this experience yet, a lot of my experiences have truthfully been largely linked to being a woman director.

3. As a creator of color, what is the industry problem that you most want to see solved, and why?

I’d like to see more people of colour behind the scenes, period. Not just the usual ones we talk about, like producers, writers and directors. We need POC in all departments, from casting directors, to line producers, to wardrobe, to PR reps. All of this makes a difference in what kind of story and perspective is revealed on screen. The more I work in the industry, the more this becomes evident to me.


(Michele Austin Rodriguez) #8

Based on your experiences, what is the biggest challenge that people of color face when trying to get a creative project off the ground? What’s an example of how this has played out in a project that you worked on?
A lot of the time it’s as simple as getting seen. As a woman in the industry too (though that’s a separate discussion for another panel) it’s especially challenging and frankly discouraging that I know I won’t be taken as seriously as my white male counterparts in most cases because I’m not only a woman, but Latinx as well.
It’s become a thing where I make a point to work on teams that make a conscious effort to work towards a more diverse set, from both a gender perspective and a POC perspective.

What’s an experience that’s made you feel singled out as a creator or producer of color (good, bad, or WTF)?
I haven’t necessarily felt singled out as a creator of color, but dealing with being half-white and white-passing while trying to embrace my Latinx side has been a weird road to navigate as I’m figuring out how I fit into this industry.

As a creator of color, what is the industry problem that you most want to see solved, and why?
I’m of Mexican descent, so I would love to see more Latinx stories being told, but first we need more Latinx people in all parts of the industry. It’s selfish, but for me, my white-passing privilege has left me feeling really disconnected from my Mexican side, so if I (and others who are in a similar situation) had an opportunity to consume content that helped me understand and embrace that part of my heritage I could begin to have a deeper understanding and more pride in my Latinx side.


(Herman Wang) #9

I definitely can relate to arts being discouraged while growing up :slight_smile:

One thing that kind of irks me is that many of the festivals that focus on diversity require diversity on the filmmaking team and diversity as a primary theme of the content. To me, this leads to a mindset where POC are good for making “diversity” content, but “regular” content goes to who it always goes to - true diversity is POC making “regular” content.


(Ghetto Nerd Girl) #10

Based on your experiences, what is the biggest challenge that people of color face when trying to get a creative project off the ground?

For me, it is showing I am capable and my project is important. I feel like I’ve been doubted a lot throughout my journey, but in a way it has motivated me to prove people wrong. I also feel that my project tends to be misunderstood or misjudged by the surface because it is very unlike what someone expects to be considered diversified or a POC’s POV.

What’s an example of how this has played out in a project that you worked on?

I’ve had a lof of trouble finding a mentor in this industry because it seems like no one understands my vision. Also I tend to make fun of myself in the process and some people don’t find that quite savory.

What’s an experience that’s made you feel singled out as a creator or producer of color (good, bad, or WTF)?

Every single step along the way. Even amongst other POC I don’t feel like I quite fit in being mixed and not very knowledgeable of my own culture as much as I should be. However I would like to change that.

As a creator of color, what is the industry problem that you most want to see solved, and why?

When a casting calls for diversity I notice there’s a very small box of what that means. And if someone doesn’t fit that box, no one is interested. I think this is why I made my web series, but I’m hoping that someone in a position of power in the industry could look at a project similar to my own and see the value of that POV.


(Amen J.) #11

In my case my parents encouraged the arts, but there was a subtext of, you have to be amazing at this (or as my dad told me once, you can be whatever you want, but just be the “best” at it…), so the way I looked at the arts was, I needed to blow everyone else out of the water and I had to be an artist for a career and make $ at it.

Also, I was reading this article and based on it, I think part of the reason some of us can’t answer the question of how we see ourselves as POC in this industry is because the framework that the industry operates in doesn’t allow for that. Much of the industry has been founded on a specific set of values that have been defined without the representation of POC and so I think this perpetuates a “colour-blind” mentality to the way we operate.


(James Boo) #12

Thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences and perspectives on this!

To be honest, I don’t think I did a fantastic job of digging into all of these concerns during the discussion on Sunday, but I did recognize that the way I originally set up the questions wasn’t the best, and adapted accordingly for the live discussion. There was some great feedback afterward, but you can be the judge once the video/audio is released.

In any case, I’m glad that we’re discussing all of this on the community board :slight_smile:


(Bri Castellini) #13