It was around the year 2003 when the medium of video joined the list of majors at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Approaching my sophomore year I remember staring at my course registration form and having the desire to do something I had never done before. I felt that I had great skills in traditional art mediums from painting to drawing, but video seemed like a new world to explore. At that time, technology had not yet advanced to DSLR cameras, and we were still recording on mini dv tapes.
My classes consisted of part lectures and screenings of a lot of films that I could never connect with. We had studio time to work on our own projects—our first of which was to create a 30 second edited piece about a topic of our choice. My first 30 second edit took a minimum of 8 hours to edit. It ended up being a piece on domestic violence fusing a poetic voiceover, with reenactments of a woman who was abused and covered in bruises. I was so proud of my piece and til this day, think of it as one of the best critiques I had of my work. A major inspiration behind my piece, was my own personal experience as a child growing up witnessing domestic violence. Both my peers and instructors expressed how the imagery and concept of the piece was strong and allowed them access into a very personal part of my life journey. They spoke about how they felt a connection and a sense of bravery for me to have explored that subject matter.
As the semester went on, I found myself feeling a disconnect between what I wanted to create and what I was learning in the classroom. There were no films that represented people of color being shown in my class—I don’t think it was intentional but what was shown was a reflection of the instructors’ interests, and due to a lack of knowledge of African American filmmakers. All of my instructors were white males and one female. All great teachers with a lot of experience in the industry, but the disconnect was definitely evident. It was hard for me to relate this passion I had for filmmaking to the images that were made available. Eventually, I switched my major to general fine arts with a concentration in video and began to practice creating in other mediums.
As I think back to those days in college I realize the importance of highlighting work created by the culture with which I identify. I think about the lack of diversity being displayed through the Academy Awards and other prestigious award shows. I think about the evolution of people of color in media and the limited opportunities that are in our reach.
Some say the color line should be erased and we should be grateful for how far we have come. Truth is, there is always work to be done to even out the playing field and give people of color the same recognition as their peers. To quote Viola Davis, the first black woman to win an Emmy award for Lead Actress in a Drama, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
In the past and present many minorities have fought for the right just to be given the few spots available in this industry to represent their culture and identity. I hope that one day the playing field will even for many of the filmmakers, actors and actresses of color who have shaped and become influential to the growth of this industry just as much as their peers.
These very ideas have led some of the film industry’s most powerful African American game-changers to shift the focus from celebrating to making a stand for equality, by boycotting the 2016 Academy Awards. This has stirred up a lot of discussion. Some people feel that boycotting the Oscars will not create change; others believe that a lack of diversity can no longer continue and that a new path must be made that grants all people the same acknowledgment for their work.
I believe that wherever you fall on the color line, or who you identify with, there must be a balance. I was inspired to create a piece that would support that diversity matters and that art should be a reflection of all individuals.