Color in Hollywood? HollyShorts Edition

The HollyShorts film festival, held in Los Angeles, draws thousands of short-film submissions from across the globe. The organization hosted its 14th annual festival August 9  at the universally renowned Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Opening night kicked off with shorts directed and produced by names such as Lisa Edelstein (Unzipping), Jesse Bradford (The Day of Matthew Montgomery), Nathalie Emmanuel and Alex Lanipekun (Run), Jocelyn Stamat (Laboratory Conditions), and MTV’s Scream actress, Carlson Young (The Blazing World).

 Opening-night screenings at HollyShorts

With roughly 400 final selections, the film festival and the movie industry in general have seen an upward trend in diversity: look at Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther. Women’s issues, LGBTQ concerns, racism  and mental illness were all center stage at HollyShorts.

Here are some thoughts filmmakers had on the topic of diversity:

Nightmares by the Sea, Skinner Myers
Director, Writer and Actor

Skinner Myers

AM: What is your film about?

Skinner Myers (SM): It is an experimental drama fantasy about a father who doesn’t understand his purpose in life and that leads him to losing custody of his son. The story follows how he challenges traditional foundational world views because of his tragedy. 

AM: How is Hollywood dealing with the age-old issue of diversity?

SM: I think it’s getting better, but super, super slowly. [Hollywood] doesn’t reflect the demographics of the world we live in right now. Everything is still so predominantly white, straight, and male.

I’m trying to do my part to introduce perspectives of people of color. Some viewers will only see people of color  as “gang-bangers,” even when there is a lot more to their story. That needs to be reflected in our entertainment, film and TV. Most of all, we need people of color in positions of power.

AM: You said you’re doing your part as a person of color to advance this. How did you use your identity as a minority in your film?

SM: I play the lead character, my son is in it, and I wrote the film as well as directed it. You know how everyone struggles with depression?  A lot of times people of color are not allowed to show this emotion on camera because they have to portray a certain stereotype. So we hoped to show more. If we don’t do that,  nothing will get better.

HERE: The Garrett Scott Story, Eddie Yang
Executive Producer

Eddie Yang

AM: What’s the elevator pitch for your film?

Eddie Yang (EY): It’s about an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter and his journey to become the first Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt in America.

AM: These last few months have seen actors of color dominating the silver screen! How do you think Hollywood is handling diversity in today’s day and age?

EY: Let’s look at Crazy Rich Asians! It was very exciting because Asians really haven’t had much representation in cinema. I’ve  heard it said that we are kind of the silent majority. There was never a Million Asian March [like the Million Man March] in Washington, or any group speaking out. Asians were waiting in the shadows for their time. Now, possibly because China is such a big funding source for films, this has changed.

It’s interesting— over the last decade I’ve been to China several times, and they have these rules in place— “yes, we’ll fund your movie, but we need a Chinese star.”

Look at Bollywood! Whoever heard of that, you know, ten years ago. Asian Cinema is becoming more and more prevalent. It’s super exciting  to see this before I am old and can’t even see, literally, the screen (laughs).

Run, Alex Lanipekun
Director, Writer and Actor

Alex Lanipekun (left) in conversation with Aashna Malpani

AM: What’s the story behind the production of Run?

Alex Lanipekun (AL): Well, our original director dropped out last minute. I wasn’t supposed to direct it. Tommy Pops, Nathalie Emmanuel and I, we produced it together, but I wrote it and I’m in it, so I didn’t think I would be able to direct it as well. We were pretty nervous about that. But to be able to see it tonight is really lovely; to feel it was worth sticking to our guns and keep dreaming, keep fighting, getting ourselves a really amazing team together and pushing towards a goal.

AM: What brought about this large wave of color in Hollywood?

AL: Things have changed massively even in the space of a decade. There have been concerted efforts on all sides— behind, and in front of— the camera. I think it’s really important to uphold your dreams and ambitions and be defiant in the face of the world.

We [as filmmakers] have our own challenges to face, and our own responsibility to those who come after us. We have to show people of color, people from different backgrounds, women, people from the queer community, in a non-stereotypical light. It’s our responsibility to create new roles so that people watching can see the full spectrum of possibilities for their future.

And that’s the most important thing! Someone just asked me what inspired the film.  To be honest, we were just tired of seeing pieces that didn’t reflect us in a truthful way. Even those with the best intentions have trouble capturing the nuances of a community they are not from. And that’s with the best intentions.

But movies get made on iPhones now! So if you have something in your imagination that you want to get out there, make it. It’s probably going to be shared, so the good news is you’re already doing more than 50 percent of the people by just making it. And then make another one, and another one, and another one…. And slowly but surely people will respond, and they will respond because they are hungry to hear new voices.

You can find more information on the HollyShorts film festival here.

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