For longer than I’ve even known about my passion for film, I have been privileged to exist in creative communities swimming with talented womxn of color seeking to change the entertainment industry for the better. This energy has always driven my ambition. The idea that other people like me wanted to create a world where we got to see our stories was addictive for me, and I felt fortunate to belong to what I believed was a vast community.
So imagine my surprise when I began an actual film program. Growing up visibly Black in Orange County, California made me no stranger to feeling othered — my melanin the central point of contrast in a sea of whiteness. But it was a scarier reality in these classes that were supposed to set the stage for my future career. These rooms were primarily full of white men, and if a glass ceiling was a frightening idea, then the opaque, testosterone-coated walls of the film industry were even more formidable.
Still, I was fortunate enough to have ended up at a community college with a vibrant film program. And some of my peers were womxn — incredibly talented womxn who directly shaped whom I aspire to be as a filmmaker. But even so, there were rarely more than a handful of us in a classroom at a time, and even more infrequently were they womxn of color.
Part of that was due to the shadow my male counterparts cast. Nearly every man I’d met in my early years in the program had Oscar-bound dreams of grandeur. I thought, “How nice to be in a space filled with such lofty ambition.”
It didn’t even seem to matter what their skill level was — these men were certain that they had what it took to make it big. Far from being any kind of auteur then, and equally as far now, I carefully avoided thinking such a thing was possible. At least at first.
But then my quiet dreams of becoming a filmmaker snowballed, materializing out of the pretentious ether they were conceived in. I decided that I wanted to be the youngest Black woman to win the Oscar for best screenplay (adapted or original).
I wanted to be a whole slew of firsts, and initially, I found my dream to be a tribute to my tenacity. It was, for a time, what I wanted most out of a career in the industry.
And then #OscarsSoWhite happened.
I thought to myself, “Is this the organization that I want my works to pander to?”
I became angry. I decided that if the academy ever dared to nominate me, ever dared to select my film to win an award, that I would politely conclude my triumphant speech, after a long list of thank yous, with, “I’d like to thank the academy — not for this award, but for teaching me a long time ago that I don’t need it. Fuck the Oscars.”
And I’d leave that gilded man on that stage and never return.
Oh, how I loved this fantasy. I thrived on the idea of giving the academy what it deserved after so many decades of it failing to do the same for filmmakers of color everywhere. So many showers were spent with a loofah-turned-trophy, spitting on the ego-stroking, self-aggrandizing circle jerk that was the too-white academy.
As I grew and changed, so did my environment. I transferred to UC Berkeley to pursue a degree in film and immediately noticed that the female-to-male ratio was far more balanced than at my community college. I felt my belligerent rebellion against an award I’d likely never see begin to feel contrived, performative and simply irrelevant.
I didn’t feel any less strongly about the academy’s exclusionary behavior. I just no longer accepted the hypothetical judgment from a bunch of old white dudes who’d probably spontaneously combust with even the gentlest exposure to sunlight.
Inspired by a reflective environment, the stories I want to tell are louder and more important than the voices that could, in some imaginary future, criticize them.
And even with that said, the academy is far more diverse now than it has ever been. Change has started to ripple through the industry like a small stone in a glassy lake. And whether or not my stories are necessary to further these tides of change, I want to contribute to the body of work driving progress in the entertainment industry.
Because in truth, even if my movies are shit, I’m writing from a place of courage born from my struggle to relate to the media I consume. Regardless of where the academy stands, I will continue to write, without vendetta and without chase of what the academy deems valuable, to tell my stories because they’re exactly that — mine. And whether they make it to the big screen or don’t make it out of the editing room, there’s still plenty of value in that.
Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].