Black, Latin Actors, Directors Try to Tell Their Stories

06:16 March 10, 2023

Black, Latin Actors, Directors Try to Tell Their Stories

At Sunday’s Academy Awards, or Oscars, in Los Angeles, Angela Bassett will be one of the few Black actors considered for a major award.

Bassett is nominated for a best supporting actor award for her work in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It is her second Oscar nomination in 40 years of acting in movies.

At the recent African American Film Critics Association Awards, Bassett explained that every time she takes a part in a film, she wants the part to change how people think about Black women.

She said she wants to “show our humanity, to tell the diversity of our stories and to share the complexity of what it means to be Black and women.”

The 64-year-old actor was nominated for an Oscar 29 years ago for her lead part in the 1993 film What’s Love Got To Do With It.

Her comments seem to represent a common thinking among many people of color in the industry: Change in support of diversity is too slow. While some improvements followed the 2015 online protest #OscarsSoWhite, activists argue, much more is required.

In that year, white performers received all 20 nominations for the four acting awards.

This year, no actors of color received awards at the major British film awards known as the BAFTAs. In the U.S., the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been criticized for not nominating the movies Till or The Woman King for any of the major awards. Both are films with mainly Black casts directed by Black women.

“There’s a constant lack of recognition for Black female directors,” said Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of The Woman King. “There’s never been a Black female director nominated in the history of the Academy Awards,” she added.

As a result, more Black actors, directors and producers are starting their own companies to make movies and television programs.

These creators follow in the footsteps of people like Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes.

The new creators include writers Amy Aniobi and Felicia Pride, actor Khalimah Gaston and filmmakers Fanny and Nelson Grande.

Aniobi worked for a number of years on the successful HBO program Insecure, created by and starring Issa Rae who is Black, as were the majority of the show’s main cast.

Now, Aniobi has a deal with HBO to develop new shows.

She says one problem is that while the number of projects for Black creators is increasing, the amount of money they get for their work is decreasing.

She said one way to make sure Black creators have more work is to work with other Black producers, writers and actors.

"When we are invested in each other as people, we don't think 'it's you or me.' It's for both of us or none of us," Aniobi said.

Pride has written for Rhimes’ television show Grey’s Anatomy and worked with Oprah Winfrey as well. Now, the creator has her own company, Honey Chile. It centers on making shows and movies that will appeal to Black women over the age of 40.

Gaston started a company called The Screening Room in 2016. The business creates cooperative spaces in Los Angeles and Atlanta, Georgia for diverse industry members to support each other. Black Entertainment Network, or BET, recently picked up a web series presented by the company.

In addition to those who want to tell Black stories, there are also producers who want to tell Latino stories.

Fanny and Nelson Grande started a company called Avenida Productions to help make films and programs with Latino actors and producers.

“Every Latino actor I’ve met has dealt with the same thing of not getting opportunities, or having to play negative stereotypes…,” Fanny Grande said.

When no production companies gave her a chance, she sought financing through crowdfunding within her community. The result, a 2021 film Homebound, that centered on the life of a Latin American family.

I’m Caty Weaver. And I’m Dan Friedell.

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