My header above; “People Like Us” comes to mind and becomes a play on words at the same time. At a couple LA Film Festival panels I heard both actor Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) and filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale), hit on the personal impact of seeing stories embodied by and created by ‘people like us’ as being their driving creative force. Ryan did not personally know Oscar Grant, the Black 22 year old who was ‘accidentally’ killed by an incompetent Oakland police officer on the Eve of 2009, but says that he was ‘like him’. The frightening thought that this incident could have happened to him is what compelled him to make his first film about this tragic and unnecessary death.
The other way I might mean “People like us” is using ‘like’ as the verb. As humans we have the remarkable ability of feeling compassion and human connection to someone’s narrative regardless of whether we share a common culture. There should not be any fear that if you are too specific i.e. too Chicana, too Puerto Rican, other people (audience) won’t like us or our stories. As Ryan points out in the clip, just because a film is about all about a Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx, referring to The House that Jack Built, it doesn’t mean that a non-Latino would not enjoy it, or identify with the pains of a dysfunctional family and a nostalgia for one’s childhood. The clip is from The Blackhouse Foundation series of ” Diversity Speaks panel that took place last Saturday. Joining Ryan Coogler on this “New American” Independent panel were filmmakers Grace Lee, director of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (who was quick to point out that the Black community has it so good compared to Asian-Americans in media representation), Henry Barrial (The House that Jack Built), Ava Duvernay (Middle of Nowhere) and the gracious moderator and producer Effie Brown. I’m always trying to take note and learn from the LGBT and Black community with regards to how they address their representation in the media. I find that both communities share a stronger solidarity. Perhaps that’s because for some time now, they’ve moved past dwelling over lack of their lot and instead, collaborating with each other, which in turn, better improves their lot.
The signature LA Film Fest panels, Coffee Talks are general conversations about the craft and opportunity to hear from successful artists in their respective fields. I stepped into the Actors one which consisted of Garcelle Beauvais (White House Down, Flight), Joe Manganiello (True Blood,Magic Mike), Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown, Snap) and Andre Royo (The Spectacular Now, The Wire). Even without the “diversity’ header, hearing their different trials of pursuing their art, highlighted the disparity for people of color. As members of a ‘minority’, artists must chip away every damn day at the resistance of a media in which white men continue to dominate opportunity. When asked how they choose their roles, Joe Manganiello, the insanely rugged handsome man’s man, said that for him the most important decision factor is the director. Now of course, that sounds like a valid answer for many reasons. It’s in some way a privilege to be afforded that choice. But for the other brown and black folk on the panel they commented it was far less a choice for them because for one, they do not get offered roles as much. And two, when they do, they must grapple with the trying decision of whether to keep accepting the few roles that come their way which perpetuate the same degrading stereotypes. All actors probably struggle with finding work that does not sacrifice their individual integrity, but this is such an added pressure and obstacle. As Andre Royo said, most roles he’s been in are either where he’s in jail, coming out of jail, or going into jail. If his character is not high, he’s happy. Listen to what Gina says: