The Grace & Grit Speaker Series is a two-day virtual event that brings together inspiring talks from diverse women working in film and television. The speakers are a mix of industry veterans with over 20 years of experience, and young up-and-comers who have made incredible strides in the span of a few years. Based in Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta, each speaker covers a different craft in the business, including directing, cinematography, production design, casting and acting.
These women share wisdom learned from career struggles and speak truth to being underrepresented in entertainment. Amid COVID-19 and renewed calls for systemic change across all facets of American society, the arrival of Grace & Grit is timely, to say the least. As Hollywood’s future hangs in the balance, this series intends to empower and encourage women struggling to make it in Tinseltown, and those desiring to break in.
The Grace & Grit Speaker Series occurs on Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26. The event weekend is free to register, with an optional VIP upgrade.
ABOUT MORE MELANIN MEDIA
More Melanin Media was created to help women of color pursue thriving careers in entertainment. In the wake of ongoing dialogue surrounding representation and inclusivity, the current Hollywood landscape is still disappointingly homogeneous. The company continues to strive for media to reflect the world we live in by offering resources such as career coaching, online courses, digital guides and more.
I’m a writer. I’ve been writing since high school with my own column in the school newspaper “Ask Lisa.” All of my life, I’ve had a passion for the law and federal law enforcement from the complexities of the criminal justice system and its ever reaching arm into society to policy change and reform. My passions have led me on very interesting and unusual journeys. One journey was as an intern in two prisons using research and analytical methods by conducting interviews with prisoners. Another journey had me assisting in an autopsy on a murder victim which lead to what I thought was the last leg of my journey, admission into the FBI Academy to become a behavior profiler. I attended Boston University and received my Master’s in Criminal Justice and wrote a white paper about the body part trade scandal at UCLA. You’d think that’d be enough to get me a staff writer job on any procedural television show in Hollywood. Nope. Not yet. Not quite. First, they have to see me.
How I started…
I started in entertainment as a celebrity personal assistant. One day I went to Hermes to pick up my boss’ dress for the Oscars. I got to the store and the saleswoman refused to give me her dress. She didn’t believe I worked for the celebrity. She told me to get out of the store. I left, found a pay phone, and called the celebrity. Not five minutes later, the store manager came out and asked me to come back in. He profusely apologized, handed me the dress, and then had the salesperson apologize to me.. He then told the salesperson to gather her things and she was fired on the spot. The manager came back to me and told me to select one item from the store. The whole ordeal was enough so my head wasn’t into shopping at that moment, so I asked for a Hermes garment bag. I still have that bag to this day.
Meeting with a showrunner
I recently had an informational video meeting with a showrunner of a major network television show. In an informational meeting you hope that the showrunner will like you and consider hiring you for a staffing writing job on their show. When I got the opportunity to meet with the showrunner, I was excited and never thought the meeting would result in questioning my skills and how I thought about myself.
During our thirty minute call, the show runner was so impressed with me that by the end of our conversation he apologized. “For what?,” I thought to myself. He apologized because he had literally just hired two writers for his show. And if he hadn’t hired them, there would have been room for me. In his after meeting email to me he wrote, “With all these credits and your impressive background, how you haven’t been scooped up on a show by now is insane.” If he would have known about me a week ago, I could have had the opportunity. He would have hired me based on my experiences alone. This conversation reminded me to continue to believe in and fight for myself. I’ve had a few informational meetings but haven’t been staffed yet. Nonetheless, I continue to forge ahead. I’ve written 4 pilots and am working on a fifth.
Why did I share this? I don’t know. I guess I wanted you to know about the lack of visibility for black writers in Hollywood. Being visible is a major wall—one that I’ve been trying to climb or break through for the past 12 years. When do I give up? Will the dream ever become a reality?
From the Netflix site: The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing documentary refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.
A film like the 13th is not always easy to watch. To see how Black history unfolds is unsettling. But we need to see it and we cannot deny it. We celebrate Director, Ava Duvernay for her brilliance and tenacity in creating this film. Her light shines bright and we appreciate her.
What are your initial reactions after watching the film?
The film discusses the power of the media in shaping people’s opinions and actions. For example, the use of the term ‘super predator’ in mass media resulted in an identity shift among people of color. Do you agree that media has a strong influence over the actions andopinions of society? What are some examples you can think from today?
What was the most surprising thing you learned from the film?
Did the film change any of your ideas about the prison system in America? Affirm any ideas you already had? If so, in what way?
Title cards in the film show the steep increase of the prison population from the mid to late 90’s until today. What was your reaction to these numbers?
The above questions were provided by Netflix.They have an entire discussion guide for students and parents to discuss their thoughts after watching the 13th film. It’s a history lesson that should not be missed.
Several weeks ago a member of Black TV Film Crew said that she was happy with the year 2020 even with the police brutality being exposed as well as COVID-19. I couldn’t wrap my mind around her statement or be happy with the deaths that have come from COVID-19. I responded, “A lot of people would still be here if it weren’t for the pandemic.” Nonetheless, she stood firm in her position and simply replied, “The things that we’re seeing now, they were happening before. We needed to do something about them.” The truth in her words felt like a strong left hook. Could she be right?
Whenever someone’s truth stuns me, I step back, look in the mirror and begin to ask myself some questions. The question here: “What did I need to do about anything?”
I immediately thought about my businesses. I’m a screenwriter and TV producer in the day time. Prior to the pandemic I focused on my TV producer work but didn’t focus as much on my Black TV Film Crew brand. When I thought about my colleague’s statement, I knew I needed to make some changes. I realized that I wasn’t as purposeful with my businesses in 2019 as I have been in 2020. So, here are the 5 ways 2020 has made me a better person and a better entrepreneur.
1. Make Time for My Businesses Every Day
When the pandemic gave me more free time (3 weeks off,) I started to think about my businesses—their impact, profitability and reach. I started to ask myself, “What can I do better?” The answer: Make time for my Black TV Film Crew brand every single day. Don’t make excuses. Even on days when I’m tired, I will contribute to make Black TV Film Crew a brand I’m proud of.
2. Learned Something That Other People Use A Lot
When George Floyd’s death hit national headlines, my crew member’s question slapped me in the face again. This time the question: “With all that I have been blessed with, what can I do to help Black activism?” How can I help the fight against police brutality and move the culture forward in a real activist type of way? That question motivated me but woke me up in the morning like I had caffeine cursing through my veins. 2020 forced me to learn how to do 30 second IG videos to get an activism message across to the masses. I decided I wanted to be part of the solution, so I taught myself.
3. Learned New Ways To Hustle
I’ve been watching so many webinars on a variety of subjects. I’ll type in something on Google then go and watch it. I’ve learned new skills that I know will help further my businesses. If not for COVID-19, if not for George Floyd’s death stirring something deep in my soul, I wouldn’t feel such a sense of urgency to learn more and to be better. Taking new actions made me feel like a better person.
4. Stepped Out of My Comfort Zone
There are so many new things that I’ve learned during 2020 which I am now trying out with my businesses. Whether its posting a social media video or promoting a Black culture activism initiative, these are all very new to me. I’m nervous about them, but I believe my actions are for the greater good and so I’m happy no matter the response. In other words, I don’t need 1,000 likes to feel like I’ve hit a homerun.
5. Accepted myself and my unique skill set
If I were to honestly criticize myself, I would probably say that I don’t spend enough time celebrating my talents while thinking the grass is greener on the other side. But, 2020 has given me the time to utilize my talents in a variety of ways. Using my talents at the highest level has given me both courage and confidence. How many writers can say they’ve written 10+ books, helmed a marketing company, produced an Emmy award winning show, run a Black culture brand with an audience over 250k, and spoke in front of an audience of 5k at the Essence Music Festival. The point is, now, I accept myself. I don’t have to be anyone else in order to be happy. I’m me. And that’s enough. I certainly feel like I’m a better person as a result.
As community activism continues to grow, justice for Breonna Taylor is heating up as well. Her Go Fund Me Page started by family member Bianca Austin raised over 5 million dollars in 5 days. The speed and amount of monies raised is a testimony to the power of the black dollar and activism. The Black community is outraged at how she died and how nothing has been done to bring justice for her death.
Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13, 2020 when police entered her home. The police exchanged fire with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker who was licensed to carry a firearm. Allegedly Walker fired first and hit a police officer. Breonna, 26-years-old at the time, was fatally shot. The Louisville Metro Police Department reportedly fired off 20 rounds into the apartment. Taylor was shot 8 times and at the time of her death Breonna was an emergency medical technician.
It’s been reported that none of the officers were wearing body cameras when they entered the residence. They were all dressed in plainclothes as they were allegedly plainclothes narcotics officers.
Walker did not die in the incident. Instead he faced criminal charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer. However, in 911 calls released to the public Walker can be heard saying, “somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” In late May all charges against Walker were dismissed.
Taylor’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the police alleging that the police officers entered her home without knocking or announcing they were police officers. In addition, the suit alleges the police opened fire with no regard for human life.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation into Breonna’s death on May 21, 2020, the same day that Police Chief Steve Conrad who was previously handling the case announced his retirement. Furthermore, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer indefinitely suspended the use of “no knock” warrants. Breonna’s case surely influenced Fischer’s decision.