Last week, Miami was filled with black excellence from the TV and film industry for the 22nd Annual American Black Film Festival. Renowned with the same respect as Sundance, ABFF brings together the best and brightest in entertainment from celebrities to executives to the next generation of creatives.
This was my first trip to Miami, my first time attending ABFF and my first step as I transition into the film industry, so needless to say I was a sponge soaking up all of the knowledge and sun one can handle. Here are some of my key takeaways:
Be Prepared- Attending a conference with over 5,000 people, in a city you’ve never been to before can be intimidating to anyone, despite of your experience. For me, this was more intimidating because this is a space I am unfamiliar with. I’m new to the film and TV industry and I’m still in the early stages of figuring things out. One thing that clicked for me immediately was “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready”. At any moment, I could meet an executive from HBO while standing at the bar or a fellow writer while walking through the hotel lobby. This was not a situation where the “who’s who” were isolated from the “regular “ folks. To prepare, I made sure I rehearsed my elevator pitch and had my business cards handy at all times. In any industry, most of the time it’s who you know, so preparation is key!
There’s Always Room- I attended a panel on Diversity and Inclusion with executives from Netflix and one of the first stats mentioned was that only 4.8% of writers in Hollywood are black. I assumed the number was low, but not that low. While feeling disappointed in the industry, it made me realize that there’s plenty of room for the next generation of writers of color, like myself, to come up and change the game. No matter how saturated you feel your industry is, remember that you bring something special to the table and that there is room for you and your talent.
Be Honest With Your Personal Process- This is a quote by actor Dondre Whitfield during the Hot in Hollywood panel. During the conversation featuring Logan Browning , Ashley Featherson, Bresha Webb, Jacob Latimore and my husband Kofi Siriboe, the panel touched on the challenges they face as newbies in Hollywood and how they manage to keep sane. As a veteran in Hollywood, Dondre spoke about a time where he couldn't find acting work and took a job at UPS. In the midst of this, he had to realize that while in that moment, he wasn't where he wanted to be, he knew God had bigger plans for his life. This is something we all can relate to. Many times, we focus so much on the end goal that we don't trust our process. Our society has conditioned us to want instant gratification for our work when the real beauty is in the journey.
Have the Audacity- My favorite event of the festival was a talk with no other than the incomparable, Ryan Coogler. The billion dollar man sat with Nischelle Turner of Entertainment Tonight and talked about his journey from a kid from Oakland to directing one of the most successful films of all time. I’ve been obsessed with Ryan’s work since Fruitvale Station and I’m familiar with his story but one story that stood out was around the Creed film. Creed was only Coogler’s second major film and he was already taking a huge risk by asking to direct a movie for the Rocky franchise. What made this story most special was that Coogler mentioned when he pitched Creed to Sylvester Stallone, he didn’t even have a name for Fruitvale Station yet. Let me break this down for the people in the back: Ryan Coogler pitched to work on a film in one of the largest and most beloved movie franchises for his second film BEFORE his first film was complete. The nerve! The audacity! Do you know how attuned you have to be with your purpose to shoot that kind of shot? Hearing Ryan share that story inspired me to dream much bigger my and to be confident in what I am setting out to do.
I'm so happy that I decided to invest in myself and step outside of my comfort zone and attend this festival. ABFF is an amazing opportunity for any who desires a career in the entertainment industry. I'm already preparing for next year! If you want to find out more about ABFF, visit www.abff.com.