Uptown Ventures Group and its brainchild UPTOWN Magazine recently hosted its annual “Uptown Honors Hollywood” soiree celebrating “Women Directors in Television and Film.” The fancy pre-Oscar gala honored four women in particular who’ve broken major ground in the entertainment industry. Honorees included Dee Rees, Gina Prince Bythewood, Stella Meghie and Chandra Wilson. Chris Spencer, writer and producer for BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” hosted the event.
As time progresses, it seems that honoring the gifts and talents of Blacks in Hollywood is finally becoming less of an anomaly and more of the new normal. “Mudbound” director Dee Rees was recently nominated for an Oscar for her work on the film and says that her notoriety means that men and women, boys and girls can learn from women telling stories behind the scenes.
As the first Black woman to be Oscar-nominated for writing an adapted screenplay, Rees says its “nice making history” but she’s “more interested in making the future.” “As an artist I know that it’s about the work. Awards, whether you get them or not, has no bearing on the work. It doesn’t diminish one frame of what’s on the screen and it doesn’t enhance one frame of what’s on the screen,” Rees declared.
For Gina Prince Bythewood, a director that we’ve all come to know and love for her work on “Love and Basketball,” “Shots Fired,” “Beyond the Lights” and countless other TV & film projects. She says that truth telling has sustained her as a woman in a male-dominated industry. “Foremost, I’m telling stories that I’m passionate about and honestly stories that I have to get out of my head and on to the screen, so that sustains me,” Bythewood said. “This industry is tough but I’ve been an athlete my whole life and everything I used to put on the court or on the track I apply to this business and it absolutely works,” she added.
On another note, Grey’s Anatomy actress and director Chandra Wilson says if she took the time to consider what it means to be a woman working in a male dominated industry, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“I put my faith in my steps as opposed to the people that are around me. My steps are getting me where I need to get to in life. I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Wilson said. “Faith comes in the movement, not in the sitting back thinking about it. What I see is people that aren’t trying to climb but people that are stepping,” she added.
“The Have and the Have Nots,” actress Tika Sumpter also attended the gala and said that while it’s a great time to be a woman, we still have work to do for the generation of women and young girls that trails us.
“We still have to push the needle forward to continue to open the doors for young women like my daughter eventually. I think it’s a beautiful time. Women show up and they show out, and they spend their money on the things that they really want to see. Hollywood is now seeing, oh there’s this whole other side of people who have been neglected time for a really long time,” Sumpter said.
“You also get to see different people on screen, different from your own stories. I think everyone’s interested in that. No one wants the same story over and over again and there’s no variation, so it’s an exciting time,” she added.
The ladies also dropped some major gems for aspiring women directors, writers and media professionals. We asked Bythewood about the “Issa Rae’s” of the world creating, writing, directing and acting in their own projects, and the keys to working through a seemingly saturated market.
“Some people try and break into this business by writing what they think people want to see, you got to start by writing what you want to see,” Bythewood said. “Be passionate because it’s going to get you to overcome ‘no.’ You’re going to put a script out and everyone’s going to hate it or turn it down but what’s gets you up off the floor and to keep fighting is if you’re passionate,” she continued.
“Everything, Everything,” director Stella Meghie says that women must never apologize for their creative genius and influence behind the scenes. Her advice was simply to “push your way through.”
Ultimately, Chandra Wilson says pressing through to greatness is a matter of believing in your work and putting in the work. “When you sit back and you’re asking for permission all the time, that’s when the no’s can come, but if you just start to create and start working in the direction of where you’re trying to get to, you’ll be amazed at the doors that start to open for you,” Wilson declared.
To see exclusive interviews from the evening, be sure to visit www.lasentinel.net.