A MODERN TAKE
At the turn of the 20th century in 1915, D. W. Griffith, who was known as the “Inventor of Hollywood” released his controversial film the “Birth of a Nation”. One hundred years later, in 2015, Actor/Director Nate Parker released his record breaking film at Sundance, also closely called “The Birth of a Nation”. I use that example to illustrate how far Hollywood has come and why change is inevitable. The Oscars started in 1927 and its foundation was laid at a time when America lacked the social sophistication and diversity it proudly has today. At that time, we had silent pictures, beautiful musicals and a studio system that paid actors a weekly salary and controlled every picture with an iron fist. One dramatic difference today is that anyone with a good story and a few thousand dollars can make an epic film and profitably distribute it outside the studio system. Today we have films made with Virtual-Reality Technology, Mirrorless-4k Cameras with mind-blowing retina display and high end visual effects. This precisely why the AMERICAN FILM AWARDS model is a modern take on how we should look at American Cinema in the 21st century. The Academy Awards was not created to celebrate films like Furious 7 or 007 Spectre. Although we still make classic dramatic films like “The Bridge of Spies” and “The Revenant”, the art form has expanded and we’ve designed our award categories to accommodate and recognize genre-based excellence and a cultural diversity that reflects our modern audience. The Academy Awards has its place but the American Film Awards has established a distinct lane in the industry that’s more in line with today’s needs. We reflect and embody the excitement of the American film- the big characters, big guns, sexy women, the drama, the cash, the car chase, the thrills, the spills, the epic endings, the love story, the music, the horror flick, the balls, the edge, the explosions, the stunts, the mystery, the feel good ending and the screaming applause in the end. That’s the ride we want to take.
THE TIME IS NOW
For the first time in the history of American Cinema, January 2016 will be remembered as the year that Hollywood was forced down to its knees due to the lack of diversity and opportunity available to people of color and women in film. The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences had to make drastic changes to the entire infrastructure after all-white nominees where announced two years in a row. While the focus stayed on the call for a boycott of the Oscars by a few A-list stars, an overflow of racial hate divided both Hollywood celebrities and audiences on social media. Everyone waited on the edge of their seat for Chris Rock’s opening monologue to save the day. Although he was applauded for his comedic brilliance, ratings were low, reviews were mixed and voting members of the academy are still divided in spite of the new measures to create to create diversity. The real issue is that the Hollywood film industry in and of itself, lacks diversity and opportunity for all which goes against everything that America stands for. The beauty of America is her multicultural state, a promise of opportunity and the fulfillment of the American Dream. The American Film Awards was created to include everyone and not exclude anyone from the opportunity to make and celebrate their films with the richness of our differences because in the end everyone has a story to tell. Our lives, just like a film, all have a beginning, a middle and an end. You are an American Film and your story matters to us whether its produced by a big Hollywood studio, a small production company in Tennessee or via Kickstarter.
Our goal is to clearly define the Hollywood problem as an opportunity gap. It is not a race issue. This opportunity gap must be closed by implementing specific strategies, through our brand of film festivals, conferences, showcases, distribution channels and buying summits, to ensure that all facets of the industry are given the platform to pitch their films, get funding, get cast in good and films, reach their audiences, and be celebrated according when they achieve excellence. Our wide-ranging awards categories cover the full spectrum of genres and cultures that reflects a true representation of films made every year. We are leading the way for change to happen in Hollywood and our business model is the first step to creating a new kind of Hollywood where a young woman has access to financiers to fund her film. Let’s create a Hollywood where a young black, white, brown, yellow or red actor gets a chance to read for a part, where an immigrant director is welcome by Sundance to showcase his work and a place where creativity and passion transcends race, gender discrimination and cultural differences. We all have to change Hollywood from the inside and be more open and accountable to diversity. The culture of closed doors needs to stop because we see no open doors in Hollywood. Sundance is not open, Hollywood talent agencies are not open, the offices of studio executives are not open and T.V. networks are not open. The average joe can apply to Sundance but the data shows that only 10% of films received actually makes it into the much coveted festival. What you’ll find are films backed or owned by the usual suspects, Hollywood studios and Hollywood independent studios. A cultural change is needed but a policy change needs to happen first. Studios, Networks and Agencies are not accessible to any artist with no direct or indirect connection to the gatekeepers and that’s why an open door policy needs to be adopted from the inside. This new way of thinking will begin the long road to wider range of films that reflect America, and from a business perspective, data shows diverse films like Furious 7 are extremely profitable. We look forward to partnering with all institutions, corporate entities, organizations and brave people who are willing to advocate for more inclusivity, transparency and progressive diversity in Hollywood.