By Emily Lever with photos by James C. Taylor
It's frustrating that there even needs to be a panel on diversity in film in two countries as diverse as France and America. As panelist Nina Shaw asked, "Why is it so hard to realize all our experiences have a certain commonality?" Why are "white movies" considered relatable while "black movies" are pigeonholed? The discussion, titled "Blacklisted: From Hollywood to Paris," featured Apollo Theater executive producer Kamilah Forbes (the moderator), film critic Claire Diao, executive entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw, and director and producer Rabah Ameur-Zameïche.
Without a doubt, talented filmmakers of color do exist. The question of the night was how they can access the resources to tell their stories. In some ways, French and American filmmakers have starkly different problems: Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche lauded France's robust public arts funding system, while Shaw shared the story of how Ava Duvernay funded her first film with the down payment on her house. Still, the film industry establishment in both countries is white and patrician. People of color are marginalized in casting, hiring, funding, and distribution.
From Diao, who created a distribution network bringing small international films to young people who couldn't have seen them otherwise, to Ameur-Zaïmeche, who stated, "we don't need recognition [from Cannes]! Let's make parallel festivals," the message was unmistakable: if institutions won't accept you, make your own institutions. Shaw summed it up in the words of Shirley Chisholm: "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."