While last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy helped launch a national discussion about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, others have taken the issue into their own hands, choosing to change the narrative by writing and telling their own stories.
Now black filmmakers are taking the issues into their own hands, thanks in part to initiatives like Jack Daniel’s innovative “Real to Reel” series, a nationwide competition created to highlight rising African-American directors. Led by Power star Omari Hardwick, Jack Daniel’s Gentleman competition is quickly turning into a platform for emerging filmmakers.
“I am an artist. I think it’s just incumbent upon me to help those out that might face the same thing, where they can create a fan base — I definitely think that they need those opportunities to flex their artistic muscles behind the camera, in front of the camera, as writers in terms of their pen. We just need better stories told. Whether the fans want to see it or not, we as artists have to make them want to see it. I’m always going to champion that and champion people that want to tell good, expansive, dynamic, not run-of-the-mill stories. I’m all about that,” Hardwick recently stated to Ebony magazine.
After taking their talents across the country – showcasing short films in Chicago, Los Angeles and more – on June 8 the event landed in Houston, where directors Anthony Rose, Bebushka Monetti and veteran comedian Billy D. Washington took a few moments to speak to us about their short films.
It’s a new lane for Washington, who spent over twenty-five years crafting an impressive comedic career that included a stint on Def Comedy Jam. “Comedy has been my bread and butter for twenty-five years, this is what I do. But it’s [film] is different because I have a different feel for the African-American experience, my stories are typically more abstract and I love a fish out of the water,” said Washington.
Adding, “Certain things that I can’t make funny, I put into film. People wonder how Jordan Peele, who is hilarious, could do a film like Get Out, but it’s really just finding an idea that relates to everybody.”
Tossing his hat into the cinematic ring, he debuted a project called “Bro” during the Houston Black Film Festival, winning his first competition in the process. Now he’s hosting the “Real to Reel” series and offering a submission of his own, a haunting short called “The Pillow Case” that left the audience stunned during the Houston screening.
Praising long time collaborators Christopher Allen and Mikell Limbrick of iRise Films – a place he once interned at – he also celebrated the actresses instrumental in pulling his vision together, the talented Jaylene Mack and Sydnee Simone.
Revealing he’d cast Simone after viewing a video of her preparing for a role he explained, “It was so compelling and this is who I wanted it to be. So I reached out and we shot it in 12 hours.” The result? A short thriller that focused on a chilling secret between two lovers.
Also in attendance was Rose, who is currently assisting with the massive press run for the highly anticipated Tupac biopic. After gaining early film credits under the legendary Robert Townsend, Rose has continued to earn his stripes as a director, finding himself on this year’s Gentleman Jack Daniel roster with an entry called “Behold A Woman.”
An early crowd favorite, the vibrant short film also featured American Grit actress Chloe Mondesir in an ode to lovers everywhere. According to Rose, “It’s about different women of color, just reminding them that the love is not gone. Even if the media is telling them that they’re not good enough. No matter what time, no matter what era. We value you, we need you, and we can’t do it without you.”
Rounding out the evening was Houston’s own Bebushka Monetti, a bilingual artist and producer, known for bringing music to life via creative visuals. Aiming to set the bar high, with her upcoming “A GIRL HAS NO NAME” visual EP on the way she’s been hard at work as a creative director, producer, and video editor.
Drawing on inspiration from Eddie Murphy’s star-studded classic Harlem Nights, Monetti delivered a 1920’s era piece called “Texas Toast.” What starts out as a cautionary tale about a lover scorned, shifts to an interesting look at the power of hindsight and perspective. “She reviews the interactions and reveals she’s looking from the perspective and not the truth,” Monetti revealed.
Shifting between music and filmmaking, the talented Houston native has decided to embrace both, crediting Omari Hardwick’s partnership with Jack Daniels for giving rising creatives a voice. Said Monetti, “I’m super excited to see what he’s trying to do with Jack Daniels. Giving black filmmakers the platform to share their work.”
She added, “All of this honestly I can’t take any of the credit, it’s definitely God’s favor in my life. I didn’t go to school for this, it’s literally just me sitting and learning along the way. And with that, my creativity has taken over.”
For more information about “Real to Reel” visit here.
You can also connect with these talented directors by following them online: @BebushkaMonetti, @BillyWashington @AntRoseCEO
First published via Houston Style Magazine, June 2017