Kickstart Diversity Is Changing Who You See Onscreen: BUST Interview

by Erika W. Smith

Last month, Selma director Ava DuVernay made headlines when she said that being a black woman in Hollywood meant facing “a whole bunch of closed doors.”

“When you just imagine that there’s one type of voice that’s really being pushed to the forefront is the white male voice. In terms of cinema, it’s really clear that the rest of us are locked out,” she said.

Film and media incubator Big Vision Empty Wallet is opening those doors with their new incentive program, Kickstart Diversity. The program is open to projects with a writer, director or producer who is a woman, person of color or member of the LGBTQ community. Selected projects receive significant discounts from vendors and service providers in partnership with the incubator, and sister company Big Vision Creative will choose several projects each year to co-produce or represent for distribution. In short: it helps diverse movies get made and seen.

“We’re absolutely at a pivotal moment” in diversity in film and media, Big Vision Empty Wallet co-founder Dani Faith Leonard told BUST. “I think especially in these past few months there have been so many different things happening at different levels. The ACLU has investigated gender inequality and hiring in Hollywood and there’s been such a controversy about diversity surrounding Project Greenlight. I think it’s becoming so much more of a mainstream conversation that we’re at a time when it’s finally going to be handled behind the scenes.”

And, like Effie Brown told Matt Damon on Project Greenlight, the Kickstart Diversity program knows that making sure diverse people are in charge behind the scenes will lead to diverse stories told onscreen.

“I think there are a lot of people who still don’t believe that being more diverse in their hiring behind the scenes, whether it’s in film or any industry, will it affect things on a consumer level,” Dani Faith Leonard said. “I think even in choosing the 18 projects that we chose, we’re able to prove that that’s not the case. We supported 18 projects that were diverse behind the scenes, and we had no requirements as far as what characters would be portrayed onscreen. If the argument is that that doesn’t affect things in front of the camera, that’s absolutely not true. We have 98 speaking roles for people of color in only 18 projects, and over 80 LGBT characters onscreen, and women playing stronger women than are usually portrayed.”

Those 18 films span the range from unknown filmmaker’s first movies to films including After The Storm, directed by Spike Lee, and Speed Freak, starring Michael C. Hall – meaning that you definitely haven’t heard the last of Kickstart Diversity.

“As we get press and there are comments on articles and stuff, there’s always some white guy with a cowboy hat,” said Big Vision Empty Wallet co-founder Alex Cirillo. “But the tide is turning, and it’s a great time to be pushing a diversity initiative because people really do care.”

Images via Kickstart Diversity

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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