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It Will Take All Of Us To Make A Difference
- Friday, Aug. 7, 2020
I have lots of funny stories about being a Black executive producer and production company owner. There was the time on set when I was given the coffee order by an agency creative because he thought I was a PA. Sadly, there are not too many Black people in my position in our business. I try not to think about these incidents, because it distracts from the big picture. Sometimes, though, a series of events happen that forces you to take a good hard look at reality.
I started our company Contrast Eye relatively young at 24 and when I was younger, I didn’t give much thought to making opportunities available for people of color. Even though I’m Black, I felt that the world more or less represented an even playing field, that the cream rises to the top, that the exceptionally talented will always get their shot. Over the years, I have come to realize that is not always the case. Sometimes it’s because of one thing; the color of a person’s skin.
To my surprise, recent events have touched me in ways I never thought possible. Lately, agencies have been reaching out to me, creatives and producers truly contrite in their admission of being “tone deaf” to the lack of opportunity given to people of color. They ask me how can they help, what they can do, and, where do we go from here?
Over the years I’ve seen several initiatives started in the production community to help Blacks and other minorities get a leg up in commercial production. There are film scholarships, internship programs and various mentorships. All are good programs, but the results have been less than satisfactory. There’s still racial discrimination, less access to the best film schools and the highest paid production jobs. There’s still massive room for improvement as recent polls have shown less than 45 percent of U.S. adults believe the country has gone far enough in giving Blacks equal opportunity.
The bitter truth today is that both Blacks and whites are skeptical regarding prospects for true racial equality. So what do we do at this moment in time when there’s momentum to do something special? How do we seize the moment? One thing I know is that we have to do it TOGETHER. Everyone in the industry has to concede to the lack of opportunity, then do something about it. We have to develop a collective mindset. You. Me. All the production companies and all the ad agencies. We have to realize and acknowledge that the cream doesn’t always rise to the top, because sometimes it’s never funneled into the bottle to make it happen. That great talent is not always developed, sometimes it’s wasted. We can’t afford to waste priceless, creative human capital, because that is all our industry has to offer. We have to realize that living in a world of inequality holds us all back from maximizing our collective growth and happiness.
Sometimes just seeing a Black person in a position of power and success on set is all the motivation you need to want to achieve more. I know this first hand. The only job I ever PA’d was in Rome 2005 on a Pirelli commercial with Antoine Fuqua directing. The day of the shoot, Fuqua and I were the only Black people on set. He was at the top of the food chain and I was on the bottom, but he treated me as his equal, went out of his way to check in on me. There was a kinship. A Black man with all that power. I had the feeling I can do it as well. What’s funny is, a few years later I bumped into him in LA, maybe 2009, after launching Contrast Eye. He remembered me. I told him about my venture and he said, “Do it brother!” It’s all the validation I needed. And when I’m on set, I always make sure to go out of my way with whoever is Black, because I owe to them what Antoine Fuqua gave to me.
It will take ALL of us to make a difference. By collectively acknowledging there’s a need to take action, we can make it a better, stronger industry for everyone.
Osei Kakari is founder/EP at production house Contrast Eye in Venice, Calif.