Got a Case of the Rep Sweats?

On this week’s episode of the fantastic podcast Code Switch, hosts Gene Demby and Kat Chow delved into the complexity of getting a case of the rep sweats. The rep sweats are a condition common to people of color and some women, especially those of us invested in entertainment, pop culture, and identity politics. We know that opportunities for people who look like us don’t come along every day, so when a new project comes out that features our people, we feel pressure to support it by watching and/ or buying tickets.

Rep sweaters are also hesitant to publicly criticize projects from, by, and about our people for fear that a lack of a united front could damage the possibility of future projects about us (listen to the episode to learn more about Margaret Cho’s sitcom All American Girl and why it took 20 years to get another Asian family sitcom on network TV).  The fear is legitimate, and a failure for one of us can be viewed as a failure for all of us. One misstep can be referenced again and again as the rule and not the exception. We don’t make things any harder for people who look like us so we support and hold our tongues.

I’ve written about similar issues on the blog before, but I’m interested to know how others feel on this topic. I know that if I dislike a play, movie, or film by and about black people, I am more likely to keep that information to myself. I don’t tend to watch TV shows out of obligation, but I have been known to buy a ticket during the opening weekend of a black movie just to give it my dollars so there might be more opportunities for black filmmakers in the future.

Is there something you do to show support for people of color in entertainment? Do you make a point of seeing films by women directors? Are you hesitant to criticize these works because of the potential backlash? Sound off in the comments.

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Friday Netflix Festival: Black Film Canon

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may not have heard about the Black Film Canon a compilation of essential films from black directors compiled by the folks at Slate. There are some real gems on this list as well as a handful of films I haven’t seen. The earliest film is from 1921 and the latest is from 2016 so there is a lot to explore.

For this Friday’s Netflix Festival, here are a few canonical films that are streaming on Netflix right now.

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

This film from Barry Jenkins chronicles the intersection of two black indie people in a gentrifying San Francisco.

 

Pariah (2011)

A tough and touching coming-of-age story about a teenage lesbian and her first sexual experiences. Directed by Dee Rees and beautifully photographer by Bradford Young, this film stars Adepero Oduye in fine form.

 

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Ryan Coogler’s first feature chronicles the last day in the life of Oscar Grant who was killed by police. Michael B. Jordan turns in a star-making performance.

Ashes & Embers (1982)

A little know (until now) film about a black man returning from Vietnam. I haven’t seen it yet, and didn’t know it existed until the Black Film Canon was released, so I’m looking forward to catching up with it this weekend.

Ashes-and-Embers

 

Shot Callers Podcast

Some of you may know that I have the pleasure of serving on the board of New York Women in Film & Television, a fantastic organization that supports women in our industry.

In conjunction with NYWIFT, I have just started the Shot Callers Podcast that explores the lives and careers of women working today. Please have a listen and subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. Listen here!

My Take on Strong Female Characters

One movie trope that we’re always hearing about is the strong female character.  She is shrewd in business or she is lethal in combat. She is able to compete in a man’s world and she can hang with the guys. She can drink like a fish and curse like a sailor. She is everything that we often associate with masculinity but she’s a woman and she’s really hot. This SFC trope has been used in films and TV for years, and it popped up multiple times recently, particularly in Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m taking nothing a way from those performances, but I am bothered by the idea that a strong woman is one who acts like one of the guys. As if male approval and assimilation is the height of feminine achievement. Let’s redefine that strong female character for the next generation. Here are my picks of the strong female characters from 2015 films. They are smart, inquisitive, vulnerable, emotional, accomplished, passionate, and mysterious.

Therese Belivet in Carol

Played by Rooney Mara, she is young and impressionable and not yet sure what she wants. Her ability to dig into her vulnerability allows her to take a chance that leads to adventure, heart break, and a greater sense of self possession.

 

Kate Mercer in 45 Years

Charlotte Rampling plays Kate so simply and perfectly. She is a woman who slowly realizes that everything in her 45 Year marriage may be built on lies. She doesn’t beat anyone up or stop an army. She does explore her own mind, her own weakness, and her marriage until secrets are revealed that cannot be unseen. Her strength is that she is human and flawed.

 

Bianca in Creed

Tessa Thompson takes a part that could simply be a love interest role and turns it into an indelible character. Bianca is smart, determined and fighting a battle of her own against hearing loss. Her music and her passion drive her. She brings Adonis into her life to supplement and enhance it, not because she needs him to make herself feel complete.

 

Lucille Sharpe in Crimson Peak

Jessica Chastain fills this role with a delicate balance of passion and restraint. As the sister-in-law who may or may not be a threat to a young bride, Lucille brims with danger and desire. She is such a magnetic character, that I forgot about the other characters when she was onscreen.

 

 

Building Relationships with Casting Directors, Agents, and Managers

 

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I can’t tell you how important it is to build relationships in this business. From my experience, there are people in this industry who approach a director, manager, casting director, agent, writer with a selfish intent. I can always tell when an actor approaches me with the clear objective of getting work from me. When/ if they glean that they can’t get work from me, they quickly move on. They see me and my colleagues only as a means to an end. No one wants to be treated that way. Yes, you want to work, but this is not the best way to go about it.

I love that actors are so passionate, but a self serving approach doesn’t get you ahead. What does get you ahead is building relationships with people. For example, on a regular basis I get calls, emails, and dropbys from actors who ask some variation on “Do you have any roles for me?”

This phrase usually comes in the first moments of the conversation. Half the time, the actor doesn’t even tell me his name.  I get it, you’re looking for work, but I’m not a vending machine for acting jobs. I’m a person who works very hard and appreciates respect.

The best way to approach an industry professional, especially someone you’ve never met, is to look up how that person wishes to be contacted. Guides like Call Sheet state each office’s preferred contact method. If in doubt, send a personal postcard.

When you meet someone in person, pay attention to the social cues that person gives you. Short answers usually mean that we’re very busy. Don’t keep pushing and probing. Don’t just try to find what I can do for you. See what you can do for me, in a non-kiss ass way. This relationship should be a two-way street. We need talented actors to fill roles, and you need roles. We should be working together. Engage us as humans and we will do the same.

So, when building those relationships, it’s important to get to know people a little bit (but not pry into personal business).

The Definitive Word on How to Become an Actor

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I get emails and comments all the time that ask the same basic question “How do I become an actor?” Often times the person asking the question is young and inexperienced; however, if one types into Google “how to become an actor” the results are staggering. There are thousands upon thousands of web sites, videos, podcasts, books, and social media exchanges related to this topic. So why are people still confused? Are they simply unsure of how to begin or does this go to a deeper question of what makes a good actor? Or are they really looking to find out what it takes to be famous?

I’ve been writing a book lately that has made me reflect a lot on this question. Here is my answer, for now,  (at least the short version, for a more in depth response, check out the book when it’s published).

To Become an Actor:

  1. Study acting: take classes, go to the theater, watch movies and TV.
  2. Study people: observe friends, family, strangers. Listen to the rhythms of people around you. Watch how they interact.
  3. Study yourself: look at yourself in the mirror, dig deep to get to know where you can and cannot go emotionally. Attempt to see yourself as others see you in the world. Develop your voice, body, and mind as tools of your trade.
  4. Start acting: put on a play, make a short film, work with fellow students on a webseries. Learn by doing as well as through practice.
  5. Develop a technique: create an approach that works for you based on your studies and your experiences. Use your technique as the foundation you build your roles on.
  6. Treat it like a job: get up every day and work toward being a better actor. Go on auditions. Keep working at it. Realize that your work has value. Be a professional.

What do you think? What advice would you give to an actor just starting out. How did you start? Do you think I should add or take away some thing?I look forward to your comments.