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Women in Film

Dafina Roberts Dishes About the Importance of Intersectionality

Growing up in New York City, Dafina Roberts did not see many shows that reflected New Yorkers living their fullest lives, especially not from the perspective of characters who had intersectional identities. Roberts took it upon herself to make a series that reflected the life that she and her friends had growing up in the city. Not only did she direct the series, but she also did the editing, color, and sound for the show. She was also a Kickstarter Creator-in-Residence, which is what helped her and the team to complete the show. The title of the show was inspired by the idea of finding joy in a city that can be so serious and harsh sometimes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with New York slang, “Giving Me Life” means anything that brings one joy while the term “deadass” means something that is serious. The series was well-received by its audience in New York and became the recipient of the AT&T Audience Award for Best Episodic at the Frameline Film Festival, which is the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

Roberts specializes in creating content for Gen Y and Gen Z. She chooses to create content for a younger audience because she loves coming of age stories. She admires those stories because they show how we believe one thing when we are “young and innocent”, but then those ideas get challenged as we grow up. It is a universal struggle that we all face at one point in our lives and Roberts loves how the situations these characters are put in can be relatable to so many of us. To her, coming of age stories are about finding joy within the difficulty of realizing that life is more challenging than we anticipated. Roberts said, “The irony of life is the thing that I think the best stories have — it’s not all good and it’s not all bad, and you do lose some stuff along the way. But there are other things to gain and there’s a beauty in that.”

The series “Giving Me Life: In the Land of the Deadass” is a coming of age story about a group of young Black and Latinx characters who are navigating through the changes in their lives. Roberts included characters who have intersectional identities as that is an important aspect to many people who live in New York City. For example, the character Travis is gay, but he is also Christian. While some people may argue that one cannot be gay and Christian, the series shows that people can and do have intersectional identities. Roberts explained, “To not recognize that [intersectionality] and to always make it seem like people have to slice up their identity in order to exist doesn’t serve as our community and doesn’t give us an opportunity to talk about the changes and the opportunities and the real things that we’re doing to make our lives whole.” The character Travis does not feel guilty for being both gay and Christian because Roberts didn’t want to make another movie about someone feeling guilty for their identity. When asked why intersectionality is significant, Roberts explained, “I think intersectionality is important, because that’s how we live our lives and trying to section us off just doesn’t feel real.” People demand intersectional characters and content because they want to see characters and stories that reflect their own experiences.

One unique aspect of the show is that every episode focuses on a particular character. Roberts further talked about why she made this artistic choice, “I really just think that people want to hear stories that are not centralized on a particular perspective because I think a lot of people feel like that’s maybe what got us into the place we are with this country. There’s been an idea that there is only one way to look at history, there’s only one way for us to understand our identity, and that one way is the right way. And the reality is that most young Americans don’t believe that anymore. It’s not to say that you don’t have a right to see the world the way you see it. But you don’t have the right to say that we all have to see it the same way.” She continued, “I feel this is the kind of storytelling that people want to hear. And it gives us all an opportunity to see how in many ways, we maybe feel like we’re the stars of our own story and someone else might be like a supporting character, but in the end, we’re all in it together.”

Through her series “Giving Me Life: In the Land of the Deadass”, Roberts highlights the intersectional identities of various characters through a coming of age story. The show is relatable as we all go through the struggles of growing up and facing reality for what it is. As a result of every episode focusing on one person, we begin to think of ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories who are experiencing life together.

Watch Giving Me Life now on the Fearless app.

Kimberly Young Reveals the Most Important Lesson She Has Learned

2 Self Help Books Away From Being Perfect is a romantic comedy show inspired by Kimberly Young’s own story of growing up sheltered and not having much experience with guys. After she graduated from college, she explored the dating scene. Due to the lack of experience, she turned to self-help books to help her figure it all out. Young said, “I took what I went through and exaggerated the character flaws and created a whimsical world so the audience could get a glimpse to how and why she was the way she was.” 

Young loved the way that movies made her feel; she loved the hope and optimism it filled her with and she wanted to give that inspiration to others. Young’s story about how she began her career in the film industry proves that she really had to start from the bottom and hustle to get to where she is now. As a woman of color, she did not have connections in the film industry. Young explained, “One is only as strong as their network and if you are from a community that does not have access to certain opportunities it makes it harder to work together to achieve goals. Film is a very collaborative industry, and unfortunately, I am met with more cut-throat competition than peer to peer collaboration.”  

Initially, she was not getting many auditions. One of the biggest challenges for women of color in the industry is that many characters are not created for them. It can be difficult for aspiring actors of color to find the fitting roles, so Young decided to write and produce her own content. To get experience, she created her own short films that cost $0 and she learned a lot from this process. Young claims that the shorts were all bad, but they still exceeded her expectations. Each short helped her to make the next one better. By the time she wrote 2 Self Help Books Away From Being Perfect, she knew exactly what she needed. She had a small budget but was still able to create the quality she desired.

When crafting the storyline, Young prioritizes the audience. She said, “Movies are emotional rollercoasters. I think very hard as to what ride I want the audience to be on. I look at it as a  healing process. I am the practitioner and the audience is coming to me for treatments. The project is the treatment. I want the audience to rediscover love, to rediscover hope, to rediscover themselves or parts of themselves they forgot. To release things they’ve been holding on to or false world views they’ve been holding — to gain new perspectives on their own lives.” 

It was after all the hard work that Young had put into 2 Self Help Books Away From Being Perfect that she learned her biggest lesson — relationships are key in the entertainment industry. After finishing the project, she did not get the opportunities she was hoping to get. It was at this point that she understood that talent is important, but connections are essential. She explained, “It is your peers who invite you into meetings, who vouch for your work, who advocate you to get development deals, who write about you in blogs, who represent you at agencies, and if your peer group is not present in decision making spaces — those opportunities will be significantly harder to secure. People invest their time and energy in people they trust. They need to feel you are invested in their greater interest. So, they give opportunities, collaborate, and work with others who they feel they can trust to push their personal interest.” The industry is more focused on “clout” and “trust”, so Young has been trying to shift her attention toward building relationships with people in the industry. 

Despite the hard work that goes into networking and filmmaking, Young has persisted because of her passion for film and diversity. She believes that representation and diversity are important because they bring forth healing. She explained, “It validates those who have felt unseen and it educates those who do not venture beyond their comfort zone. If the only representation is the news pushing stereotypes it begins to dehumanize groups of people. Diversity on screen shows that these are people and that we have a lot more in common than you’d think. It also inspires more creativity, and expands thinking capacity.” 

Young encourages people to start where they are. She said, “Don’t compare yourself to others. Use what you got and make it work. Artistry is a process, not a finished product. The more you do, the more you’ll grow beyond what you’d ever imagined for yourself. Also, follow your heart. Too much ambition and strategy can kill truthfulness of art. If you love what you do and are true to your self, the opportunities will come. In the meantime, keep doing you and getting better.” Young also encourages people to remind themselves during difficult times of why they started their journey in the first place. She said, “Love should always be present with you on this journey.” Although Young began her career with $0 budget shorts, cut-throat competition, and limited industry connections, her story demonstrates that if one is not offered opportunities, one has the power to create them for oneself.

Hannah Yohannes On Being a Woman of Color in the Film Industry

Through the film Home Away, Hannah Yohannes brings to screen the story of a young black woman who gets pregnant and turns to a youth shelter where she faces challenges dealing with the other girls and the shelter system. Despite the difficulties of living in a shelter, she learns to make new friends and create a new family.

Hannah Yohannes was inspired by multiple factors to begin her film career — her dad’s passion for film, her love for visual storytelling influenced by Disney movies like The Lion King and the chance to inspire her own children. Through her content, she hopes to educate and empower her children to be creative, use their imagination to share their stories and to see themselves reflected on screen. 

One of the biggest challenges she faces as a woman of color in the industry is proving that she is worthy of film opportunities. She said, “I found what helped me in the long run was believing in myself, my faith and my vision.” She learned to reframe her perspective of rejection and see it as a chance to do something better or an opportunity for self-growth. Yohannes felt inspired to create the film “Home Away” to bring awareness to single parenthood and the challenges faced in the shelter system. She explained, “I was inspired because I felt that if I can showcase what I went through as a single parent, then someone who is in either similar or different circumstances wouldn’t feel alone and that there is hope in this thing called life.”

Yohannes’s film features people of color as the lead characters, which is something rarely seen in Hollywood. Yohannes believes it is important to showcase diversity and representation in film because film has the power to change people’s beliefs and ideas of how they view themselves and the world around them. She stated, “For me, I think it is important to highlight diversity and to create a space of inclusion and empowerment that it is possible to be our best selves in front and behind the scenes.”

Yohannes’s advice to aspiring young women is, “Be fearless with your dreams. Your story, ideas, your unique perspective all together are important and do not require validation from others. Keep an amazing tribe of people who sincerely support you and will give you constructive feedback that will shred your pride and ego but never destroy your heart.”

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