I spent a lot of time during the course of my filmmaking career creating who I didn’t want to be. This desire to avoid being pigeon-holed or categorized for the most part has led me to create work that in parts stands out , but as a complete body of work has been scattered. To use marketing terminology, I have been lacking a brand voice.
This led my career as a filmmaker to stagnate. Trying to create everything led to a confusion of what thing I was actually doing. There’s always a struggle in any creative field to avoid having others define your voice for you. But there’s another trap that you don’t have one of your own. After making film after film without that voice, I had finally reached a crossroads where I had to look inwards and figure out what that was in order to take any kind of step forwards.
America is a country based on categories — race, religion, politics. Everyone has a team that they’re supposed to belong to and conform to the expectations of that team. That team is your identity. You speak as one and you don’t stray too far from the path.
Being biracial with a black mother and white father, it was assumed that I would pick my mom’s team. No matter my background or circumstances, I was a black man in America and my films would speak about that experience. That was who I appeared to be, so that is the message I should speak into the world.
This was especially the case when I was in film school. It was almost unheard of for any filmmaker of color to direct anything other than a film about the struggles of their ethnicity. While this was a great emergence of colored voices, it was also used as a way to divide and diminish. There were directors and then ethnic directors. While their talent was unquestioned, their place was always below those who should have been their peers. Spike Lee made “black films” while Martin Scorsese wasn’t pigeon-holed in the same fashion.
I recognized this reality and set out to rebel against it. I vowed that I would make films that fell outside of what was expected of me. I made thrillers, comedies, and dramas that often said nothing about the expected struggles of growing up as a brown man in America. But what I lost sight of is that by denying that part of myself, I was getting in my own way.
The 2016 Presidential Election was a real gut check for a lot of people. It was a confusing event for me because I was both shocked by it, but at the same time expected it. It reaffirmed again what people of color have always known — that we still don’t entirely matter in the social order of America.
That moment of shock became a moment of self-reflection. Like many filmmakers, I had tried to create work that would get me noticed. To bring attention to myself and cater to my own ego. But I felt deeply that the time for that was over. Now was the time to ask, “How are you going to use your talents as a service to someone else.” And that the only way to ensure that people who were not categorized as white would have a say in the future of this country was by adding my own voice to it.
Talking about race is not something that came to natural to me in a public form. But I realized that “me” was not as important as “we”, and ultimately we don’t actually want to be talking about this. We wish that our ethnic backgrounds were regarded as just a part of who we are, similar to our European brethren. We don’t hear them lamenting about if they’re Irish enough. Or the struggles of being German. They’ve been given the luxury of being considered American, while we’re still fighting to get to that stage of recognition and no longer be considered as other.
As much as this website is a space for stories of the multiracial and multiethnic community. It’s also a place of therapy, at least for me. A place to increase the confidence to talk about what needs to be said. To shout it for everyone to hear.
To move past that state of reluctance and into one of empowerment. So that the next generation can use that state as a place to begin.