Since the time I graduated film school. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be a successful Mixed filmmaker. On the surface, the answer to this question is simple – just being yourself. But being Mixed is never really simple. Because your Self is something that society at large has yet to fully grasp. And in an industry of genres and niches if you’re not one thing or the other, where can you really stand?
I have a name that, on the surface, doesn’t match my face. Maris Lidaka is a Latvian name, and the same exact one as my blond-haired, blue-eyed father (yes, I’m a Junior). The majority of people, including myself, have a hard time finding Latvia on a map. So when I walk into a room, I know there’s a lot of assumptions going on:
Is he Indian? Pakistani? Was he born here?
He must be part Black? Maybe?
I’ve got it! Ethiopian!
I don’t take offense to any of this. Personally, I think it’s a great way to start conversation. But for longest, I was confused about how to tell people about myself and where my own place was. And this bled into my work as a filmmaker.
Filmmaking and media creation is an incredible form of art. It takes various artistic disciplines and combines them into a one piece of work. And order to stand out you have to be able to package yourself. For the longest time, I publicly identified as a Black man with a White dad. That is how society saw me and so I just followed along. So when I declared my intention to enroll in Film School. The assumption was that I would tell Black stories. I would follow in the footsteps of Spike Lee and John Singleton and give an authentic voice of the Black struggle. Only…there was one problem.
It wasn’t my true experience.
I have suffered from racial prejudice and discrimination from a very young age. I was educated about the struggle of being Black in America by my mom, who lived through that trauma. But I also grew up surrounded by Black culture and Latvian culture. I learned Spanish at a young age and visited multiple European countries around the same time. I lived in Copenhagen for my formative teenage years. Which changed my perspective on not only myself. But the way I saw American society as a whole.
So to try and be a voice for the Black experience felt, to me, to be the most inauthentic thing I could do. Part of this was that I wanted to be recognized on my merit. For years, there was (and still is) a descriptor for non-White male directors. Spike Lee is a Black filmmaker and Katheryn Bigelow is a Female director. Which can we weaponized to diminish their craft. The work that they’ve done stands among the greats. So my response was to go in the opposite direction.
My plan was to create a variety of work so that I couldn’t be pigeonholed. My first (and terrible) film was about White priests. I directed a few shorts in Spanish that I’m very proud of. And I continued to create a wide variety of work that to the outside looked very beautiful. But also without a true perspective. While I focused on building a body of work, gaining skill, and “make it” in Hollywood. I neglected developing my artistic voice.
My perspective shifted when I had a phone call with a marketing and branding expert who asked what kind of filmmaker I was. And I proceeded to list all of the skills I had acquired:
“Well, I can write and direct. I’m also a very skilled editor and cinematographer. I can do anything on set and understand it all.”
The response I got was life-changing:
“That’s all very good. But none of that makes you marketable.”
I was shocked – I had always gotten accolades for my work from people I showed it to. But I realized they were remarking at its technicality. I had skill, but I had no voice. And art is nothing if it tries to remain silent.
I had dabbled in exploring issue of race and culture. But always backed away for fear of being put in a box. I thought occupying that space would be a prison. But I now realized that I was living someplace worse. I was a creative drifter without a home. Without an audience to create for. In the age of the internet, audience and impact are the key drivers of creative success. And at that moment, I had neither. I was behind, and I had a lot of catching up to do.
Before the Trump election, I was (and still am) witnessing a political and racial divide in America that threatens to tear the country apart. And at the same time, seeing more multiracial and multicultural people and families than I ever had before. After the results, I kept seeing a Tony Morrison quote:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
And in what I can describe as an out of body experience. I hear my Self lecture my own mind:
“You know what you have to do. Now’s the time to speak up.”
I realized in that moment, that I’d been selfish with the gifts I possessed. I wasn’t using them to help anyone else do the same. Even though the experience of being Mixed was increasing. Society’s inability to understand what race and ethnicity is was ushering in a new generation who had the same questions of identity that I had growing up. Ones that I had the privilege to leave the country and gain perspective on.
And I could share this perspective to answer some of these questions.
The Blended Future Project was created as a blog in 2020 right before the pandemic. And it’s allowed me to connect with many wonderful people who share this same experience. It’s allowed me to both inspire and be inspired by the people who are asking the same questions – Who are we? Where is my place? How can we change our world to make it better?”
And in doing this work, I found the answer to how to be Mixed in Hollywood. It was so simple:
I just had to be myself. That is where to find an audience and a purpose.
You will be whatever you put out into the world. And that’s a statement that embodies how Hollywood works. The entertainment business is a giant media factory that takes ideas and puts people in the place to executes them. So you have to know your place and who you represent in order take the spot you want. Or else, the machine will find a place for you. Which is not your best interest. It’s possible to pivot once you’re inside. But you have to really know yourself and who you want to be.
All these years later, I know what it means to be Mixed in Hollywood. It’s proudly declaring what I stand for in all facets – in my work, in myself, and in the people I meet. It’s given me a space and a niche that I fully represent. It’s opened up doors for greater connection and understanding. Going forward, the goal is to open more doors to speak about this growing experience. To be aut