“What a white filmmaker wants the audience to see and what a Black filmmaker wants the audience to see are going to be completely different,” says Ramone Hulet, the creator of Black In Film. / Photo: Chelsea Ross
Chicago, IL — Ramone Hulet was up late when the idea hit him.
“It honestly came out of frustration,” the Chicago filmmaker says over an afternoon Zoom call. “I was recently working on a set where we wanted to hire Black, but couldn’t.”
That’s when Hulet thought of it: a website that would act as a running list to connect Black creatives in the film industry with each other and non-Black filmmakers. Hulet worked until 1 AM that same night to finish the website and Black In Film was born.
But before he could officially launch the site, Hulet shared the idea with his friend of five years, actor and writer Kyra Jones. Jones had recently created a series of Instagram stories shouting out other Black folks in film. Together, the two completed Black In Film, with Jones managing social media for the site. Within a day, they received 100 submissions from producers, writers, directors, and other film creatives around the country. In just a week, that number increased to 400. These submissions are entered into the Black In Film database where you can find the name, contact info, position, level of experience, and more of Black creatives.
Jones and Hulet’s extensive experience in the film industry revealed a need for a clearer path to collaborate, recruit, and hire other Black people. Hulet’s recent work includes the 2020 Candyman collaboration between Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele, while Jones can be seen on Fox’s Empire and in her comedy webseries, The Right Swipe.
“I have seen it many times,” Jones says in the call with Hulet. “I’ve been on sets as an actor where I’m supposed to be telling a Black story, and I look over the camera and just see a sea of white men.”
The fight for diversity in the film industry is nothing new. The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity created a minority program in 2019 that included a film services tax credit for sets with people of color or women. In 2015, April Reign took the Internet by storm when she created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded all 20 acting nominations to white actors. However, Black In Film aims to emphasize the importance of representation behind the camera as well as in front of it. A 2020 UCLA study found that while women and people of color saw an increase in roles in 2018 and 2019, representation is a much different story behind the scenes. Writing and directing credits as well as executive positions still remain overwhelmingly white and male.
“The camera is literally the gaze of the audience,” Hulet says. “What a white filmmaker wants the audience to see and what a Black filmmaker wants the audience to see are going to be completely different.”
Actor Kyra Jones says she often finds herself sets where she's supposed to be telling a Black story being produced by a team of white men. / Photo: Kyra Jones
Hulet and Jones explain that there are many obstacles that keep Black people and other people of color from entering and moving up in the film industry, from a lack of representation in film schools and programs to a lack of connections and mentors. Hulet says that many Black people get their start on film sets as production assistants, but struggle to advance beyond that.
The Black In Film database has existed for less than a month and is already making a difference in the lives of Black creatives. Ashley Battle is a cinematographer in Chicago who has been recruited for a gig through the database.
“There’s a huge Black presence in filmmaking that is often unseen and unheard of because of the lack of resources,” says Battle, who recently worked on the set of Lena Waithe’s The Chi. “Some of us have our foot in the industry and we’re the token, and then there’s those who have no idea how to get into that industry.”
Black In Film’s cofounders believe that diverse film and media is needed now more than ever as people around the world are protesting the deaths of unarmed Black men and women.
“Art has always been so integral to protest,” Jones says. “If we’re only ever seeing people represented as thugs and criminals and people who need to be policed, that makes it more likely that people are going to call the police.”
Hulet says that he and Jones hope to expand Black In Film to include Black creatives around the world as well as to host in-person networking events and attend festivals.
“Our goal is wanting more Black people in a space to make the decisions,” Hulet says. “In an ideal world, we’re not a section on Netflix, we’re just on Netflix.”