It’s no secret anymore that Atlanta is steadily on its rise in one day replacing Los Angeles as the US’s hub for all things film and entertainment.
Critically acclaimed movies and shows, like Marvel Studios’ Black Panther and FX’s “Atlanta,” have helped draw more film industry-related businesses, as well as more movie directors, actors, and creatives, to the region.
One such platform, Seed&Spark, recently hosted a panel discussion at the Plaza Theatre to discuss diversity, inclusion and the growing independent film scene around Atlanta.
Featuring an all-woman panel comprised of its founder Emily Best as moderator, Erika Alexander (“Black Lighting,” “Living Single”) and rising Atlanta-based filmmaker Lisa Cunningham (Atlanta Film Partners), the panelists discussed why films are being made in Atlanta and how they’d like to see an even greater expansion of the film industry’s footprint in the region.
“Seed&Spark is a creative marketplace where creators can build sustainable careers. We’ve combined the audience building power of crowdfunding for filmmakers,” Best explained. “We’re the number one crowdfunding platform in the world for movies and shows, and we’re also a subscription streaming platform for audiences.”
Best explained that Seed&Spark advocates for inclusion and diversity in the film industry by having 50 percent of their library directed by women and 36 percent directed by people of color. In fact, the purpose of the Seed&Spark panel was to help teach filmmakers how to be independent and entrepreneurs while promoting diversity and inclusion.
Fortunately, because of an surge in diversity and inclusion effort in Atlanta, there are far more opportunities for independent filmmakers and studios.
“Both Michigan and North Carolina was shut down. For years in Los Angeles or California, you didn’t have any incentives. There were a lot of people who did not want to go south, and wanted to stay with their families,” Alexander said. “But then when Georgia and Michigan and, at some point, North Carolina (offered) tax incentives, they had to move where the work was because it was less expensive.”
Cunningham agreed, saying that the city is at a crossroads right now.
“What could potentially happen if the right governor isn’t elected in November, in the blink of an eye, we will lose those tax credits, “ Cunningham said. “Georgia can take a crazy turn, but as long as we stay progressive, I see projects being developed out of here. I see this concept of new Hollywood coming to full fruition in the next three to five years.”
Best added, “I’ve spent the last week meeting with a ton of the key stakeholders in Atlanta entertainment and I think there is not just the talent and the potential investment, but the political will to make Atlanta the entertainment capital of North America.”
Cunningham, who got her start in the film industry by interning on TLC and Xscape music video sets, said that handling logistics in other major cities are a lot more difficult than the process is in Atlanta.
“I love New York, but when I film in New York, as I did a few weeks back with Ford, I was so stressed because of the logistics of just filming in a city like New York is intense,” she said.
While Cunningham said she is all for Atlanta’s booming film industry, she believes more projects need development. Through her company, Cunningham hopes to build business partnerships in the Atlanta area.
“At this point, we’re just getting pimped out, and they’re not developing out of here. We’ve got to change that,” she said.
For Alexander, inclusion and diversity is vital for multiple perspectives to exist.
“If it’s hijacked by one sort of main white male patriarchy than no matter how good the intentions may be, you’re getting just one point of view of one perspective, but we know the world doesn’t work that way,” Alexander said.
Alexander also mentioned that while black people are the sons and daughters of slaves, the minds of people of color could not be taken.
“They could take our time from us; they could take our bodies from us, they couldn’t take our minds,” Alexander said. “So we built culture, and so we’re culture makers.”
Best said that Atlanta possesses the most diverse and inclusive environment for creators.
“This city has a different relationship to diversity than most cities, and with the film scene booming, there are more different kinds of creators,” Best said, who then quoted Outkast’s Andre Benjamin. “‘The South has something to say,’ and the voice is powerful and beautiful.”
But inclusion and diversity wasn’t the only topic discussed among the panelists. The Me Too Movement which has made a mark in Hollywood with men and women speaking out against sexual assault, the film professionals gave their thoughts on why the movement is so powerful.
“I’ve had friends and even my own stories,” Cunningham offered. “As far as Bill Cosby and R.Kelly, I am on the side that probably believes from the evidence that has been shown that they are probably guilty and do deserve consequences for their behavior.”
“You have to be held accountable, and it’s a new day, and I’m glad to see it,” she added.
Alexander said she believes that women have found their voices, and perhaps the outcome of the 2016 election played a role in that.
“Women have been discovering themselves for a long time,” Alexander said. “With the 2016 election with the miseducation of America around a female president or female candidates, a lot of the women were disappointed and, in a rage, they set it off.”
She, too, said she believes that famous men with long histories of being associated with abuse toward women like R.Kelly now have to be held accountable.