By Edwin Freeman
Photos: Edwin Freeman
As an African American actor, writer and director, I believe independent filmmaking is the future for Black creators like myself. As major studios continue to lack diversity both in front of and behind the camera, we have a prime opportunity to tell our own stories on our own terms.
According to a recent study by UCLA, films with minorities in lead roles and a diverse cast routinely outperform studios projections at the box office. Films like Get Out, Girls Trip, and Crazy Rich Asians have proven that there is a huge market and appetite for stories featuring people of color. Yet out of the top 100 films last year, only 5 were directed by African Americans. The studios claim there is a lack of talent, but the reality is a lack of opportunity.
That’s why now is the moment for Black filmmakers like me to bypass the studio system entirely through independent filmmaking. With new streaming platforms and social media, we have the tools we need to create our art and find our audience independently. For too long, our narratives have been filtered through a predominantly white lens in Hollywood. Now we can share our truth unfiltered.
I know firsthand the power of independent filmmaking. My acclaimed documentary Modern Day Slavery about prison labor abuses is one of the top African American documentaries on Tubi. And my new hip hop documentary Beats & Lyrics, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the ever expanding number one genre of music, is garnering attention on Prime Video. I financed both projects independently and promoted them myself through social media, allowing me to maintain creative control.
Independent filmmaking is not without challenges. Securing financing and distribution remains difficult, especially for Black creators who lack industry connections. But technology continues to democratize the process. Smartphones and affordable editing software can make just about anyone a filmmaker today. And social media provides a way to target niche audiences directly.
There has never been a better time for African American filmmakers to create the change they want to see. The next Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay or Ryan Coogler might be out there just waiting for their chance. So I encourage all young Black creators to pick up a camera, get shooting and share your vision with the world.
The time for independent filmmaking is now.