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Cinema and Identity: Diversity in The Film Industry

By Daniela Rodriguez


Nuñez, and her director of photography Rebecca Moore, on set for her sophomore film (Photo by Daniela Rodriguez)


Sophomores Isabella Nuñez, Idris Pickel, and Araceli Colón all have one thing in common: they are aspiring non-white filmmakers, hoping to make it in an overwhelmingly white industry.

Nuñez, a 19-year-old student of Dominican descent from New York, has dreamt of directing and writing narrative films since childhood. Even though her family’s economic situation limited her opportunities to acquire valuable film experience, her impeccable writing skills got her a spot in Purchase’s Conservatory of Film.


Pickel says he’s “a big writer” and, even though he’s mostly interested in narrative filmmaking, he wishes to explore all different types of cinema. He is one of the two black, male sophomores in a class of 26 students.


Colón, 19, says she desires to “be in a position where [she] can direct, be a cinematographer, be an editor, or even a production designer” for documentary films. She is one of the few black women in her grade and, along with Nuñez, is one of the three Hispanic women in the sophomore class.


According to the 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report, a yearly study conducted by the UCLA College of Social Sciences, three out of 10 directors are people of color. Directors of color made up 30.2% of the workforce in 2021, and though a big improvement from the 25.4% of the previous year, these numbers still leave much to be desired.

When it comes to budgeting, directors that belong to minority groups are constantly receiving the short end of the stick. According to the 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report, 40.3% of minority directors of top films were given a budget of $10 million or less in 2021, while only 28.6% of white directors of top films received the same amount.

Out of the 30.2% of non-white directors of top films in 2021, 9.5% were black, 7.1% were Latinx, 6.7% were Asian, 4.4% were multi or biracial, and 0.8% were Native American.


Source: Hollywood Diversity Report 2022, via socialsciences.ucla.edu


This trend is also reflected in data collected about film writers. According to the same study, three point two out of ten writers of top films identify as a person of color. Writers of color made up 32.3% of the workforce in 2021, showing a 6.4% increase compared to the 25.9% reported in 2020.

Out of the 32.3% of non-white writers, 10.4% of them were black, 5.6% were Latinx, 4.0% were Asian, 8.8% were multi or biracial, and 0.8% were native.



Source: Hollywood Diversity Report 2022, via socialsciences.ucla.edu


Though the industry is still lacking, things seem to be improving. 2020, in particular, was a year that brought immense change. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theaters had to close down, forcing people to consume films exclusively through streaming platforms. These streaming platforms are not only convenient, but they are also more financially accessible, giving more people the opportunity to access cinema.

New audiences showed interest in films with more diverse casts, crews, and stories.

“It’s really important to me as a watcher,” said Kevin Diaz, a second-year psychology student with an interest in film. “The media we consume is usually so white-centric, it can be exhausting. Seeing more diverse films is like a breath of fresh air, especially if there are lots of non-white people working on them.”

On and off-screen diversity makes people feel like they belong--it is a source of inspiration for young, aspiring filmmakers, such as the ones attending the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Film.

The Purchase Conservatory of Film shows a lack of diversity that resembles that of the industry. “I think it [the film conservatory’s student body] could definitely be more diverse,” said Pickel. “But I also don’t think it’s too predominantly white.”

Even with this in mind, non-white film students still struggle to connect with their white peers. Privilege has allowed many white students to have opportunities that were never accessible to students of color, students said.

“People feeling out of your league even though they’re at your same level is such a big issue,” said Nuñez. “It might not be entirely an identity issue, but a lot of times it does feel like it.”

Another significant issue is the diversity of the stories developed, produced, and shared in academic settings. Non-white students often feel limited in the kinds of stories they can tell through their work.


“When it comes to projects, I like to make silly things,” said Nuñez.

“And I always feel like I need to be serious to be taken seriously. But it’s also that line of you can’t be too serious.”

These unique experiences, although sometimes unpleasant, encourage students of color to bond, not only with their non-white peers, but also with their professors of color.

“Besides the other students of color I’ve managed to connect with, I think the professors of color [are] a saving grace,” said Colón. “I think it’s really important to know I’m being taught by someone that looks like me, that comes from a background that is similar to mine, that understands my struggles and is able to help me get through them.”

“Freshman year, I was about to quit the program and I felt like no one was able to relate to what I was going through,” said Nuñez. “But I had a conversation with one of my professors of color where he was to read through my insecurities and relate to what was going on in my life.”

“I tend to be a person that black and brown students will come to,” said Edwin Martinez, a film professor. “For a while I was the only person of color in the department, and even though that is no longer the case, I still feel the responsibility to support these students. If I don’t do it, who else is going to?”

Though it is certainly not easy to succeed in a white-centric industry as a person of color, students, educators, and people in the field are actively working to make sure their voices are heard.


“My personal upbringing and my film mentors have all been people of color,” said Colón. “That is really important to me and I’m so happy that is starting to be reflected.”








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