Spike Lee’s fellowship ushers in the next generation

ATLANTA — As lately as March, Taitu Livingston, who on Sunday graduated from Spelman College, the famed traditionally Black ladies’s faculty, was planning to spend the summer season after commencement in Miami together with her cousin, determining what precisely she wished to do next and probably pursuing dance, one among her majors and passions, as a type of storytelling. That plan modified final month.

“I was sitting on the couch getting ready for my final assessments when I got the call,” she mentioned. On the line was Jayson Council, Gersh Agency’s head of tradition, calling to let her know that she was the recipient of a fellowship awarded by the company and Spike Lee. Oh, and Council had another person on the cellphone for the 22-year-old to talk with.

“It was Spike on the phone congratulating me, saying he was proud of me and reminding me that he is my Morehouse brother.” (Lee earned his undergraduate diploma at Morehouse College, the males’s faculty next door to Spelman and Spelman’s unofficial brother faculty.)

Livingston is one among 5 college students from the Atlanta University Center Consortium, which incorporates Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, who had been named Spike fellows at Gersh.

“My ultimate goal is to be a screenwriter and director,” Livingston mentioned. “I want to produce, direct and choreograph my own films, all having to do with Afrocentric spirituality and Gullah heritage.”

Livingston and her friends share a need to inform tales about Black folks’s histories and experiences, however none of them are eager to be in entrance of the digicam. Instead, they mentioned, they see the energy and way forward for the trade as being behind the digicam in agent, supervisor, producer, casting director and different off-screen positions.

Late final summer season, after Bart Walker, Lee’s agent, requested what Gersh was doing round range and inclusion, he was linked to Council, who was specializing in the company’s efforts in this very space. Council finally met with Lee, and the two mentioned the challenges they noticed in the trade and talked by treatments that might be long-lasting relatively than fleeting.

A fellowship program, they figured, was one technique to create a pipeline into the trade for younger Black folks desperate to work off-screen. To discover the greatest younger Black abilities, they turned to Lee’s outdated stomping grounds: the AUC. The fellowship is paid, and the fellows shall be given $25,000 for scholar debt aid. The inaugural class of fellows will spend this summer season working in the Gersh Agency’s New York or Los Angeles places of work, and at the finish of the summer season, every fellow will resolve which workplace and division they want to be positioned in for the next yr, when their fellowship turns into a full-time job.

Atlanta, Lee mentioned, was a pure place to start out the fellowship due to its pool of expertise, and in addition as a result of it holds sentimental worth. The celebrated director was born at Grady Hospital in 1957. His household moved to New York when he was 4, and he returned to the metropolis to review at Morehouse in the ’70s. He graduated in 1979. Lee’s grandmother and mom each graduated from Spelman, and his grandfather and father each graduated from Morehouse.

“We want this thing to be a legacy,” Lee mentioned in an interview at the Johnson Lowe Gallery, the place a celebration for the fellows was held lately. “Far too often, we, as a people dealing in film and television, it is my opinion that we focus too much in front of the camera and being in the spotlight, but in all honesty, there’s more longevity behind the camera, and you have a lot more creative control behind the camera.”

To discover the fellows, Council traveled to the AUC a variety of occasions. There had been 81 candidates, and greater than 50 candidates had been interviewed. Students had been requested to have a grade-point common of no less than 2.75 — an achievable quantity for a lot of, but in addition one which wouldn’t exclude college students who work or who juggle college and different life expectations. Letters of advice had been additionally required, in addition to a video explaining why the scholar wished to take part.

Quentin Anderson, a senior who will graduate from Morehouse in December and was awarded the fellowship, mentioned the program feels “special,” as a result of it embraces nontraditional college students like him.

“This opportunity is a new start for people like me,” he mentioned. “I’m 25 years old, and I’ve been a part-time student at Morehouse since 2016.” Anderson practically flunked out of college in his first yr and determined to take a while off to start out his personal company. With the coronavirus pandemic got here on-line lessons, so he just about returned to Morehouse, the place he has been finding out communications.

Council mentioned he and Lee knew from the begin that they wished college students who had been passionate and hard-working, with an array of life experiences, not simply conventional college students with excellent grades.

“We want to show that there’s dynamism in these pools,” he mentioned. “You don’t just have to go to elitist schools, take the most elitist students while demanding a 3.9 or better and all of that. We want people who are real.”

That’s additionally why Council traveled to Atlanta to fulfill college students in individual, he mentioned. The company plans to proceed coming to campus and providing lectures and different methods of partaking with college students.

Michael E. Hodge, govt director of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, mentioned applications like this fellowship are essential for Black college students, as a result of alternatives like this haven’t traditionally been afforded to those college students.

“To have students go into these entertainment business fields behind the camera, in the boardrooms, makes a difference for what types of images are portrayed culturally that then inform — or misinform — the population about what a particular group in your community is about,” he mentioned. He added that, with out Black voices shaping the trade in decision-making roles, the imagery of Black America could be restricted and inaccurate.

“With no Spike, you won’t have images that portray history in a way that is authentic to the broad American culture, not just Black culture, but the broader American culture,” Hodge mentioned.

Jalen Ellis, a senior who graduated from Morehouse on Sunday, mentioned he wasn’t initially certain whether or not beginning a fellowship with a brand new company after beforehand interning for a unique one was the smartest concept, however the likelihood to be mentored by Lee pulled him in. One day, Ellis hopes to be a producer.

“I decided to take the leap because this fits in line with what I want to see in the industry overall,” he mentioned. “More Black professionals, more Black people in the boardroom who are assigning the jobs.”

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