Issa Rae on Hollywood slowdowns: 'It's hard, it's challenging, but we'll make it through'

For 28 years, the annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) has served as a launchpad for aspiring and emerging Black talent across the TV and film industries. Fans from far and wide visit the festival to catch world premieres, indie screenings, contests and conversations and enjoy appearances from some of Hollywood’s most celebrated talent. Founded by Jeff and Nicole Friday in 1997, this year’s festival, held in Miami from June 12-16, was shepherded by longtime Angeleno and multihyphenate Issa Rae as the festival’s creative director.

For Rae, who has attended the ABFF in years past, one of her chief priorities for the role was “fostering a space of community.” In addition to the legendary white party, this year’s festival featured more events almost every night, as well as a chance for film contest winners to celebrate their achievements and network with other industry professionals.

“For me it was about centralizing it so that there were more spaces where we could meet each other and talk … [and] making sure the programming felt relevant to the needs of creators today,” Rae told The Times.

With the industry still recovering from last year’s strikes, festivals such as ABFF that spotlight Black talent prove all the more necessary. Even with successes that include the Peabody Award-winning series “Insecure” and recent roles in Oscar-nominated films such as “Barbie” and “American Fiction,” Rae said she’s not immune to the current industry slowdowns.

“It’s impacted me in the sense that you have to be more cognizant about how they’re thinking things will sell,” said Rae, who founded Hoorae Media, an independent media production company, in 2020. “They’re trying to create projects that have the most broad appeal and since we’re a very adaptable company, we’re putting ourselves in that mind-set. I also have to consider: What do I want to make? And who do I want to collaborate with to make that possible? It’s just a constant game. It’s hard, it’s challenging, but we’ll make it through.”

In a candid panel discussion with Rae at ABFF, Kenya Barris, the producer behind the Netflix feature “You People” and popular series “Black-ish” and “Mixed-ish,” admitted that the current contraction in Hollywood feels different from past industry struggles.

Barris reminisced about the days when a potential series deal could be confirmed in a casual phone conversation. Now, he said, even in his current position as the producer of multiple award-winning shows on major networks and streaming platforms, studios want specific participating writers, actors, budgets and series length in order to move forward with a project.

“The industry at large is pulling back, and it makes it hard to create anything, so naturally creatives of color are going to be impacted by that,” said Rae. But she also sees the industry’s recession as a potential opportunity for a resurgence of independent films.

“Hollywood always needs a reminder that novel things can travel,” said Rae. “I would advise filmmakers, like I’ve said in the past, to pull resources together to collaborate and show on your own.”

She urged creators to use platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to bring awareness to the independent film scene, saying, “Finding new ways to showcase will only help the film industry at large.”

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