Effie Brown delivered the keynote speech at the Sundance Film Festival’s Producers Brunch on Sunday, sharing some of the insights she’s accrued during her decades-long career as a film and television producer. Brown, whose credits include “Dear White People,” “Real Women Have Curves,” and “But I’m a Cheerleader,” spoke about why producing is not a job, but a “calling,” as she puts it. She also spoke about her efforts to elevate marginalized voices in front of and behind the camera.
Read her full speech, which was shared exclusively with IndieWire, below:
Producers rarely get an opportunity to celebrate ourselves and allow ourselves some shine. I see you out here doing what you do and doing it oh so well.
One thing I learned on this 20-plus producing career is that you can’t go it alone. I needed a community — a support system. These women represent some of mine… I thank you: Heather Rae Mynette Louie, Rebecca Green, Shelby Stone, and Nina Yang Bongiovi. We’ve been in the trenches a long time, and I wouldn’t have made it up here without you. Like most of us in this room […] we feel producing is not a job it’s a CALLING. Producing films is our form of protest and sometimes prayer.
Now for those on the come-up, can I make a suggestion? Wrap your arms around folks who are doing what you do. They are NOT your competition. Repeat, they are not your competition. They will be your source of strength, your external gut check so to speak. I think that’s one of my biggest takeaways from surrounding myself with badass producers. The struggle is real but so is the strength of a community and there is strength in numbers — rising together.
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Surrounding myself with producing peers has brought me three important lessons.
1) Know your WHAT and WHY.
Simply put: Get clear, really clear, on WHAT you want to accomplish in this business and WHY you want it. It’ll be the foundation of your career and, believe me when I tell you, people/places and situations will try their damnedest to knock you off your path. Your What and Why will help you hold fast.
2) COMPARE AND DESPAIR is a killer.
I had to stop comparing my insides with other people outsides. It’s so hard, especially now where it seems that everyone is living their best Instagram life. Yes, it’s great that someone gets a deal, wins an award or even gets to do a keynote, BUT their gain is not a reflection of your perceived failures — or that you should have done more or, even worse, that they took your opportunity. This took me so long to get…like years. It wasn’t until I got this lesson on a spiritual and cellular level that things shifted for me in my career and, more importantly, life. NO ONE can do what you do. You are on your own journey; you are running your own race. We as producers know that ideas are a dime a dozen, they are not inherently unique. But you know what is unique? Execution. That’s a producer’s sweet spot. The execution of that idea is the key because half of those people with the idea don’t have your WHAT and WHY and the other half don’t have the OVARIES to pull it off. But you know what… we do. We are the ones who come up with the plan to execute the vision (hopefully within the confines of budget and schedule). You can do it, and I know you can because I’ve been there, we’ve been there, and you will be spectacular if you get in agreement with this. I know I’m sounding like a preacher, but it’s Sunday and the truth’s the truth no matter the day or the audience.
3) Choose FAITH OVER FEAR.
Nothing drives me crazier than when I see someone talk shit about their producing peers, trying to drag them down. It’s your FEAR showing. When we act like crabs in a barrel, all it really shows is a fear-based echo of some colonizing slave mentality bullshit where there’s this belief that there can be only ONE — only one woman, only one Black, Latino, Asian LGBTQ, or Disabled person who makes it. IT’S A LIE meant to keep us small and not living up to our potential. And you know how I know it’s a lie? Because how many cis white male successful producers can you name? OK? Imma leave that there.
Don’t get me wrong, I talked much shit back in the day, and I can cut a person with words with the best of them. But I realized that was me playing small. I was afraid that I wasn’t enough — I wasn’t ready and maybe I didn’t deserve it and I didn’t have the faith in myself or in my WHAT and WHY. And when I see someone else do it. I can see that they too are playing small and letting fear overtake their faith in themselves. Let it go. It doesn’t serve us.
Look, I’m a middle-aged Black woman who’s been producing for 20 something years… this system was not set up for someone like me to succeed and here I am. CEO of Gamechanger films. Running a film and TV finance and development fund solely to amplify the voices of people with disabilities, LGBTQ, people of color and women — in front of and BEHIND the camera. And you know what every story needs to make it come true? To execute the idea? It is YOU the producer with clarity of purpose and plan. We need you — you ARE ready, you are enough — you DO have it takes. Stop being afraid and playing small. Your TIME is NOW. If you are looking for a sign, let this be it.
Now that you are all pumped up and letting go of the compare and despair, you are walking in faith over fear. Now here’s where it may get a little tough to hear.
Hurry up. We got work to do.
Hollywood is but a reflection of the world we are living in today. Systemic racism, ableism, homophobia, and misogyny are real and don’t let anyone tell you different. But we have it on the RUN. Because WE in this room, right now, can kick its ass. It’s all in the execution of dismantling these outdated racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist structures. And that’s where we shine. It’s not HOPELESS but we CANNOT be complacent — we can’t be satisfied with the shiny baubles of a diverse lab here, or an inclusive program there (they great and part of the process of dismantling) but it isn’t how we get to the end game.
We can’t trust talk — we have to see action.
A LOT of people are talking out of both sides of their mouth about inclusivity and diversity. But when you look around their office or their set, they have one lonely only sitting up there and claim they can’t find anyone else. Stop! Ya’ll know exactly what I’m talking about the lone woman or person of color that gets trotted out for cover to show how diverse they are. C’mon!!!! We are here. We have been here, and we are qualified. I know I’m walking a fine line. I can hear people saying ‘well damn’. She’s still complaining… we are making changes… it takes time… you should be happy. I’m not happy but I am hopeful. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of waiting for something that should have already been ours. Equality in this business shouldn’t be viewed as a gift or something earned. I don’t think we should have to be overjoyed for a business finally doing what should have been the norm from the start.
We know in this room that if they aren’t prepared to move as fast as we need them to, we can do something about it. If we aren’t offered the meaningful opportunities within the system, then we must make our own way — run our own race and we must do more than talk. Being in positions of power, having agency being able to make decisions and being able to deploy financing — if we are ever to be equal, we must be just as committed to betting on ourselves financially as we are to dismantle the system. That is something we can put into practice now.
Three things – I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — HIRE, MENTOR, and INVEST. I think the hiring and mentoring we get.
It’s the investing I want to end on. This is a big one. The diversity of our content should also be as diverse as our investor pool. If we truly believe that you can’t make a movie about us without us, then we — along with our allies — should put our money, resources and access into the projects we want to see.
Because once this system of inequality is dismantled, and I believe it will be, what will we put in its place? That is on us. And I have the utmost faith that we will rise to the occasion …all of us together.