Effie Brown, producer of such movies as “Real Women Have Curves” and “Dear White People,” began her keynote address Sunday at the Film Independent Forum with cheerful, loving appreciation for the organization. “I’ve been here at Film Independent for 23 years,” said Brown, adding, “That is the longest relationship I’ve ever had, besides my parents and they can’t kick me out either.”
Brown noted that many of the conversations that affected her the most were ones that featured real people with the careers she wanted who unmasked themselves to show the truth about working and living in Hollywood. Keeping to that truth, Brown recalled some of her own shame and failures, hoping to inspire listeners with lessons she wished she’d known years ago.
“Compare and despair is a useless time suck,” said Brown. She recalled questioning herself as she compared her career’s progress to the progress of others’, wondering when she would have the same level of success. With that comparison came the questions of “Am I a fraud?” or “Do I deserve to be here?” Brown emphasized that it is easy to for people in Hollywood to compare themselves to others, but everyone encounters some level of setbacks.
“Nobody has it together,” Brown said. “Nobody has the answers.”
READ MORE: The Unsinkable Effie Brown Makes HBO’s ‘Project Greenlight’ a Must-See: “I’m not his favorite person”
“Have you ever asked yourself what are you doing here and why are you doing it?” Brown asked, emphasizing the need to understand the why and what independent filmmakers are trying to accomplish. She encouraged the audience to write these goals down and tell others who will hold them accountable. Brown’s “what and why” came from watching TV shows when she was growing up and realizing she could not connect with the faces and circumstances of the characters. She wanted to create “inclusive stories” as her means of changing the world.
“It’s my truth,” she said, adding “It is my belief that when you see a person accurately and fully represented, not the stereotype that is out there, it humanizes them. If you are humanized, it is harder for people to treat you inhumanely.”
Keeping with that mindset, Brown briefly spoke about diversity, urging the audience to use their money to pave the way for more inclusive content. “There are only two ways we have made change in systemic oppression: shame and money. Our weapon is our voice, and our bullets are our dollars. We cannot support financially the people and places and things that are not inclusive, that participate in oppression,” she said.
“There was a point when I thought I was a straight-up baller,” Brown said, amused, but a bit embarrassed. She had a three-room office, she was in Black Enterprise Magazine and was working for HBO. But most importantly, according to Brown, she had a film fund. “I was a big, big deal,” Brown said.
Then, one day in 2007, her funding was pulled thirty days before she was supposed to shoot two movies. Instead of pulling the plug, she drudged forward, cutting the budget even further and finishing both movies under tight time constraints and high stress. With both projects completed she hoped for a Hollywood ending, but neither movies were successful.
“I was just so embarrassed and so ashamed and I didn’t want people to stop believing in me because if they stopped believing in me, I’d stop believing in me,” she said. She hid her distress out of shame, and it was not until an investor pulled her aside and reminded her of her “what and why.” Her words encouraged Brown to stop hiding and have the courage to reevaluate her position and take back her initial inspiration for producing movies. These years, jokingly referred to by Brown as “The Darkness”, were a great lesson in embracing failure.
“The trick was not to let it turn into failure by not learning from it,” Brown said. “By not getting up from it and by talking about it. More importantly, I had to take stock of what was, not what I wanted it to be, what it should’ve been, what it could’ve been, but what it was.”
Watch more of Effie Brown’s keynote speech below:
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