As she sat at the foot of her TV, a young Kemi Jackson grew up with Black characters on screen who she could relate to and were written as human beings, not stereotypes.
“I grew up in a great time, I saw Black women on television and I saw hit shows like ‘Sister, Sister’ and ‘Moesha’ and ‘Half & Half,’ like I was able to have shows growing up that some people didn’t have,” said Jackson, a 2020 film and media arts alumna.
But most shows are mainly focused on white people, with Black characters stuck in supporting roles, Jackson added.
Ninety-one percent of Black people said they wanted to see more content with Black directors and writers, according to the #RepresentationMatters study by the National Research Group.
Black students and alumnae from Temple’s film and media arts department are pushing for more representation on and off screen within the program.
“You need to start with the director and the producers and the writers, like the people that are in the room creating the content before it’s even like, in production, those people need to be of color, we need to have their voices out here,” Jackson said.
Being a minority in the film world often means being an outsider and not getting the opportunities to make that change happen, Jackson said.
During her time at Temple, Jackson felt that the film and media arts department was made up of mostly white students and that it was hard to find people she could talk to. After meeting Hann McEwen, a 2020 film and media arts alumna, and realizing they were having the same problem, Jackson and McEwen created Film in Color, a student organization, to give nonwhite filmmakers a place to belong.
“She approached me about this, and me and her both had similarities like, ‘Is this for me? Because I’m not seeing people that look like me in these classes or teaching these classes, so why am I here?’” Jackson said.
Reigna Wren, a senior film and media arts major and current co-president of Film in Color, feels the club was a place to make friends and bring awareness to how Black people are portrayed in different genres.
“One thing we noticed at Temple is you would see these kids, non-Black POC and white students, they were able to find their groups and just make friends,” Wren said. “And you would see a lot of the Black kids either A, drop out after freshman year, or B, just struggling to find that group that they can work with, so we try to provide that too.”
Kayla Watkins, a fourth-year film and media arts graduate student, had that exact problem. As an undergraduate student, Watkins lived in a Performing and Cinematic Arts Living Learning Community in Hardwick Hall, but was rarely asked to work on projects with her non-Black classmates, she said.
A fellow LLC resident talked to other members to find out if Watkins had done something to upset the other residents, but didn’t hear anything, she said.
“The only difference that he could spot between me and the other people that they had asked to be on set was that I was Black and they were white,” Watkins added.
As an undergraduate student, Watkins was usually the only Black person in the room, a problem she still deals with when teaching undergraduate classes. This was detrimental to her self-esteem and caused her to downplay her own skills, she said.
“When I was an undergrad at Temple, I didn’t even feel like I could go to that class, I didn’t feel like I was qualified, and when I look back now, I was actually overqualified, I came to Temple with filming experience,” Watkins said.
As part of an ongoing effort to make the film program more inclusive and welcoming to students of color, Watkins became involved with the FMA Racial Justice Task Force, which held its first meeting on Feb. 12.
“You can’t have an equitable film experience, you can’t even have a proper film education until everybody feels welcome, everybody feels safe to kind of put forth their ideas,” Watkins said.
The task force is a new initiative aiming to address racism in the film and media arts department. It is run by undergraduate and graduate students along with department faculty, according to the Racial Justice Task Force.
“Show us that black lives matter in the film industry, show us that black lives matter in our faculty, show us that black lives matter in our, in our professors, in our classes,” Watkins said.