It was celebrated Senagalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty who stated, “I am interested in marginalized people because they do more for the evolution of a community than the conformists. Marginalized people bring together a community into contact with a wider world.” It seems as though that’s exactly what Tisch alumna Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah and Rutgers University alumna Ewuradjoa Dawson-Amoah are doing alongside Adrian Sobrado, Tisch sophomore, with the creation of The Melacast Network: a new casting and collaboration platform devoted to bringing film creatives of color together.
Created at a time when people of color barely account for 14% of film leads as of 2018 and the issue of racial imbalance permeates discussion around awards shows like the Academy Awards, which has yet to award a Black filmmaker a Best Director award over the course of its 91 years of transmission. As of today, only six Black directors have been awarded a Best Director nomination, and “Moonlight” and “12 Years a Slave” remain the only two films directed by Black filmmakers to win Best Picture. Additionally, not a single Black woman has ever been awarded a Best Director nomination despite films like Ava Duvernay’s “Selma” and Dee Rees’s “Mudbound” garnering other nominations like Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Noting the inadequate representation of voices of color in the film world today, Melacast seeks to diversify the film industry by putting people of color on the big screen, behind the camera and on sets. Melacast believes that only an increase in diversified representation can allow the cinematic form of storytelling to continue to evolve, as stories and faces that were oft neglected by the industry begin to interrogate the medium and shock the status quo.
“I really feel like with everything that’s going on in the world right now, especially in the United States, I really feel like the best way to make a change in the people who don’t really understand the background of different cultures and different ethnicities that exist in the film world is [Melacast],” Sobrado said. “I think Melacast can actually make a change in that regard and hopefully make a bigger change in the industry.”
Not believing the idea that she was the first person to ever come up with this idea, Ewurakua scoured the internet in search of counter-evidence. Her search was fruitless.
“There’s a lot of diversity initiatives happening right now, especially now, with everything that’s going on, but when I first had the idea for Melacast [three years ago], I was shocked to see that there was no such thing in casting and collaboration platforms, specifically for people of color,” Ewurakua said. “The common theme that I saw was that when an initiative like this was talked about and it came into play, they were kind of put down into the non-profit category and treated like a charity, and not treated like an actual, functioning, for-profit organization that could work in the film industry with companies like Backstage and Actors Access.”
Long-brooding, it was not until the outbreak of the pandemic that Melacast finally started coming together.
“When quarantine happened, I just sent out a bunch of surveys to every actor that I knew and I just asked them to answer a bunch of questions about their experience as actors of colors and things that they see, and things that they would want, and the common answer that we would get was that they wanted a platform where they could go and find projects that catered to them, where they would be able to find meaningful roles instead of stereotypes, you know, really cut-and-dry roles,” Ewurakua said. “So that’s when we really started to make it happen and we got our website together, slowly but surely it’s been coming together.”
Having met rather recently upon producing Ewurakua’s thesis, Sobrado noted the confinement produced by the outbreak of the virus really forced the entire team to stay motivated as they worked to accomplish their goals one Zoom Meeting at a time. The sudden lack of direction from the outside world awarded them the time to develop their own. “We really got into it over corona, which was actually really interesting because since we were so confined, you know, in our rooms and our houses, we got work done, you know, we were really serious about it and we were motivated,” Sobrado emphasized.
It is here that notions of traction and resilience come into play, as emerging platforms seeking to bring about change are forced to figure out how to sustain their relevance in an ever-changing, rapid market, and how to inculcate their goals over a prolonged period of time. Created during a time of disconnect, Melacast has been able to generate a sense of community by spotlighting their members and plans, as well as developing Zoom meet-and-greets and panels that aim to maintain their network genuinely connected as they continue building their platform.
“I think the main pushback is that a lot of these things start and fall because they don’t get enough traction, because they aren’t held to the same standards as these big organizations that are already running Hollywood and the film industry and I just think, for something like this, persistence is key and making sure that we’re true to our mission statement and our vision and most importantly, to our members is what’s going to keep it running,” Ewurakua said.
It’s only been eight weeks since The Melacast Network officially unveiled itself and they’ve already managed to assist in the completion of Tisch sophomore Cole Swanson’s “Baby,” a short film that aims to “challenge cinematic tropes that surround Black Individuals in the media” whose partnership with Feeding America aims to provide meals to families that are struggling right now. Additionally, Melacast coordinated the production of a web-series filmed throughout the course of the pandemic and managed two more projects all while working on casting and production for future members who plan on filming as soon and safely as possible.
“I just really think production and development has really been the key to corona,” Sobrado said. “People have the luxury of time to work, so they’ve been able to refine their scripts while we’ve been working on casting, and Ewurakua was talking about all those projects that are happening, I mean, some are just happening online, which is crazy. But, it’s interesting and it’s creative.”
Speaking about his experience working with Melacast, Swanson noted they quickly provided him with crew members to work on the production of “Baby” and offered him support with casting in light of the intricacies of shooting at a time like this one.
“It’s really great to be included in what appears to be a movement,” Swanson said. “I know they’re still growing their platform so to see it continue to develop from where it was when I first got involved is really inspiring.”
With a movement developing, Melacast’s co-founders are now looking at ways to preserve the voices they plan on promoting. The importance of planning is essential for emerging entities, and Melacast has begun reaching out to film festivals and organizations that promote POC filmmakers in order to expand their impact. Actively finding ways to establish genuine connections among more established programs, Melacast is looking to foster an emergence of new voices in cinema by introducing the aforementioned entities to new ways of thinking, modes of storytelling and cultural stories that haven’t been displayed on the big screen yet.
“I hope that Melacast can serve almost as a ‘union’ of sorts,” Swanson said. “Like SAG-AFTRA [The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] or DGA [Directors Guild of America]. Promoting Black and Brown voices is one thing, to protect Black and Brown voices is another and I hope that Melacast can give their artists agency and ownership over their work, performances, and/or creative ideas.”
An air of extreme inclusivity impregnates Melacast, as they aim to unite under-represented voices to create more jobs, better work environments and reify a multitude of pitches that would have been previously dismissed due to the lack of platforms catering to people of color with a slew of meaningful, honest and nuanced roles.
“There’s no age-limit to being a part of Melacast, […] that’s something we want to break, there’s no age limit to start reaching streams and entering the industry and as long as people know that, we’re doing the right thing,” Ewurakua said. “And you don’t have to be in film school to join Melacast either. In fact, we encourage everyone from all walks of life to join Melacast because that’s what makes the most worthwhile film experience, in my opinion.”
Built for change, the emergence of platforms like Melacast at the hands of young creatives points to a sense of dissatisfaction with constant underrepresentation and a drive to refashion that source of dissatisfaction. Together, Melacast’s co-founders and their members represent a treasure trove of trailblazers who carry the ideas and ambitions to revolutionize the film industry.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, August 31, 2020 e-print edition. Email Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]