I didn’t grow up around artists, and I don’t come from a family of artists. When I graduated from college I got into film publicity, but I never thought I could be the film-maker. Then I found myself on many sets, and started to believe I could do it, too.
I like that independence that comes from doing things for yourself, and doing them well. Editing, directing, producing, financing, distributing and publicising my own first films gave me a grasp of the process.
As a black woman film-maker there isn’t a lot of support – there aren’t many of us around
In the early parts of making Selma, I didn’t believe it was going to happen, even as I was making it. My father is from Montgomery, Alabama, which is very close to Selma, so I knew the place and had a handle on that time in history. I started telling the story and, before I knew it, it was in movie theatres. It was so fast, I never had a chance to think, “Oh my gosh, can I do this?” I just thought, “I’m going to keep going until someone tells me to stop.”
As a black woman film-maker there isn’t a lot of support – there aren’t many of us around – so instead of not doing something, I figure out a way to do it without support. As you start to create your own work, you attract help from like-minded people; you can never attract it if you’re sitting still.
The landscape has changed since I started my distribution company in 2010; we have Netflix, Amazon, all these streaming platforms. It’s an incredible time to be an artist, especially for those who had been left behind. I find it very exciting to think, “I’m not going to continue knocking on that old door that doesn’t open for me; I’m going to create my own door and walk through that.”
I always say: work without permission. So many of us work from a permission-based place, waiting for someone to say it’s OK. So often I hear people asking, “How do I get started?” You just start. It won’t be perfect. It’ll be messy and it’ll be hard, but you’re on your way.