By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
When Ri-Karlo Handy put up a Facebook post last year seeking Black Union film editors, he had no idea the post would go viral and bring attention to the Whiteness of Hollywood.
The post was put in a private Facebook group, but after White editors commented that the request was an exercise of reverse racism, the responses were screenshotted and posted to Twitter.
“I just found myself with this huge microphone and this huge spotlight with folks asking me what the solutions were to diversity,” said Handy, who has worked in the television and film industry for over 25 years.
According to Handy, at that time, Black editors only made up 1% of the Union. This shortfall in diversity dates back to the formation of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which is the primary labor union for Hollywood production jobs. IATSE was founded in 1893 and consequently was not designed to include Black people.
“The gap that I see that’s super clear to me because I’ve been around this every day of my life is that it is a social business,” said Handy. “If people do not connect with you socially, typically they don’t hire you.” As a result, because Black people were shut out of social circles they had no access to opportunity.
This harsh reality combined with the public attention motivated him to establish the Handy Foundation in 2020, which trains people of color in below-the-line jobs and connects them to job opportunities in Hollywood.
According to Handy, the majority of workers on a television or film set comprise the below-the-line community, but many people are unaware they exist. These jobs range from editors to sound mixers, and the Handy Foundation specializes in these post-production below-the-line positions.
“A lot of times Hollywood makes it seem like these jobs are so hard to do or are so unattainable, but really you just have to take the time to teach people, and that’s what the foundation does,” said Handy.
They have now trained almost 75 individuals and placed 24 of them in long-term jobs, and Handy hopes to expand the program to 300 people each year going forward.
It specifically offers four programs that differ based on age and level of interest and expertise, and the costs for the programs are supplemented by the city of Los Angeles, the Urban League and partnering production studios.
The foundation’s latest venture, Hollywood Bridge Youth Program, targets young people, 18 to 23, who are interested in working in the television industry. The foundation partnered with the City of Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department to provide students of color with an 8-week paid internship in television production.
Once the participants have graduated from the program at the end of July, the Handy Foundation will connect them with production companies so they have the chance to obtain professional internships.
“It’s an opportunity for a company, with no cost to them, to try someone out and give someone a chance, and that’s how you discover real talent,” said Handy. “Of those 60 kids, I have no doubt that a few of them will be someone we hear about in the future, just because they got the opportunity.”
On Sunday, the foundation will host its inaugural virtual gala, during which it will recognize the graduates of this program and celebrate the work it has done to bridge the gap between people of color and Hollywood.
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