The recently concluded 108th meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored at the Baltimore Convention Center was a showcase of how the nation’s oldest civil rights organization is standing between yesterday and tomorrow, particularly when it comes to having African Americans behind and in front of the camera.
The convention included Robin Harrison, chief of the Hollywood Bureau, who said her group is much more than the arm of the NAACP who gives out Image Awards on a nationally televised show every year. “The NAACP only has two bureaus one is in Washington and the other is in Hollywood,” she told the AFRO. “The Hollywood Bureau was created in 2002 as a result of the white washing of the television season that year. There was not one lead character of color that was part of any show that aired on the networks so Kwesi Mfume, who was president at the time, wanted to hold the networks and the studios accountable.”
Harrison said at the same time a Memorandum of Understanding between television networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox and the NAACP and several other Civil Rights groups representing American Indians, Asian Pacific Americans, and Latino Americans was signed to increase the number of minorities in front and behind the camera.
“The four organizations come together on an annual basis. We meet with the networks, talk about their numbers in front and behind the camera, we ask the hard questions, why these numbers are up and why these numbers are down, but we do that and this how the bureau was conceived,” said Harrison, adding that while people of color are still under represented in Hollywood there have been gains.
As Harrison talked she stood in an area filled with people, lights, and cameras because during the convention the bureau and Shorts TV out of London sponsored a contest where three groups of filmmakers were working on seven films about Criminal Justice Reform in which the winner would be awarded with enough money for a 30-minute film project.
“I have learned a lot, I have learned how to white balance a camera,” said Aaron Gaddis, one of the young filmmakers from Dallas. “I have learned how to be more intentional with my time and my scheduling. I learned that if you have a big creative vision it is going to take much bigger time and structure. It took me seven months to do a seven-minute short and now we are doing it in 48 hours.”
In addition to making a documentary the six participants who are broken down into three groups filmed the panels during the convention around issues concerning criminal justice reform and the winner was announced at the NAACP awards dinner.
There were hundreds of young convention attendees and many had their NAACP ACT-So, which stands for the Afro-Academic Cultural Technical and Scientific Olympics, created to encourage high school students to advance in the arts and sciences. Since its creation more than 300,000 students have taken part and during the convention there were 32 teams competing.
Larry Brown, National Director of ACT-SO, told the young people in a statement “ACT-So is the place for you to explore your academic and creative passions free from judgment. This is the place where professionals, mentors, and your peers desire you to succeed.”