My Open Letter To The White Owners At ‘The D-Word’, A Documentary Brand Begging To Work On Inclusion, A Story By Tahyira Savanna

Dear Tahyira,

The D-Word stands in full support of the Black Lives Matter protest movements. We demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Riah Milton, Rem’mie Fells, Oluwatoyin Salau, and the many other black people whose lives are callously taken by the police and white supremacists.

We know that a statement of solidarity is not enough. The incredible growth of the Black Lives Matter movements in recent weeks has put a renewed spotlight on systemic racism and white supremacy in the USA and across the globe. It is high time that the documentary field, as a white-dominated community that benefits from white supremacy, owns its responsibility and commits to working toward real change. 

The pursuit of documentary-making has always relied heavily on white privilege. For too long, the world’s narratives have been told (and funded and programmed and distributed) through a predominantly white (and male) lens. In addition, many of the community spaces within the doc world are also white-dominated and often feel unwelcoming and unsupportive to black people and other people of color – particularly women, trans people and people with disabilities. The D-Word is guilty of this, too. While we have always hoped to create a space that is open to everyone, we recognize that we have not done enough active work to support and champion diverse voices and make them feel welcome in our community. 

We are listening and learning and are inspired by powerful leaders in the doc community (like Sonya ChildressIyabo BoydMarcia SmithStanley NelsonYance Ford, Dawn Porter, Pete Nicks, and many others) that have been demanding change for years. The D-Word is committed to amplifying their messages, to making our ongoing programming more diverse, and to developing an action plan to encourage allyship and help dismantle white supremacy in the doc world at large. 

We also understand that white supremacy has to be dismantled by white people, and so as a community with a predominantly Amero-centric white membership, we commit to starting long overdue conversations among white people about whiteness in our field, and the role that each of us must play to make space. There is no pathway forward without this critical piece of the conversation. 

If this resonates with you, we invite you to join us in the following ways. These are just some first steps of immediate action.

  1. We are launching our first open call for expanded leadership. We will prioritize ensuring that we have a diverse group of hosts and volunteers working together to craft the future of The D-Word. If you would like to get involved with the management or running of our community, please apply here
  2. We are forming a special working group which we invite interested members to join, so that we may collectively start to craft a toolset for authentic allyship in the documentary world. We are asking members to self-select for these conversations, which will not start in public forum, and will require dedication and commitment to active work. If you would like to join a group dedicated to working on strategies to recognize and dismantle privilege and white supremacy in documentary, please apply using the same form and sign up for the Working Group

This is the beginning of a new chapter for our community and for our whole society, and The D-Word must do what it can to accelerate change and make the doc world a more equitable and inclusive space.a

Sincerely,

The Hosts of The D-Word
Marj Safinia (Los Angeles)
Erica Ginsberg (Washington DC)
Peter Gerard (Brooklyn)
Heidi Fleisher (Paris)
Doug Block (New York)

Tahyira Savanna attends the American Film Market forum in Santa Monica, CA.

Tahyira clicked the linked, and wrote this in the section marked “tell us why”:

The email was great but I googled Marj, Erica, Peter, Heidi, and Doug.  Until someone looks like me and talks like me then nothing is changing. White privilege literally holds back creative people like myself from even wanting to keep going. I’ve championed tons of Black writers to finish their scripts, I challenge Black actors to produce their own kinds of content and my very first film project was a documentary I called New Minds In New York, to highlight young Black creative entrepreneurs. The videographer was Black, the sound editor was Black, the Director was Black, and all the majority of the subjects were Black. We sold it in Nigeria. A win. But no one in the States wanted to hear about productive Latino and Black young adults. Why? Because they are afraid that White people would reject the narrative. It’s a tired story of being Black in America. I always felt that when the World catches up we all will already be there. I appreciate you wanting to make space but its disheartening it took Floyd for you to see. As if you didn’t know you were taking up too much space in Hollywood already. I’m not interested in clearing white guilt. I’m down to help be a voice in this conversation but I want to know what did you all learn about your individual privilege? What do you think about all the laws that allow racism to continue against people like me and provide safety for people who look like you? It’s time to remove the mask and take a hard look in your own mirror.

If you can work out a production budget of $6,000 my friends and I have an idea for a Black Lives Vote documentary project. We have been struggling to find financiers.

Thanks!

Tahyira is the owner and operator of The Red Eye Media Group. She owns a talent management company with her husband Frank, where they both work on film and music. When the couple moved to Hollywood in 2017, they hit a road block, a white road block, a road that said if they don’t look a certain way or act a certain way, Hollywood would not let them in. So they left. And their back home in Brooklyn, where they started.

Read more about The D-Word: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_D-Word

Watch New Minds In New York here: https://vimeo.com/48896236

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