On Monday, February 18, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) partnered with the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and the African Black American (ABA) Film Society to present a special discussion exploring the past, present and future of Black creative excellence in Hollywood through an inaugural learning lab, Celebrating Black Excellence in Cinema at its Los Angeles campus. The event featured Outlier Society’s Alana Mayo, and was moderated by AAFCA Founder and President Gil Robertson.
Gil Robertson said, “AAFCA is thrilled with our partnership with NYFA as we celebrated Black excellence in the industry during BHM. Our panel with Alana was excellent. She was very generous in sharing her experiences with the students as a Creative Executive, as well as providing them with inspiration on how they can follow in her path.”
Alana Mayo was Vice President of Production at Paramount and Vice President and Head of Originals at Vimeo before becoming Head of Production and Development for Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society Productions. At Paramount, Mayo helped develop the cinematic adaptation of Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Mayo discussed her background, how her parents influenced her career, and navigating her trajectory as a Creative Executive for three of the top studios in the industry.
Three students who attended the event gave NYFA their thoughts on the experience. Folake Kehinde, recent NYFA MFA grad and ABA’s Events Chair and Interim Communications Chair, had this to say:
My favorite things about this event were the access. Alana was welcomed by one of the ABA members who is also queer. I had no idea of this connection when I was scheduling volunteers and was so happy to be able to give Jamie the opportunity to meet and welcome Alana. Alana has greatly inspired Jamie and she was thrilled for the opportunity to meet and welcome her.
Alana attended the pre-reception briefly. She took pictures with the ABA and was so polite and happy to be with us. Her humbleness was so sweet and unexpected. Then during the event I appreciated her learnedness. It was so wonderful to hear from a production executive with a degree in film studies. So often production executives studied English or something slightly unrelated to filmmaking—it was nice to hear from someone with an extensive study of cinema as well as years of employment with various studios and production companies.
It was interesting to watch her talk so passionately about her favorite films, Polish Cinema, and the discussions she has while watching TV with [her fiancee] Lena Waithe. They’re very different in how they communicate but both have obtained vast success.
I also loved hearing how nice Michael B. Jordan is. I was so moved by her saying that Michael will give out her email at various places around town to people who have an idea and that they’re even going to make one of the ideas a person he met on the street wrote. I love that Michael is so kind, contemporary, and cutting-edge. The fact that he cares about people and is interested in talking with them and helping them to make their work blows me away. I also love that he is starring in several projects his company is making as well as other projects outside of his company. It’s inspiring to watch his career as an actor and now producer unfold. As an actress and producer myself this helped to confirm for me that I can achieve my dreams!
My final favorite moment was when Jamie told Alana that she is also a queer woman and that she has been so inspired by Alana’s career and bravery to be heard and make a path in the entertainment industry.
After the Q&A, legendary casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd (who cast Michael B. Jordan and others in the film Fruitvale Station and so many other projects) stayed and did an impromptu Q&A with actors and filmmakers. It was fantastic! She had a very frank conversation with us where she challenged us to tell our stories! She talked about being on a panel that read scripts for a Festival and how so many of the ideas were so similar. She knows that all black people didn’t grow up in ‘the hood’ and she wants creators to be unafraid to share their middle-class or wealthy upbringing. She advised actors to look their best at all times—even at the gym. She also told actors to put our pictures on our business cards, and avoid putting too much of another actor on their reels.
It was an extraordinary evening. I’m very grateful to New York Film Academy, Professor Kim Ogletree, and the founder of AAFCA for putting the event together.
Toyin Adewumi, 8-week Producing student, learned a few lessons from the event as well. The first was to take risks! A former HR professional, Adewumi loved that Mayo talked about leaving her comfortable job at a studio she had been at for years: “Having that clarity of there’s more out there. Yes I’m here… but… not being connected with the culture there.” Adewumi was impressed that Alana was brave enough to leave and find her ideal job.
She also loved that Alana isn’t ashamed of her personality. “Her acknowledgement that she needed to change some things. Her boldness to be humble… being willing to drop some things I (she) learned when I’ve (she) grown up. Her being humble helped lead to her breakthrough….Taking risks, knowing when to work on herself, being humble” are lessons Adewumi will treasure for a long time to come.
Brianna Dickens (AFA Acting For Film ’18) was moved by the ABA events held during Black History Month. Dickens had a wonderful chat with Twinkie Byrd and at the ABA Careers in Television event, she was invited to visit a set for a day with some friends. She tells NYFA:
I’m so thankful I found the ABA. I didn’t even know they existed. Luckily my class was invited to a screening event of theirs (the Q&A with Chuck Hayward). The second I arrived, the leaders of the group welcomed me and introduced themselves to me. In less than a month of being an ABA member, I’ve attended three events that have truly inspired me, opened my eyes, taught me things no one else has, and even opened the doors for me to have real on-set experience!
Everyone in this group is focused, supportive, kind, and encouraging. They uplift each other. I think we will do great things for one another and together. I’m thankful to have them.
The New York Film Academy and ABA Film Society thank Alana Mayo and Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd for sharing their experience and advice with our students!