MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
As a little girl, Sandra Evers-Manly would complain about not seeing people who looked like her on television.
“My mother said, ‘change it,’” Evers-Manly said. “So, I decided to be an activist and bring about change in Hollywood.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
Today, Evers-Manly is the founder and president of the Black Hollywood Education Resource Center, a nonprofit designed to advocate, educate, research, develop and preserve the history — and the future — of Blacks in the film and television industries.
Founded in 1996, the organization is designed to remove the veil of invisibility that shrouds Blacks and other diverse groups from the main stage, and to spotlight diversity and the stellar contributions of Black film and television artists who brought dignity and professionalism to even the most menial of roles.
“I started BHERC because I didn’t see enough diversity in the camera or behind the scenes,” Evers-Manly said. “I wanted to bring diversity. As a child, I questioned the images I saw or didn’t see of Black people in America.”
Evers-Manly said the organization strives to highlight the important roles that Blacks have played, and continue to play, in film and television. Each year the organization celebrates and promotes Black history and culture through a series of film festivals. The festivals showcase the richness and power of young filmmakers.
On Oct. 23, 2020, the group will present the 26th annual African American Film Marketplace and S.E. Manly Short Film Showcase. The event runs through Nov. 29. Festival films must be under an hour, written, directed or produced by a Black filmmaker.
“I can’t believe it’s been 26 years,” Evers-Manly said. “Not at all. I’m just honored that we can still stand and do the work that we’re doing. We see a lot of great things happening. We have a great team.”
This year the film festival will stream online at BHERC.TV. More than 140 films from 20 countries will be featured. This year, all panels and events are complimentary.
To screen films, attendees can buy an all-day pass, all-access or a block of films. They are then given a code, which allows them to watch the films. Tickets range from $10-$75.
“This year there are a lot of wonderful dramas, animation,and films on social justice,” Evers-Manly said. “Lots of filmmakers have submitted comedies, documentaries, dramas, horror, sci-fi and romance films. A committee of six screened the films. Initially, there were 1,500 films.”
On Oct. 24, the organization’s signature event, “A Great Day in Black Hollywood,” highlights filmmaker Michael Schultz, who directed “Black Lightning,” “Car Wash” and “Cooley High.” He will be honored virtually for his work.
The event, hosted by actor William Allen Young (“Code Black,” “Moesha”) commemorates the 45th anniversary of the film starring Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs. Original cast members and industry professionals Bill Duke (“A Rage in Harlem”), Warrington Hudlin (“Boomerang”), and Oz Scott (“Black Lightning”) are expected to join in the celebration.
On Oct. 25, at 5 p.m. there is a Film With A Purpose screening of “I’m Not Special,” by director, writer, and producer Larry Ulrich, which will include a Q&A with the director, cast and crew.
The organization annually presents several film festivals including the Reel Black Men Film Festival and the Sistas Are Doin’ It For Themselves Film Festival.
In 2021, a number of festivals will be added including the Los Angeles Youth Diversity Film Festival (Jan. 17,), Doin’ It The Independent Way Film Showcase (June 12,), Festival @ Sea (June 13), and Faith-Based & Inspirational Film Festival (Oct. 11).
“I thought starting a festival and providing grants to Black filmmakers was what I was supposed to do,” said Evers-Manly, who was recently inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences this year. “This is the calling.”
Hollywood noticed Evers-Manly’s work and commitment and came calling last June 30. As a member, Evers-Manly is now eligible to vote for the nominees and winners of future Academy Awards.
“It means I have a responsibility to make sure it’s the best Academy ever — representative of all people,” said Evers-Manly, the cousin of Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist who was assassinated in the driveway of his Mississippi home in 1963.
Evers-Manly’s family background laid the foundation for her work in supporting the community and promoting diversity and inclusion.
“Filmmaking has to be more than entertainment,” Evers-Manly said. “Films have to be of purpose and address social issues and promote positive things.”
Throughout the years, Evers-Manly and her organization have made an impact by awarding scholarships to individuals who later went on to also make an impact, including USC film student Ryan Coogler, who received two scholarships and went on to direct “Fruitvale Station,” “Creed” and “Black Panther.”
Through the Black Hollywood Education Resource Center, Evers-Manly has promoted the work of Black filmmakers and has given young people various opportunities to create films and excel in their craft.
One of those recipients is director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Old Guard,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Love and Basketball”), who this year participated in BHERC’s Black Carpet Speaker Series with Director Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet,” “Eve’s Bayou”). Prince-Bythewood was the second filmmaker to receive a BHERC grant.
“I feel so proud,” Evers-Manly said. “Gina was in college at the time. It was more than 30 years ago, but we knew she had something.”
The next Black Carpet Series will feature film and television editor Lillian Benson, and sound editor Bobbi Banks.
In an effort to ensure Black films get a good jumping-off point, the organization founded the First Weekend Club in March 1997. The first weekend can determine the fate of a film. The club acts as a financial advocate for films by and featuring the talents of Black men and women — in front of and behind the cameras.
The First Weekend Club boasts more than 35,000 members nationwide.
First Weekend Club members pledge to support movies by and featuring Blacks in prominent roles on the first weekend of release, and promise to encourage 10 other filmgoers to do the same.
“We don’t say ‘you’re watching the wrong movie,’” Evers-Manly said. “Instead, we advocate broadening the types of movies people go to see. We need to develop a better understanding of the images that influence opinions about African Americans and other people of color, worldwide.”
Evers-Manly, vice president of corporate responsibility at Northrup Grumman, has written and produced short films and documentaries which include “21 and Done,” a documentary about young adults aging out of the foster care system; and “The Peck Situation,” a short film about a marriage in trouble.
To register for the film festival and for information, log on to bherc.org or call (310) 284-3170.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.