Gentleman Jack Real to Reel Tour Giving African American Filmmakers The Platform They Deserve

Cecilia Smith | 6/16/2017, 9 a.m.
While last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy helped launch a national discussion about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, others have taken the issue ...

While last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy helped launch a national discussion about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, others have taken the issue into their own hands, choosing to change the narrative by writing and telling their own stories.

Now black filmmakers are taking the issues into their own hands, thanks in part to initiatives like Jack Daniel’s innovative “Real to Reel” series, a nationwide competition created to highlight rising African-American directors. Led by Power star Omari Hardwick, Jack Daniel’s Gentleman competition is quickly turning into a platform for emerging filmmakers.

“I am an artist. I think it’s just incumbent upon me to help those out that might face the same thing, where they can create a fan base -- I definitely think that they need those opportunities to flex their artistic muscles behind the camera, in front of the camera, as writers in terms of their pen. We just need better stories told. Whether the fans want to see it or not, we as artists have to make them want to see it. I’m always going to champion that and champion people that want to tell good, expansive, dynamic, not run-of-the-mill stories. I’m all about that,” Hardwick recently stated to Ebony magazine.

After taking their talents across the country - showcasing short films in Chicago, Los Angeles and more - on June 8 the event landed in Houston, where directors Anthony Rose, Bebushka Monetti and veteran comedian Billy D. Washington took a few moments to speak to us about their short films.

It’s a new lane for Washington, who spent over twenty-five years crafting an impressive comedic career that included a stint on Def Comedy Jam. “Comedy has been my bread and butter for twenty-five years, this is what I do. But it’s [film] is different because I have a different feel for the African-American experience, my stories are typically more abstract and I love a fish out of the water,” said Washington.

Adding, “Certain things that I can’t make funny, I put into film. People wonder how Jordan Peele, who is hilarious, could do a film like Get Out, but it’s really just finding an idea that relates to everybody.”

Tossing his hat into the cinematic ring, he debuted a project called “Bro” during the Houston Black Film Festival, winning his first competition in the process. Now he’s hosting the “Real to Reel” series and offering a submission of his own, a haunting short called "The Pillow Case" that left the audience stunned during the Houston screening.

Praising long time collaborators Christopher Allen and Mikell Limbrick of iRise Films - a place he once interned at - he also celebrated the actresses instrumental in pulling his vision together, the talented Jaylene Mack and Sydnee Simone.

Revealing he’d cast Simone after viewing a video of her preparing for a role he explained, “It was so compelling and this is who I wanted it to be. So I reached out and we shot it in 12 hours.” The result? A short thriller that focused on a chilling secret between two lovers.