Academy Museum Panel Discusses the Work of Black VFX Artists

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On Thursday, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will highlight the work of Black VFX artists through an interactive online panel discussion.

Lyndon Barrois, Andrew Roberts, Audrea Topps Harjo, Lauren F. Ellis, Corey Turner, and Greg Anderson are those who will be sharing their work, obstacles and discussing their career path. Jacqueline Stewart, chief artistic and programming officer at the museum, says Barrois, whose credits as animation supervisor include “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” generated the idea for the program.

Until the Academy Museum opens its doors on Sept. 30, Stewart had been looking for a way to utilize a virtual space. “We felt as though we could still create a program that wasn’t in person, but that would allow for people to get an in-depth and compelling sense of what it is like to do this kind of work from the artistic side.”

Barrois pulled together the panel made up of his favorite colleagues who could provide insight and talk about breaking ceilings. “What’s going to be interesting is hearing them not only talk about getting in the door, but they’re also talking about facing resistance when asking for promotions and for more prominent roles behind the camera,” Stewart says.

The program is free to the public, and she hopes industry folk will tune in to watch the conversation. “I want them to listen to what these Black artists are saying and recognize some of the dynamics inside the studios and the work processes, the hiring and promotion decisions being made.” She adds, “There are still these forms of institutional racism that are so deeply embedded in the industry, and to face that I think would be a tremendously impactful thing to do.”

Stewart has seen the strides made in front of the camera amid the drive for inclusivity and diversity, but she too wants to shine a spotlight behind the camera. “When looking at the credits of films, you don’t know what that looks like, and sometimes there are hundreds of people, and now, we are providing a picture. There are a few people of color, and they’re struggling.”

Stewart is excited for the panel to debunk the idea that people of color are not “adept at complex and technological work.” She says, “That’s absolutely not true. So exploding that idea is another reason why I’m excited. This program is where we can show the technical expertise of artists of color.”

This is just the beginning for the museum. Stewart promises once the museum opens, the programs will be happening in person. “The Academy museum can bring Academy members and the public together. My goal is for this museum to demystify the filmmaking process,” she says, and she is hoping to highlight other craft areas.

She prefers the phrase “the power of cinema” because it points to its cultural power, its economic power and its artistic power.  Stewart hopes to shift thinking to that power. She says, “If we can shift, then I think we create programs and opportunities for people to recognize the many different crafts that are involved in filmmaking and all the ways that the people who make films and their stories have an impact on us.”

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