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Effie Brown wants 'Project Greenlight' to change how Hollywood approaches diversity




Her time on HBO's 'Project Greenlight' hasn't been the smoothest experience, but producer Effie Brown's using the opportunity to generate more conversations about the lack of diversity in Hollywood.
Her time on HBO's 'Project Greenlight' hasn't been the smoothest experience, but producer Effie Brown's using the opportunity to generate more conversations about the lack of diversity in Hollywood.
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“Project Greenlight” is the HBO docu-series that follows a newbie director as he makes his first feature film. At least, it was supposed to be that simple.

The current season of “Project Greenlight,” which is the brainchild of executive producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, has generated a storm of attention and conversation, largely catalyzed by on-screen moments with Effie Brown, who was hired to produce the movie at the center of the series. 

Brown is an experienced movie producer whose credits include "Dear White People" and "Real Women Have Curves." She's also an outspoken advocate for diversity in Hollywood, both behind the camera and on-screen. And much of the conflicts in the "Project Greenlight" series have stemmed from conversations about diversity and representation.

In the first episode, Brown had a moment with Damon, who argued that diversity should be reflected "in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show." But then Brown went on to hire crew members in significant positions on the movie who are African American. 

In the most recent episode, Brown intervened when a black actor was cast to play a chauffeur. All the speaking parts in the film, which Brown says is about the "one percent," are played by white people.

Brown says in the show why she changed the casting of the driver to a white actor: "A butler, a chauffeur — these are tropes that we have seen time and time again, and I think that those images are done. It's time for us to tell a different narrative." 

When Brown joined us on The Frame, host John Horn asked about the moment with the chauffeur, the interaction with Matt Damon about diversity, the posts she's seeing on her Twitter feed, and the ways in which "Project Greenlight" has become much more than just the story of one film's production.

Hear the interview here:

 


Interview Highlights:

There are three main things going on in "Project Greenlight" this year: there's what happens every year, which is somebody trying to make a movie; story two is what happens behind the scenes, the making of the movie and the creative compromises, negotiations and issues surrounding that; and third, and really important this year, is the conversations that the making of this movie — the casting of it, and the casting of the movie's crew — are raising about diversity.

Right, that's really interesting. Honestly, I feel like when we all first started this, we thought it was really going to be more about [director] Jason Mann and walking through the process with a first-time filmmaker. And then, slowly, I started noticing that more and more cameras were in my office, and it became apparent that this was becoming about Jason and myself, which is a little different than what I originally signed on for.

You're not just producing a movie, but you're the star of a reality show. Was that an evolution in your thinking that one was leading to the other? Or did you always know that was the rule?

I'm not going to play dumb — I definitely knew that I was going to be a part of a show, and at the time we weren't calling it a reality show, it really was a docu-series. Now, I think the proper thing to call it is a "docu-reality" show. But I will say that at no time were we instructed to say something [in particular], I was never put in a situation where things were [manufactured] for the camera.

In my opinion, everything that was caught on the episode was real, it really happened. How you shape that contextually through editing, that's a whole other beast. But "reality" has such a negative connotation to it. And when we were starting, it really was about the documentary aspect of it all. What else came of it, it's actually pulled focus from the original intention.

In what way?

Remember, I'm really in my own bubble right now through social media and how people are talking to me, but I find that more of the conversation has come to diversity, gender politics, entitlement, people protecting their blind spots, and issues like, What is aggressive? What is being direct? What is being your job? And how does that change based off of your gender and how people perceive you?

Famously, in the first episode of this season, Matt Damon said that when you're talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show. What do you hope that people within the industry will start thinking about while watching this series? How do you hope this show can change the nature of the conversation in Hollywood?
 

I really do hope that people stop talking about it, and be about it. I hope that this forces people to examine their own blindspots, even if they feel that they're liberal, because a lot of times in practice it's not something that is done.

And I have to admit, in this show, I bring it up a lot. I take a lot of bullets for it. But it's changed. We fixed it. I might get some flak for it — you can look on my Twitter feed and see people coming for me like no one's business because of it.

What are people saying on Twitter?

Oh my goodness, it's horrible. I will say that I love people who are giving support and it really does matter, but there are quite a few people that feel that I bring up race all the time, I'm being discriminatory against whites, and that people are so sick of me bringing this up and making people hear about it. It would be exhausting to respond to every single crazy Tweet. [laughs]

It should be noted that you're not [alone in] bringing all of this up. The Twittersphere is blowing up from the title of last night's episode, "Hot Ghetto Mess." What does that title refer to?

I know! Could you believe that? [laughs] I found out about that title from someone on Twitter, because the [shows] I get are just [labeled], "Episode 406, 405." And I was mortified. I watched yesterday with everyone else, wondering like, Who says it? Do I say it? What's the context for it? What is this? And then lo and behold, it's not said.

So I don't know. Honestly, I do feel that it was a mistake — I feel that there was some [footage] that happened where someone said it. And maybe I said it! I was filmed for six months and I say a lot of stuff! [laughs] But in the context of this show, for it to be titled that and have nothing to back it up and no one saying it, it's extraordinarily insensitive, and I think it was just a big mistake.

Perrin Chiles, one of the producers at Adaptive Studios and one of the executive producers of the television show, actually called me this morning, mortified as well. He was like, "Did you see that? I didn't know! What is this?" I think this title slipped by quite a few people, and I think they're doing recon now to figure out who let this by.

Among the people commenting on the title of "Hot Ghetto Mess" was comedian W. Kamau Bell who tweeted:

Editor's note: After the Oct. 19 episode of The Frame was taped, the producers of "Project Greenlight" issued this statement:



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