We’re in the middle of awards season, and Atyia Police feels a usual mix of excitement and frustration. She’s excited because, as a movie fan, she wants to know who the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will honour this year with its little golden statues.
But she’s also frustrated because, as an independent filmmaker herself, she has come across the many obstacles that film artists like her have to deal with.
It was just over a year ago when Jennifer Lawrence went viral with her essay on gender inequality in Hollywood. She expressed her discontent with the male-dominated top tiers of the film industry, which seemed to favour “lucky people with dicks” who didn’t have to worry about coming off as “difficult” or “spoiled” when negotiating their multimillion-dollar deals.
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard,” she wrote. “It’s just heard.”
Now, Atyia is not a Hollywood actress. She’s a writer from Caledon, Ontario who feels more at home behind the camera than in front of it. She has collaborated with a number of artists from the Toronto area and had some of her thriller screenplays produced into short films, but she’s not quite the movie star that Jennifer Lawrence is.
Still, she can relate. “It’s the only time I can’t stand being a woman,” she confesses. “It’s such a misogynistic industry and I’m sick of producers saying, ‘We’ll take care of that, don’t worry.’”
So sometimes she takes matters into her own hands. (“It makes me want to get my own camera and just do it all myself.”)
She has dabbled as the director of some of her own scripts. One of the projects she has helmed—whose details she would rather not share as she’s not very happy with the end result—comes to mind almost immediately.
“We [the producer and I] had some creative differences,” she smiles diplomatically, “so I had to compromise my own artistic vision.”
But she tells me that she has never seen any of the other directors she has worked with—all of them male—get this kind of treatment.
The racial ‘other’
On top of being a woman, Atyia also has to deal with belonging to a visible minority in a mostly white industry.
Since the Academy Awards’ inception, only two black screenwriters have won the Best Writing award (both of them for Adapted Screenplay). The first of them, Geoffrey Fletcher, just won in 2010—less than 10 years ago.
And as of the time of this writing, no black filmmaker has ever won the award for Best Director. (Here’s hoping that will change with Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight.)
These numbers might not seem important, but not having someone you can relate to as a role model makes reaching for your dreams that much harder.
“It’s a bit intimidating to put yourself out there when there aren’t that many people of your race doing it.”
It’s for this reason that Atyia admires women like Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante, “not because I particularly like their films but because they make me feel like a black woman can actually create and direct something in this industry.”
DuVernay is proving to be a force to be reckoned with among Hollywood juggernauts. Last year, she became the first woman of a visible minority to direct a live-action film with a budget over $100 million. The feature, due out in November, is a Disney adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. It will be her follow-up to the critically acclaimed Selma.
“Now that’s an inspiration (laughs),” Atyia says.
Is directing a big-budget live-action Disney movie on her to-do list?
“I don’t know about directing one, but never say never!”
Atyia has a few projects lined up for the summer. She’ll start working on them once she finishes her studies in the professional writing and communications program at Humber College, where she’s been learning how to use her writing skills in more traditional workplace environments.
“Screenwriting alone probably won’t pay the bills,” she says.
But she’s both passionate and optimistic. She’s looking to submit pieces to screenwriting contests like the Austin Screenwriting Competition, PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and the Academy Nicholl Fellowships, to name a few.
“I have a pretty busy summer ahead of me, which I love. I have to make up for all the time I’ve spent studying.”