J.J. Abrams’ Women of Color

When it comes to the topic of race, I avoid it at all costs. It’s an uncomfortable subject, makes me question my own innate belief system, and I wish whenever the topic arises I can be four years old, plug my ears with my fingers, and sing a song where the only lyric is “la.”

However, it cannot be ignored. Nothing too hard hitting here – we have the news for that after all – but when it comes to race in the all-encompassing “media,” I do have an observation and it has to do with one of my favourite creators, J.J. ABRAMS. Ever notice how he always has strong characters who also happen to be people of color?

The lightbulb went off for me after watching the latest Star Wars trailer where actor John Boyega is playing a very Luke Skywalker-y lead. While at first, I was like, ah cool, a black guy gets to play a lead in one of the  highest grossing and most popular franchises of all time, a second later I realized I wasn’t surprised at all because of course this would happen – it’s J.J. Abrams.

Let me explain:


Insert this tough cookie: Angie Miller. Remember her as Elena Tyler on FELICITY? A no-nonsense, black co-ed defying every stereotype that Hollywood and TVLand tried to pin blacks into throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s? Outside of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, and Martin, she was one of the first black characters in a network ensemble drama that wasn’t marginalized. Yes, others came before her (hello ER and Eriq LaSalle’s Dr. Benton) but as a young woman growing up in white Kansas and Texas suburbias, it was nice to see an alternative in an otherwise whitewashed television landscape.

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Then he created ALIAS, one of my ALL TIME favorite shows. Insert: Merrin Dungey. Not only was she not a caricature like Ashley from Fresh Prince or Chastity from 10 Things I Hate About You, but here was this professional, working, young black woman who obviously also grew up in white society, is a kickass small business owner and is finding love in LA alongside badass spy / BFF, Sydney Bristow.


In LOST, JJ gave us Harold Perrineau as Michael. While he wasn’t my favorite character, I admired the fact that he portrayed a desperate single father dealing with his angsty teenage son. He was just another character. Not the black character. Just Michael. AND I LOVE THAT.


Anyone remember UNDERCOVERS? Thought so. It was basically a more kitchy Alias starring the AMAZING Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe. However, America apparently wasn’t ready for a spy dramedy with two black leads. It’s ok. Gugu has graduated onto better things. ;D Thanks for trying, JJ.

Which leads us to FRINGE’S insanely smart Astrid played by Jasika Nicole, STAR TREK’S unstoppable Uhura played by Zoe Saldana, and PERSONS OF INTEREST’S curious Officer Carter played by Taraji P. Henson.


And now Mr. Abrams has this amazing opportunity to reboot one of the biggest, baddest, franchises of all time and what did he do? He cast John Boyega in a leading role.

We’ll see how the audience reacts. Hopefully they won’t freak out like they did when The Hunger Games cast Amandla Stenburg as Rue. “OMG Rue is Black?” Context clues people.

Le sigh. That is all.


Alissa’s Kodak


One thing that is true: You can never stop learning. I’m lucky to have access to Adobe Creative Suite and am teaching myself as much as I can for as long as I have this software suite. I’m pretty good with Photoshop and Illustrator and still need to hone my InDesign and Premiere skills, but my latest foray has been with Lightroom and VSCO.

I took this picture of Alissa on Governor’s Island a few week’s back and played with VSCO’s free software download of presets that emulate analog film. The above photo took after Kodak Tri-X.

A New Thought

At the New York Botanical Garden last weekend.
At the New York Botanical Garden last weekend.

The longest career aspiration I ever had was becoming a doctor. I fancied myself an ER physician, a cardiologist, an OBGYN, and even entertained anesthesiology at one point. Before being fascinated by medicine, NBC’s “ER” being the gateway drug to that dream, I too wanted to be a voice over actor and before that a trapeze artist. Thankfully I crossed the latter off my list after visiting the Santa Monica Pier and trying my hand at flying through the air with only a bar to catch me. It is both electrifying and quite nerve racking to say the least.

In college, when the dream of a white lab coat slowly morphed into donning nurses scrubs on a daily basis which in turn formed into picking up my pen and camera and eventually graduating with English and Journalism degrees, I never really felt like I had a calling. My friends were so focused and believed that their dreams were inevitable that they never seemed to think twice. Now, they’re all living out what they set out to do. Those college friends are now teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists and photographers. So when it came time to move from Kansas City to New York, I thought, why not start over?

Three years into the film industry after my brief social media marketing stint at a startup in KC, I find myself wanting to say out loud: I want to be a filmmaker.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with independent filmmaker (and actor) Edward Burns. He wrote a book too that just came out called: Independent Ed. To be honest, I didn’t plan to read it. But now that I’ve executive produced and wrote an eight-minute web series pilot and stories keep tumbling into my head, characters wanting to be heard and let out into the world, I developed an itch to tell stories through a lens rather than just with ink on a white page.

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And so, after a week or two of Independent Ed squished between The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen and my copy of Dorothy Parker’s complete poetry, I plucked Ed’s book from my narrow shelves and brought it with me on the subway to read during my morning commute.

I couldn’t put it down.

After 250 pages, these are the eight quotes that stuck with me, that have been dog eared in the now worn copy of Ed’s book.

Ed recounting his instructor’s speech during his 3-day Robert Mckee class on story structure:
“For your first screenplay, what I’m g to ask all of you is to think about your favorite films and what genre they are. Whatever that genre is, I want you to write that kind of script. If you don’t like murder mysteries, don’t write murder mysteries.”

Ed on his “aha” moment in how he recognized that Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese and Spike Lee were making films about their niche Jewish, Italian, and African American New York experiences:
All these guys had carved their ow niche. I had been asking what mine would be. Now I knew.

On deciding on how you want to shoot your script:
Turn off the volume, watch scenes, and take notes.

His advice on always being at the ready:
You need to have another screenplay ready so that when you’re in a meeting and someone asks what you wan to do next, you can put a screenplay down in front of them an say, “This is my next film.”

On learning from those who came before you:
Talk to people who have been through it. Ask questions. At the end of the day, you can make the decisions, but let those with a longer resume help you figure out the answers or at least the best possibilities.

The last three quotes are about discovering your voice and what you want the world to take from your films:

That’s what I wanted to do next. I wanted to hold a mirror up to the wold I knew and reflect it back as honestly as I could.

As a friend of mine in the music biz recently told me, “Like an old jazz artist, you own your tone. And they can’t take that away from you. If not of you, would we have seen this slice of life or gotten this point of view?”

Filmmaker Robert Breton said it best: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never be seen.”

But I don’t want to do films. I want to create shows. To be a showrunner. For my stories to entertain the millions of Americans at home, after a long day at work, on network television or on the web. I want to be in living rooms, on tiny sets in the kitchen, or in the massive media rooms in suburbia. I want my audience watching from the comfort of their designated “comfy pants” with a glass of wine or beer within reach. I want them to binge watch what I have show. And with that I do believe there’s a certain level of community and accessibility that we sometimes lose with films. Don’t we all miss the proverbial water cooler moments? Of experiencing and being lost in someone else’s journey for thirty minutes to an hour at a time? After all, we’re in a golden age of television and new media.

So here I am, a spinster by Jane Austen’s standards with a new dream at hand. Michael Crichton, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Tiny Fey and Miranda Hart books now occupy space on my dresser and scripts litter my bookmarks bar in my browser. I’m ready to pretened I’m Armie Hammer in order to “Lean In” in this male dominated industry (thanks Mindy!), and with a little gumption, hope, confidence, hard work, and luck, I could maybe pull this off.

As JK Rowling once said, “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” And as Nike’s slogan always dictates, “Just do it.”

The Red Dress

Through a strange turn of events I now have in my possession a brand new Canon 70D. I’ve never really owned a camera before that could shoot video – aside from the iPhone of course – and so I set out with Sheloa to try my hand at filmmaking.

It’s quite different being the director instead of the writer. I had an idea in my head, and with Dorothy Parker’s “Red Dress” stuffed in my coat’s pockets and channelling Danny Sangra, Sheloa and I took a bus ride to create this little vid.

I also had to dust off my Adobe Premiere skills. Can’t wait to collaborate on the next “test” of the new camera.

Hope you enjoy!