Louisiana Film Tax Credits and Minority Filmmakers

April 20 2017
Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 1.04.33 PM "Greenlight" will be featured this summer in PBS' Online Film Festival 2016 I am a black filmmaker from New Orleans, and I’d like to comment on the state of film in Louisiana and how the film tax credits have truly been ineffective, from my perspective. I hate to write this, but I have reached a level of frustration that forces me to be vocal about the lack of resources for minorities in this industry, and how supporting this industry with tax payer dollars is continuing to systematically put minorities, in and outside of the film industry, on a path where the only options are low paying jobs, subpar educational systems, and a lack of social services in low income communities populated mostly by minorities. PBS Jon Bio Jonathan Isaac Jackson We are hearing ruffles from the film industry about saving their tax credits, as they once again are in play of possibly being cut due to the lack of money. In a state that is in the hole because of corporate welfare, I believe it’s foolish for people to hound about film tax credits. As a result of our state government having to cut funding for education and healthcare, we are once again in a cycle of putting minorities in a situation where the only options are low wage paying jobs in servant like positions. There is a low percentage of African Americans in the film industry in Louisiana, as well as it is in Hollywood. The lack of opportunity in film for African Americans turns us away from the industry, as well as the arts in general. What parent would want their child to pursue something that statistically will not provide a substantial way to live? Because of this, there won’t be too many African Americans challenging the status quo, which means we will not be telling stories, and won’t have any way of verifying that stories told about us are acceptable, until after the film is released. Minorities should be a part of the process from inception. One of the biggest issues of the tax credits were its benefits to Louisiana. The best way for them to work was to create indigenous talent. Parts of the industry have done so, but in ways in which the scale is not even for minorities. Institutional racism was defined by Sir William Macpherson in the 1999 Lawrence report (UK) as: "The collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behavior which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people." With that being said, a few organizations have offered help to minorities, specifically. With one of these organizations, I was able to participate in a program specifically designed for African American filmmakers. Almost two years removed, I am now seeing how ineffective and how much of a failure it was to the 5 African American filmmakers that were involved. Not one of us actually benefited from this program. It didn’t change our lives for the better. It didn’t help us to produce a film, or further the films we were selected for. What it did do was allow this organization to apply for grant funding, spend a little on the program, then use the rest to fund an event that celebrates the rest of the film community, which is probably 10% African American, at most, in a city that is 60% African American. A simple way of truly helping an African American filmmaker is to help provide them with the resources they need to succeed. Tangible, physical resources. This program was designed to have us meet established people in the industry, the same people who are responsible for the lack of diversity in the industry, or people of color who have their own battles to fight, and were obviously too busy to help independent, unknown black filmmakers from Louisiana. As filmmakers, we hear about the lack of diversity in our industry all the time. Nate Parker, the actor and filmmaker behind 2016’s Sundance favorite “Birth Of A Nation” was an established actor before deciding to make a film about a slave revolt. He struggled to find financing, and was a part of a Sundance Institute film lab. That Sundance lab is what unknown, minority filmmakers like myself apply to to try to gain traction in this industry, but what does my application look like next to Nate Parker’s? More importantly, the question is how many other minorities were part of this program, and how many white males in the Sundance lab with Nate Parker had his credentials? At a national level, this is a problem, but locally, it’s the same. Minorities have to be truly exceptional to gain entry into the room, just to sit next to a mediocre filmmaker who is not a minority. Any chance that a minority has to make a film, there is no room for error, with minimum resources, and they have to compete with those who aren’t minorities with budgets exceeding reasonable, resources from non-profits that are set up in minority communities, but fail to fully provide an outreach for the minorities in their neighborhood. How are we expected to succeed in this type of environment? Every once in a while, recourses are provided to independent filmmakers in Louisiana, with the latest being the Create Louisiana Grant. This grant was sponsored by two non-profit entities, and a for profit studio. A minority won the grant, but that winner was given 50k to make a short film, which is an exceedingly extraordinary amount for a short film that will lack a return on an investment that was given by Louisiana tax payers through these non-profits. Other states are starting to pull out of the film tax credit program, and for good reason. It is great to have films made in your state, but if they are not building a substantial indigenous community of filmmakers who will continue to make films in and about the state, it becomes corporate welfare. At some point, conservatives and liberals realize that we are funding the dreams of those who will leave once that funding is gone, and choose to get rid of these programs. In this state, we are in a budget crisis. Film has not, and will not provide the state with a substantial return on the taxpayer’s investment. The producers are not from here. The crew will relocate when it is necessary. Tourism is not affected, because even though the one billion dollar plus box office hit “Jurassic World” was filmed here, no dinosaur was seen in New Orleans attacking the Superdome in the film, so no one traveled here because of that. Tourism will survive beyond the film tax credits, and that is NOLA's bread and butter. The state will fare better putting that money back into education and its communities. But, if we continue to allow Hollywood and the folks here in charge of resources millions to create work that excludes minorities in a major way, and not create an actual indigenous film community, we will one day find ourselves a lot worse than we are now.
Jonathan Isaac Jackson is a filmmaker based in New Orleans. His short film, "Greenlight", will be featured this summer in PBS' Online Film Festival 2016
by Jonathan Isaac Jackson on April 20 2017

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