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Pittsburgh Black Film Network Connects Locals In The Industry

Pittsburgh Black Film Network
Screenshots from some of the short films that will be shown at an event at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.

Citing a lack of diversity in the local film industry, a new group called the Pittsburgh Black Film Network connects directors, actors and crew to resources throughout the city. On Thursday evening, the organization will host a festival of short films made by African-American directors and producers.

Filmmaking in Pittsburgh is mostly white and mostly male, and that’s a problem, according to Filmmaker and Pittsburgh Black Film Network co-founder James White. He said in order for the industry to thrive, the casts and crew here needs to reflect the diversity of the region. 

“People just stick together and it’s like they keep putting the same people in position with the jobs and nobody else is really getting the opportunity,” White said. “So you’ve basically gotta create your own opportunity.”

Four years after the #OscarsSoWhite movement, when Hollywood was condemned for its overwhelmingly white (and male) representation on-screen, White said the industry still doesn’t include Black actors, directors, or portrayals of the Black experience. 

“It’s never really about us, it’s never telling our stories of what Black people in Pittsburgh are doing or how we live, how we talk, how we eat, what we eat, stuff like that,” White said. 

Since the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit was established in 2005, the region has experienced $1.5 billion in economic activity related to the industry. But White said that financial boom hasn’t extended to African-American filmmakers. At a recent network mixer, White said he heard stories of young movie enthusiasts feeling discouraged by a lack of representation at their universities and on production teams.

“It’s like, ‘wow, this what you experienced?’” White said. “When people are going to Pittsburgh film schools, they’re usually the only African American there or the only woman there.”

Thursday’s short film festival features four productions by local black filmmakers. It will take place at 5 p.m. at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.