As part of its Academy Aperture 2025 initiative, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently launched a virtual panel series called Academy Dialogues: It Starts With Us, designed to open up discussions on race and gender equity in filmmaking.
For the next panel, The Academy partnered up with ICON MANN (a media and consulting company committed to positively transforming the dialogue and image of Black men) to present, “ICON MANN: We Are The Culture,” a conversation moderated by The Academy’s Associate Director of Member Relations and Outreach Shawn Finnie, featuring Gina Prince Bythewood (The Old Guard), Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods) and Oscar-winning filmmaker T.J. Martin (LA92). In this panel, the group specifically discussed the Academy’s Black membership and the challenges that come with that, including working to be successful in a system that is designed to be exclusionary.
In an exclusive clip provided to The Root by The Academy, Bythewood talks about her childhood and how it affected the way she approached stories once she realized filmmaking was her purpose.
“It absolutely defines it,” Bythewood noted. “Knowing very early the power of film and imagery...just in quick context, [I was] adopted by a Salvadorian mother and an Irish father and raised in an all-white area. So, growing up, never seeing myself reflected—not even in my own family—can do a number on your self-esteem.”
Along with sports being a pivotal factor in helping Bythewood boost her self-esteem, she vividly remembers the moment she actually saw herself for the first time on screen, so to speak.
“I remember, distinctly, being 17 years old and going to see a movie and a trailer for She’s Gotta Have It came on,” Bythewood recalled. “Looking up there and [seeing] Nola Darling—am I like Nola? No, but it was seeing someone who looked like me up on that big screen. I was floored. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.”
Bythewood knew then that she wanted to tell stories and do her part in representing Black audiences across all genres.
“I’m the first audience. I’m writing what I want to see,” she noted.
“Academy Dialogues: ICON MANN: We Are The Culture” premieres today (Wednesday) at 12 p.m. ET / 9 a.m. PT on The Academy’s YouTube channel.