How Anacaona Pictures Is 'Providing A Voice To The Voiceless'
Growing up, Mahalia Latortue says she had three career options — doctor, lawyer or engineer. But despite starting her undergraduate studies at Oakwood University in Alabama focused on pre-law, she graduated with a passion for filmmaking.
Today, she’s a recent Savannah College of Art and Design film graduate who founded her own Atlanta-based production company called Anacaona Pictures. The company’s mission is to “create diverse, untold stories and provide a voice to the voiceless.”
Latortue says SCAD gave her the global perspective she needed to further her work.
“People from different cultures critiquing my work, and then learning about their cultures as well — it just helped me realize that we as America are not being portrayed on screen the way that it is,” she said.
Anacaona Pictures, named in honor of the Taino chief who defended her people against colonial Spanish rule, aims to create a writer’s room to provide guidance and help shape new stories from female filmmakers and people of color. Latortue says the biggest barrier to launching a film career is networking.
“This industry is all about who you know,” she said.
While the film industry is still heavily based in Los Angeles, Latortue said that she decided to build her company in Atlanta because her experiences in Hollywood led her to believe the market is oversaturated. She also connected more with the culture in Atlanta.
“I feel like Atlanta, because the industry is relatively fresh compared to L.A., there’s so much room for growth,” she said. “So I feel like there’s this spirit in Georgia. We can collaborate, we can do this. Let’s band together and create systems that work better for us, versus work better for them.”
On why she started her own production company
There was an opportunity where I could have worked for JuVee, but I was thinking to myself, "Do I really want to work for a company? Do I really want to spend years starting off as like an office secretary and then working my way up the ladder or anything like that? Or do I want to work with the company? Do I want them to see a script that has potential and hire me as a writer or director, or just have general meetings with them and grow in that way?"
And I decided that it might take longer and it might be harder, but I'd rather work with the company than for a company. I think I owe it to myself. I've invested in myself by going to grad school. I think I deserve a chance to prove myself because I can always go work for someone at the end of the day. But I think I owe it to me and my culture to just blossom before I basically give myself away to another company.
On the focus of Anacaona Pictures
So when I was first getting into filmmaking I decided, "I don't just want to be a director or writer. I want to be an executive. I want to be the head of the studio." The biggest comment that I got was, "Well, have you seen the numbers? Like, do you know the percentage of people of color who are actually the head of executives?"
And my response to that was, "Who am I to be disparaged by numbers?"
I owe it to my ancestors. I owe it to my family who moved from Haiti to America to pursue my dreams and make my goals come true. So with the company, I wanted to help those numbers because it truly is a numbers game. We want to highlight women and people of color. And by doing that, we want to make them the forefront of our stories and not just have them be the main characters, but also the supporting cast be of different cultures. We want to portray their cultures in a positive way and we want to portray those characters as honest and respectful as possible. That's the mission of Anacaona.
On how filmmakers should take extra precautions when building stories about communities outside their own
I am not opposed to anyone who is white and wants to tell a story with African-Americans. What I do suggest, however, and what I strongly recommend to everybody is: no matter what script you're writing, I would consult a person of that group to make sure that your script is not perpetuating any stereotypes, to make sure you're accurately representing the culture and making sure that these are genuine reactions. Being able to consult with somebody from that group will bring the script a long way.
On advice to new filmmakers
Go Google any short script, a short film, whatever, and then take your iPhone — because they do shoot in 4K HD. Go out and just film the short film. That's the only way you're going to do it. It doesn't matter if you get your mom or your dad or your sister or your best friend to act. Maybe the acting isn't going to be good, but just having the experience of, "OK, how do I want this shot set up? What message am I trying to portray? If I make a shot from this angle, what is that telling my audience?" Starting with those footsteps is a really good way to start growing, because then you'll start to learn more just by doing. Then you can Google different YouTube videos on directing styles and different shot composition and how to get really creative with your camera. But utilize the resources that you have: you have a phone; go out and make the film. Doesn't matter if it's good or bad. Your first film is always going to be bad. It's always going to be atrocious. You're never gonna want to show it, but you have to go out there and shoot.
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