Saturday, June 20, 2009

The 2009 Crystal + Lucy Awards

On the evening of Friday, June 12, 2009 I was nervous and excited. That morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the newsstand I pass every morning on Robertson and Pico and bought The Hollywood Reporter. There I was on page 14: "Writer Nia Malika Dixon joined Women In Film after relocating from Baltimore to Los Angeles 3 1/2 years ago."

That evening, at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, I marveled at the wonder that is the 'red carpet.' I was amazed that everyone knew my name. Someone asked me if I was wearing MaxMara. Someone yelled, "Nia! Over here!" The flashing lights were dizzying, and I was transported to another world. The red carpet was an adrenaline rush, thrill ride. I see how addictive it can become. It's a new kind of scary fun that I think I like.

The 2009 Crystal + Lucy Awards proved to be a huge milestone for me. I was recognized for my participation in the Women In Film Mentor Program, with talented director Catherine Hardwicke. My mentor, Catherine Hardwicke, was honored with The Dorothy Arzner Director's Award. Dorothy Arzner ( was the first woman inducted into the Director's Guild of America. Along with this, actress Jennifer Aniston was recognized with the Crystal Award for her efforts to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. Holly Hunter received the Lucy Award, named for innovator Lucille Ball, for her accomplishments in television and film. Cinematographer Petra Korner received The Kodak Vision Award for excellence in a field hugely dominated by men. And, Elizabeth Banks (one of my favorite actresses) was recognized as The MaxMara Face of the Future.

I was in the company of greatness. I joined Women In Film because I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of providing opportunities for women to excel in an industry dominated by men on all levels; creative, technical, executive, etc. Sitting at my table, I could not help but feel pride for not only the women being honored that night, but the women who made such a night possible and the women who are inspired by them all.
I enjoyed watching the showcases of each honorees' work, and hearing professional colleagues reflect on their hard work and dedication. Each woman emanated poise, persistance, and most importantly, purposeful drive. Film, television, and all media is ameliorated by women like these.
The mission of Women In Film is to help women achieve their highest potential within the global entertainment, communications and media industries and to preserve the legacy of women within those industries. I'm a major part of that mission. I'm on my way to create films, and other entertainment media, that push the envelope and shift the paradigm for the entertainment industry. I may have lofty goals, but I'm in the company of women who've proven to the world that women are a source of greatness, and that lofty goals are simply reality waiting on my hard work to nurture it to unfold.

My favorite part of the evening was not when I was onstage, (which is running a close second) being introduced by Chelsea Handler, (who I think is one of the funniest, classiest women on television; yes, I said classy) nor was it when I was backstage standing next to Jodie Foster, (who is just amazing!) but when Debbie Allen, Piper Laurie, and Lupe Ontiveros were honored onstage. These phenomenal women have careers that span decades, and they were inducted into the Legacy Series. They inspired me the most.
It was a wonderful night, and as I left, so many people stopped and told me I was amazing onstage, and congratulated me on my recognition. It took me a while to realize that everyone was impressed by me. At first, it felt as if they were speaking about someone else. As if it was a message for me to relay to a friend. But, then my date for the evening, (and friend) said to me, "It's just like you said to me: accept it." I do accept it, and I use it as my fuel to continue pushing forward to BE and DO great things.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I Don't Care How Much Money His Movies Make

Blaxploitation has evolved and its name is Tyler Perry Studios. That's right, I said it. I have a right to dislike something, no matter how much the masses love it. People enjoyed blaxploitation films, too. (See Quentin Tarantino.)

But, I'm a filmmaker (and film watcher) who does not enjoy being pandered to, being hit over the head with negative black stereotypes, or being forced to endure stilted inauthentic dialogue.

To quote Common, "I ain't relating. If I don't like it, I don't like it, that don't mean that I'm hating."

In the March 20th issue, Entertainment Weekly published an article that explores the phenomenon that is Tyler Perry and his films. One point brought forth is quoted from Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts: "All his productions demonize educated, successful African-Americans. It's a demonization that has long existed in certain segments of the black community." (See "light-skinned vs. dark-skinned, good hair vs. nappy hair, house negro vs. field negro, etc.)

According to the article, Perry's films reflect the thinking of many working-class African-Americans, and dare I say it, uneducated African-Americans. In Madea Goes to Jail, the ambitious, light-skinned female district attorney is a snob, and a conniving, corrupt criminal. Conversely, the most sympathetic character is the darker-skinned, strung out prostitute. Go back to some other films and see the paradigm for yourself.

But, no one will deny the money being made and the jobs being created. Perry's opening up the world of film and giving voice to African-Americans in films and filmmaking that has not been there before. Too bad it's just not my voice. In fact, I don't know anyone personally whose voice he's reflecting in these stories. Who are these mysterious populations of people?

Donald Bogle, author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films is quoted in the Entertainment Weekly article as saying, "Tyler Perry understands that much of his audience is African-American women--the most ignored group in Hollywood--so he's doing movies that speak to them."

I'm an African-American woman, and Tyler Perry is definitely not speaking to me. I'm not entertained by a story where a black prince (usually a hard working man's man) rescues a frustrated, unhappy, and/or abused black woman. Personally, I feel like the frustrated, unhappy, and/or abused black woman needs to get a backbone and change her life choices, because there is no such thing as a prince charming; black, white, brown, red, or yellow.

The actors are not saying much. According to the article, nine declined to be interviewed for the story. One actor is quoted as saying, "There just aren't enough roles out there for black actors and even fewer for black actresses, so if someone is going to give you a job, you're going to do it, even if you think it's substandard." Regarding writers, it might be best to leave that stone unturned. It may open a HUGE can of decomposed worms regarding union representation and benefits.

Perry is quoted as saying, "After Obama became president, I realized that black people could not have put him in the White House-- it had to be a collective effort of everybody in the country. My fan base crosses all ages, all cultures, all classes." I guess everybody loves a good, stereotypical comedy.

Well, just as Nelson George, author of Blackface: Reflections on African-Americans and the Movies, and the memoir City Kid, says, "Comedy and stereotypes go hand in hand. That's why intellectuals have a hard time with humor."

I guess I'm too intellectual to understand the comedy. This all takes me back to when I was a little, scrawny kid in the 'hood, and everybody called me a wannabe and said I "talked white". And, just like back then, I'm thinking, "No, I guess I'm just not cool enough to dumb it down."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Film

Will you see this film?

Why? I'm wondering why some films do well at the box office, and others don't. I'm starting to think that audiences are not as picky as they should be. As a storyteller, I aim to entertain and enlighten. But, lately, most films do more manipulation of emotion than enlightenment and entertainment.

Madea films are BIG box office draw. Is it because people can't resist laughing at a six-foot black man in drag?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is another popular film. Why? Are audiences suckers for a sad, love story that pulls on your heart-strings as unmercifully as kids at tug-of-war? Never mind that this story will suck four hours of your time, and leave you emotionally exhausted. It's a love story between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett!

This film has grossed over $80M to date. People keep flocking to it. Taken is literally an emotional roller coaster ride, for parents of teenaged girls. Beware sending your daughter on trips to Paris, for she may be kidnapped and sold into slavery. But, this is what you could do if you were an ex-government agent with a set of skills to render vengeance upon the evil bad guys. Again, emotional manipulation.

I suppose there is one shining light in the arena of film lately. Slumdog Millionaire has garnered much attention and many accolades. It is the story of a young man poised on the brink of drastically changing his life, by winning millions on a trivia game show. The storytelling is well layered, and literally draws you into another world. It's a love story, and a life story. The film truly enlightens and entertains. Filmmaking at its best. This film deserves to receive high honors, and I hope it wins the Oscar for which it's nominated. It is the Best Film of 2008.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our Crimes Against Humanity, Our Crimes Against Ourselves

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:
1. humankind. 2. the condition of being human. 3. compassion or benevolence

Merriam-Webster defines it as:
1: the quality or state of being humane 2 a: the quality or state of being human b: (plural) human attributes or qualities defines it as:
1. all human beings collectively; the human race; humankind.

2. the quality or condition of being human; human nature.

3. the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence.

By its very definition, the word humanity postulates that the true embodiment of being human is to be kind, benevolent, and humane.

Yet, we, all human beings collectively, are a party to the murder and bloodshed of our own kind. What have we done while our humanity ebbs away with every passing moment as more people are brutally murdered, raped, and tortured?

In our homes, our soft comfortable havens of warmth and protection, we are far away from the atrocities of Darfur, where a poor farmer cannot bury his eldest son who has died in his arms from gunshots to his back. We are not there as our human brethren ravage his village, burning down homes, killing men and children, raping girls and women.

John Holmes, the U.N. top humanitarian official, states that sexual violence, growing malnutrition, human rights abuses and attacks on humanitarian convoys are all adding to an already serious situation in Darfur. as many as 100,000 more people may have died in Darfur over the last two years as a result of violence, disease and malnutrition.
"A study in 2006 suggested that 200,000 had lost their lives from the combined effects of the conflict," said John Holmes. "That figure must be much higher now, perhaps half as much again."
He explained later his figures were only an estimate and not an official U.N. figure.

The UN says that more than two million of the estimated six million population have fled their homes, but the organisation is reluctant to suggest how many might have died in total.
Some analysts are estimating that the true death toll could be four or five times higher than the 70,000 figure.

As you watch your television set, surf your internet, or play your video games, rockets launch missiles that destroy schools full of children in Gaza. Soldiers drop bombs and shoot artillery at men, women, and children as they run from their homes fleeing exploding buildings, rapid gunfire aimed at their heads, and jets armed with guided missiles.

Israeli mortar shells exploded Tuesday near a U.N. school in Gaza sheltering hundreds of people displaced by Israel's onslaught against Hamas militants, killing at least 30 Palestinians, tearing bodies apart and staining streets with blood. Israel's military said its shelling was a response to mortar fire from within the school, pressing its assertion that Hamas militants are using civilians as cover. Two residents of the area who spoke by telephone said they saw a handful of militants firing mortar shells from a street near the school.

"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," said John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. [iii]

In Mexico and Guatemala, people are being murdered as a result of greed and drugs.

In Northwestern Mexico, ten victims of violence attributed to the ongoing war between rival narcotics gangs and the Mexican government were found near Tijuana and Culiacán. Four of the bodies were decapitated, according to local law enforcement. Police at Tijuana, which borders California, were alerted to four of the bodies and found the separated heads in plastic bags nearby overnight on January 8, 2009. Three of the victims were minors. [iv]

Representing over 143 distinct parishes, Catholics and other Christians converged upon the colonial era church protesting their fatigue over murder, rape, abductions, drug addiction and drug-related violence. Incursions of Mexican drug cartels, bolstered by violence committed by Central American gangs called “maras” have caused a feeling of insecurity throughout Guatemala, which already has a legacy of violence and killing left over from a decades-long civil war. A recent survey showed that 78 percent of Guatemalans polled are afraid to go out in the street, while 90 percent fear kidnapping. [v]

Iraqi families struggle to find safety and sanity amidst the gunfire and hate.

Blackwater, which is responsible for the protection of hundreds of American and other foreign officials in Iraq, says the guards' convoy came under attack from insurgents. Eye witnesses and family members maintain that the shooting was unprovoked. "I was driving. My sister was beside me in the car," said businessman Mohammed al-Kinana, who lost his son in the tragedy.

"Her three children were in the back seat and my son was directly behind me. My sister grabbed my head to pull me down. Those men, they just kept shooting and shooting. "They shot in all directions. At the trees. At the police hut. They kept shooting at the first car until it burst into flames."

In that first car to reach the intersection were Mahasin and Ahmed al-Rubaie, wife and son of Dr Haythem Ahmed al-Rubaie. Ahmed was shot, then his mother died from gunfire while she was cradling her son in her arms. [vi]

In Liberia, men, women, and children suffer disease and pain due to multiple gunshot wounds left untreated after a decade-long war.

Tenneh Dolocon was under one year old when she was shot during the height of fighting in 1996. Strapped to her mother's back, she took two bullets – one passed through her shoulder, the other lodged in her thigh. For most of her childhood Dolocon suffered chronic infections. In 2006, she was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, characterised by infected tissue migrating towards bone. Doctors at Mercy Ships, an international medical charity that operates a fleet of hospital ships, operated to remove the dead tissue and the bullet lodged in her thigh. [vii]

Bosnian families still suffer the scars of horrible genocide.

Ten years after the war in Bosnia ended we have come back with Channel 4 news to meet the forgotten victims of sexual violence. Despite the widespread publicity concerning the atrocities committed during that time little has been done to help the thousands of women who suffered extreme sexual violence and torture, or the children born as a consequence of this abuse.

Abandoned by the state, many of these women are not only traumatised by their horrific experiences but also impoverished. Cast out from their communities, often abandoned by their husbands, few of them can hold down jobs. Only a handful have received compensation for their suffering, which continues in the form of nightmares, physical injury and mental ill-health.

"I was raped for over a year by Serbian soldiers," says Mirella, a softly spoken woman of 33. "They kept me prisoner in my house and raped me day and night in front of my children. When I became pregnant I had an abortion - I never told my husband about it or about the other terrible things that happened, although I'm sure he knows." [viii]

And, more in many other places worldwide…

War, bloodshed, murder.

As human beings, our true nature is to have compassion and love, and yet we choose to harbor such hate, worldwide.

A morality tale told for centuries tells of an individual, a part of a minority. In an effort to stand up for himself, he declared himself better than the rest. Based upon contempt and self-pride, he chose hate.

And, Satan said, “I will assuredly lie in wait for them on your straight path. Then, I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left, and you will not find most of them as thankful ones.”

Our humanity is at a loss. We are bargaining it for self-pride. We have traded it in for hate. Will you do nothing to end the deceit? Are you a party to the flim-flam? Can you live with such a shady deal?

[i] Margaret Besheer , United Nations, “UN Says Situation in Darfur Worsening, Deaths Mount”,, April 22, 2008
[ii] Russell Smith, “How many have died in Darfur?”, BBC News,, Feb. 16, 2005
[iii] “Israel OK's Gaza "Humanitarian Corridor"”,, Jan. 6, 2009
[iv] Martin Barillas, “Thousands demand end to violence in Guatemala”,, Jan. 11, 2009
[v] Martin Barillas, “Twenty dead so far in Mexico drug war for 2009”,, Jan. 8, 2009
[vi] Humphrey Hawksley, “Bitterness at Blackwater Shootings” BBC News,, Dec. 8, 2008
[vii] “Liberia: War Wounds Left To Fester”,, Jan. 12, 2009
[viii] Kate Holt and Sarah Hughes, “Bosnia's rape babies: abandoned by their families, forgotten by the state”, , Dec. 13, 2005