These days, in a time where we are mostly isolated and at home, hashtags are uniting us through the movements that are emerging. A few months ago, there’s a hashtag that lit a fire underneath the Hollywood industry: #StartWith8Hollywood, an initiative that connects well-established industry mentors to eight Women of Color working in the entertainment industry. What has come from this initiative is meaningful relationships between the people that can make things happen in the industry for the women of color who are going to bring aspects to the screen that have never seen before. It’s exciting to see this unfold. There are many groups like Cinema Femme who have been adamantly elevating the voices of womxn and WOC in film to impact waves in the industry, and get the attention from those who can effect change. #StartWith8Hollywood showed they are listening, and that there is a need for this kind of program, and programs like this to create change, rather than just influence.
#StartWith8Hollywod is the brainchild of Screenwriter and The Bitch List founder Thuc Nguyen. The idea came from her work in the tech industry, and her participation in a #StartWith8 program where she met with high level VCs in the industry. #StartWith8Hollywood picked up momentum after film producer Cassian Elwes caught interest of the initiative and Thuc teamed up with Women of Color Unite founder Cheryl Bedford to develop and implement the initiative. The mentees are first pooled from the members of Women of Color Unite, which includes 1,600 Women of Color in film. Round 1 has completed and 600 meetings were taken, with 300 mentees participating. Round 2 will kick off this winter.
I first connected with Thuc at Sundance, and meeting her, I felt an immediate bond. She is an inspiration to me with her drive and impact through The Bitch List, and now the #StartWith8Hollywood initiative. There was a lot to talk about during the interview. This feature focuses more on the #StartWith8Hollywood initiative, but stay tuned for more pieces featuring Thuc and her inspiring work.
MARTIN: Before we get into #StartWith8Hollywood, let’s talk about The Bitch List. How did The Bitch List get started?
NGUYEN: The idea for The Bitch List came to be after I saw this woman named Anita Sarkeesian in this series called “Feminist Frequency”. She did an episode on the Bechdel test and Oscar nominated films and screenplays. She said “let’s look at the Oscar nominated movies and screenplays, how many of them pass this low bar test to give women better dialogue.” The stats were not great. I was like, “you know what, it’s too bad we have to wait until the Oscars to see all this. The public policy major in me is like let’s go up river, let’s work this at the screenplay level before it goes further. And that’s where we can give women better dialogue.”
MARTIN: I love that, and all the work you’ve been doing over the years with The Bitch List. Moving on to #StartWith8Hollywood, you were you the one that started the hashtag?
NGUYEN: Yes, I actually tried to do it by myself a couple times on Twitter, but nobody bit. Then the third time I got a big fish right off the bat with Cassian Elwes. When he reached out, I realized I needed help. Then I reached out to Cheryl Bedford, (founder of Women of Color Unite & The JTC List) with Women of Color Unite. That’s when we got real organized to service more and more people.
MARTIN: What is the concept of #StartWith8Hollywood?
NGUYEN: Actually the hashtag was a springboard from when I worked in the tech world with #StartWith8 in Silicon Beach. And it was started by a Venture Capitalist firm called Alpha Edison. I was one of the 8, I spoke with venture capital companies through that program. I thought ‘why can’t we do this through another industry?’ And we did.
MARTIN: What are the dynamics between mentors and mentees?
NYGUYEN: In our mentor league we have several VPs from film studios, VPs of animation, etc. Then we have a bunch of A-List Showrunners, and even a casting agent and a DP. So we’ve gotten mentors from all different areas in film, but they all have been super-top notch. I’m really blown away by them. First we start with a general conversation between a mentor and a mentee, or a general meeting, or a get to know you. The conversation expands from 15-minute phone calls to one-hour zoom, to a life-long mentorship. Mentors are doing their homework, and choosing from a pool of mentees, that was purely organic, that wasn’t the original set up at all.
MARTIN: Where do these mentees come from?
NGUYEN: There is a base of 1600 women in Women of Color Unite, the non-profit who I partnered with for the initiative. Then we go and connect them to a mentor from there. I began personally with Women of Color that I knew, whether if it was habituate, or someone who I admired online, or people who I’ve kept in touch with over the years.
MARTIN: Is #StartWith8Hollywood now an organization, and is there a hub where mentors can go to seek out their mentees?
NGUYEN: Yes, we’re just about to come up to Round 2. Round 1 was a huge success with about 600 meetings. You can find more details at startwith8hollywood.com.
MARTIN: That is amazing!
NGUYEN: Not to toot my own horn, but with these inclusion initiatives at these studios or production companies, they maybe get 20 people in a year to participate. But we got 300 women of color into the program in just a few months.
MARTIN: Have you been seeing these women getting jobs from these mentorships?
NGUYEN: Right now we’re at the beginning stages. Scripts are being read, so it takes a few months to see. We had one woman tweet that her mentor liked her script so much that he sent it to a production company, and they asked to have a meeting with her. It was a super fast process, and he was the producer of “Peanut Butter Falcon”.
MARTIN: I see a program like this making a dramatic positive shift in the industry. It’s so exciting. Do you feel the same way? Do you see a little hope through this process?
NGUYEN: A little more because the feedback has been so great from the mentees. I never dreamed in my lifetime that I could talk to all of these people who are top-level in the industry. It’s really hard if you’re not born into it honestly, to be able to get time from these VIPs. You can’t just call their offices and say, “hi, can I have a meeting?” But through the program you can.
MARTIN: With the pandemic, do you feel that it’s been easier for these VIPs to be more accessible?
NGUYEN: Yes, it’s been easier with everyone being at home, they’re not stuck in traffic or anything like that (laughing), so I feel that has been a tremendous influence to the initiative.
MARTIN: Also, #BlackLivesMatter, has really alerted the industry about their lack of diversity and inclusivity. Do you think the movement has also shined more of a light on #StartWith8Hollywood?
NGUYEN: I’ve seen the hashtag #BlackStoriesMatter online too. I think a lot of our society reflects on what is portrayed in the media, and not seen. With #BlackLivesMatter it has shined a light on the stories that are not represented onscreen.
MARTIN: For screenwriting, any new projects?
NGUYEN: During the pandemic, I actually wrote another screenplay, a genre screenplay about a vampire and werewolf It was a lot of fun to write.