After Careful Consideration

Growing up, movies were everything to me. My entire worldview was shaped by cinema. Every single weekend, I walked down the street to Blockbuster with my mom and we rented a new film. When we weren’t inside of blockbuster, you could’ve quickly located us at one of 5 movie theaters throughout LA. We laughed together and we cried together. Movies, however, didn’t just function to bring us closer. As an only child, films were truly a means of escape. As my mother worked tirelessly to put a roof over my head, I used movies to see past my neighborhood and into the world. Most of my understanding of how society operated outside of my community came from the silver screen.  Like most people around the world,  I just watched movies and appreciated them from afar without any real knowledge of how or why they got made (which is hilarious since I grew up in and around Hollywood.)  I never actually knew that you could be a director. I had no idea that was a career that someone could be paid to do. I didn’t know anybody who directed films and I definitely didn’t know any black folks making movies.

When you don’t see yourself or your community reflected on screen or behind the camera, it’s hard to imagine yourself in those positions.

Still, subconsciously I always knew that I had to somehow make my way into this industry.

 

One day, towards the end of my freshman year at Stanford University, I stumbled upon a  filmmaking competition that challenged me to make a film in 5 days. I gladly accepted the challenge, especially since it served as great distraction from my impossibly difficult pre-med courses. In less than a week, I wrote, shot, and edited my first short film and…it was a really really bad movie. Though it was unwatchable, I had had the time of my life creating it and it inspired me to do the unthinkable – I  stopped taking chemistry, biology, and algebra and started making movies instead. Again, really really bad movies. I didn’t know that they were bad at the time, but yeah, they were bad. For the next four years, I did nothing but live and breathe movies, preparing myself to make my first great film. My Magnum Opus. I was convinced that I would make a short film that would mark the culmination of my entire college career and propel me to new heights as an actual filmmaker. I submitted it to film festivals and in 2016, I got my first  response;

 

Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we will not be including your work in our program this year. 

 

This crushed me. I mean, I was absolutely devastated. But it was okay, because I was still waiting to hear back from a dozen other major festivals. One of them would screen my film  right? One of them had to see my genius right? Wrong. Over the course of that year, I received a  dozen letters and they all ended the same way;

 

Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we will not be including your work in our program this year.

 

After wallowing in my pain, I decided that I was going to use all of this rejection to get even better at my craft. I continued to hone my skills and mold my voice. I focused on directing films with a personal message and a purpose. Films that reflected my community both on screen and behind the camera. Films that normalized people of color, minorities, and black folk specifically. Now in 2020, as I work on a variety of interesting projects that all speak to my unique experience, I feel smarter and wiser than ever. I’m much more experienced and talented than I ever could’ve imagined and I feel like I’ve taken concrete steps forward towards my ultimate goal. There is a newfound confidence within me, forged through hard work, sacrifice and dedication. This confidence was recently compounded just last week when I got a familiar letter in my inbox. A letter that ended with;

 

Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we will not be including your work in our program this year.

 

All these years later, with all the growth I have experienced, I’m still consistently getting rejected. Rejected by film festivals, grants, programs, and more. After all these years, I’m still reading the same string of words, informing me that I am not good enough. However, now when  I read these words, they no longer bring me pain. I don’t feel shame. I don’t feel crushed or devastated. These words now function as a badge of honor, for these are the words that actually allowed me to hone my skills. These are the words that helped mold my voice. These are the words that made me smarter and wiser than ever before. And now when I read them, they remind me to keep going. They remind me to not stop here. They remind me to not get complacent. People say rejection doesn’t define you. But maybe it does. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Diante Singley

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