Today’s media has a representation problem, both in content and in the workforce. The media industry has always been a very white, male dominated field. Although women and minorities represent more than half of the nation’s population, they still struggle with equal and diverse representation in media. Gloria Steinem, a well-known feminist, journalist, and activist who also co-founded the Women’s Media Center once said, “When men and women turn to or on the media, yet fail to see women in our true diversity, there is a sense that all or some women literally don’t count. It’s crucial that the media report and reflect, not conceal and distort.”
Over the years, there has been several organizations and initiatives created to highlight the diversity problem and tackle it head on, such as The Women’s Media Center, the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative, and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. These organizations publish reports of the research they’ve conducted, which illustrate the struggles that women and minorities face in the media industry. While progress seems to be happening in broad strokes, the change still isn’t significant enough to rule out media’s representation crisis. Therefore, many advocates for change emphasize the need for more public engagement about the issue, increased public criticism of gender and racial discrimination in media and more support for content created by and featuring women and people of color in media.
The future of women and minorities in media seems uncertain right now, however there is no denying the existence of a younger generation of crusaders for diversity in media. Rutgers University has its own fair share of ambitious creators that strive for a better future for marginalized groups in media. One such visionary, Kimberly Hoyos, wants to use her efforts to amplify the voices of others.
Kimberly Hoyos is a 21-year-old, Latina filmmaker from Parsippany, New Jersey. She is a first-generation American born of immigrant parents with familial roots in Colombia. The Rutgers University junior is currently earning a degree in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Gender and Media. She is also earning a film certificate through the Mason Gross School of the Arts. Her work experience includes being an intern at NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
Hoyos is the founder of The Light Leaks, an online community for female and non-binary filmmakers. Launched in February of 2017, the website provides marginalized filmmakers with an inclusive space for support, educational resources and a platform to showcase their talents. The site also features pieces from contributing writers and monthly interviews and think-pieces from female voices in the film industry. Hoyos devotes countless hours to building her own website, along with juggling her daily activities. Her dedication to her work comes from her passion for better representation for women and minorities in media, which she first discovered through her education at Rutgers, particularly on social issues. Despite several setbacks she’s faced in the past, such as feelings of self-doubt and fears of discrimination, Hoyos stays motivated through the support of her friends and family and constant reminders of her worth.
In the future, Hoyos hopes to evolve The Light Leaks into her own production company for female and non-binary filmmakers. Down the road, Hoyos wants to be remembered for being a good person and for her work to be used to and amplify the voices of others and make a better future. For the time being, she is working on two film projects, one about a student suffering from PTSD post-sexual assault and the other is about the power of female friendship.
The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by Voice Magazine with Kimberly Hoyos, which has been edited down for space and clarity.
VM: As an aspiring filmmaker, have you face any struggles in developing yourself and your work based on your racial and/or gender identity?
KH: I started doing film when I was 16, so for the first three years of me doing film, I didn’t have words for the things that would happen to me… There were things I just didn’t realize and a lot of the things in film came down to classes. Me being in classes and hearing a male student pitch about how a girl didn’t want to date him, and at the end of it she was just alone, she gets embarrassed, or something awful happens to her, and that’s misogyny. That’s not okay, it’s misogynistic. I want to say a lot of it has just been a lens on my own work, but just in regards to who I’m going associate with, especially in film. I feel like I can count my male film friends on one hand maybe, just because there are a lot of men I know in classes who don’t understand that the structure is benefiting them and don’t understand that the stories that they are pursuing are not reflective of us as a society. It’s affected how I operate in my work, how I feel in an environment and if I feel comfortable or not in that environment, and also who I will associate myself with.
VM: How do you feel about representation in film today? How about in media?
KH: I think, definitely, it’s better in indie filmmaking than in mainstream film, just purely because there’s also more women in independent film than there are in mainstream film. I think it’s getting better in broader strokes… I think this year has been great in that there has been more diversity on the screen… I’m so happy, but those things have to be more normalized, and for it to be normalized, it has to happen until it’s fine. Even if we’re looking at the numbers, the number of female directors in mainstream directing roles at least matches 1998. In between, it’s been going up two percent and going down three. It’s not anything that’s steady progression. So even if we’re seeing black women on screen, that does not mean that there’s a black female director behind it. I think that’s a big thing also, we have to push for diverse stories by creators that reflect that diversity. It’s a two way thing. Even if we have it on screen, that does not mean it’s happening behind the screen… I feel that it’s in all parts, and us as consumers, we have to be able to see media, understand it and consume healthier media.
VM: What contributions do you want to make towards creating a more inclusive environment for women of color in film?
KH: With the Light Leaks, my aim is just to educate young people as a whole as to what they have at their disposal, to give confidence to those younger, female and non binary filmmakers to create whatever work they want to create, and to understand that, yes, the industry isn’t created for them, but also see that their work is valid and their stories can be heard if it’s spread through the power of the internet. My biggest contribution would be to educate others on how things are now and what could be done to change it, and show that young people do have a presence and do have a responsibility to make it better.
VM: When did you first discover that diversity was very important to you?
KH: When I was 19. I was doing a research paper for my Knowledge and Power class freshman year and it was about female directors… I was looking up statistics and had no idea how horrible the numbers were, and I had a breakdown. Then I was like “No, this is my new thing, this is my passion,” and I realized that it fit into so many points in my life growing up of things I wanted to be different… I remember as a kid, I hated Selena Gomez. She was just so whitewashed on television, like she had a quinceanera on Wizards of Waverly Place because she had to. I saw her and wanted her to be someone who looked and sounded like me on television, and she wasn’t. I realized that in middle school, but didn’t understand that it meant representation. I didn’t realize that when I saw Adrienne Bailon as a Cheetah Girl speaking Spanish and I was happy, but I didn’t understand why. All of things came together when I did that research paper, saw the numbers, and realized what media representation meant to me all my life and what it would mean for people like me and unlike me.
What encourages you to continue to strive for better representation and diverse stories?
KH: I look around and I’m just scared. I look around and I see all the different kinds of people that exist and that I know of and I think that none of us are on television, none of us have a space, none of us are seeing our stories told, or they’re being told by someone else… When I think about representation, I also think about the election and how I shut down for three months after it. I just didn’t find any worth in my work because I felt like nothing I do matters in this. I had to come to this realization of my own identity and think “This is the way I’m going to make a difference as an artist.” I’m just going to use my voice to just zone out and create change for all the people who would rather us be silent. I think that’s been a lot of it all, wanting to resist in my own way and trying to amplify voices that aren’t being represented in government, in policies, in lawmaking or anything.
VM: Do you think that there’s any specific methods or any specific tactics that can done to really get the message across that there is need for better representation?
KH: I think what happened with Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” opening weekend was a great showing of that. Filling the box office with numbers and showing that diversity on screen is also what makes money, because at the end of the day, distribution companies and production companies, they just want money. It’s been seen that diverse casts pull in more money. Fifty-one percent of ticket-buying moviegoers are women. So, if all women just consumed healthier media, went to films with female leading roles, a female director, a black director, a south Asian director or just anything that was diverse, we would show the moneymakers in Hollywood what’s actually wanted to be seen on screen. If we boycotted shows that were whitewashed, if we watched diverse casts, if we supported things on social media. I think it’s a matter of authorship, just knowing who’s creating what and for what reasons and seeing things and and supporting artists who are actually making a change in those regards.
VM: With any of the projects that you’re doing, would you want your work to be received that way? Would you want other filmmakers to be able to have their projects recognized as worthy or valid?
KH: I do hope people see my work and think, “Oh this is a young Latina who edited this, wrote this and directed this.” I hope my identity does play into the fact that I am filling these other roles. I hope that people see my work and think, “Oh, this is a very fleshed story of female characters” or “Oh, this is a very interesting tale on a rom-com,”if I wanted to do that. I want there to be, for any creator, no obligations to create one kind of story. Just because I’m a Latina, doesn’t mean every story I do is going to be about my parent’s immigration. I want the freedom to be able to do a stupid rom-com and have it be hetero-normative if I wanted to, or to be able to write a breakup film and have that be a gay couple. I want there to be that duplicity for everyone, that there’s that freedom for everyone to create the thing you want to create. I know that’s easier said than done to not be trapped by your identity because there is no way to disassociate yourself from who you are, but I also do believe there is great strength with playing into things that people may not believe your identity fits into.
VM: What is one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring filmmaker who is really scared that their work won’t be received well or taken seriously?
KH: Just do it. If you’re waiting to be taken seriously, you never will be. You are the first person who has to believe in yourself, you are the first person who has to go out on a limb and make your own website or put filmmaker in your bio. I remember the first time I put filmmaker in my Instagram bio, I was like “Wow, everyone’s going to think I’m so self-centered,” but I was also like “No, f*** yeah, I’m a filmmaker.” That’s what I do, that’s what I love to do, that’s who I am. I feel like a lot of it, with any artist, is just knowing yourself and thinking “This is my passion, this is my life, this is what I devote my time to, this is who I am.” I feel like the first step is knowing who you are and what you do and believing in that, then go from there.
For more updates on Kimberly Hoyos, check out her twitter and Instagram pages @kimhoyos, as well as her website, LightLeaks.