Whether personal or corporate, your brand’s reasons for being here in the first place determines how you handle the ups, downs and disappointments along the way. The “controversies” around the award-winning film Selma offer a case in point.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s hard to be unaware of the two things that have caused much consternation and outrage across the internet. First, the film was hit with charges of inaccurately portraying the role Lyndon Johnson played in getting the Voting Rights Act passed. In many quarters, these charges were seen as a smear campaign against the film, one designed to limit its awards viability. This came to pass in what looks like a purposeful snub by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences of the film’s director, Ava DuVernay. While Selma was nominated for Best Picture and Best Song, she did not get a nod for Best Director. In addition to racial bias, some see it as ongoing evidence of the Academy’s bias against female directors.
To be honest, I was one of those people who, when the nominations were revealed, was vocal about my bafflement. How could a picture be nominated for Best Picture, but the director not be honored, as well? After all, unlike theater–where the playwright rules–film is a director’s medium. So, the best director should, it seems, follow the best picture nomination, right?
All around, people written about their shock and anger. For example:
I’m PISSED that they snubbed her. Why am I so angry about this? I didn’t think they’d let her WIN but that they didn’t even give her a nod??
— Awesomely Luvvie (@Luvvie) January 15, 2015
On Forbes, Scott Mendelson wrote: “I am angry because if the legacy of DuVernay’s Selma becomes shaped by its Oscar-season controversy, I fear that it will affect the artistic opportunities afforded to its African-American female director in a manner different than if Selma would have come under fire under the directorial lens of a white male filmmaker.”
He goes onto say this:
Selma is not the first “based on a true story” picture that has come under fire for historical inaccuracies. But it is the rare black-centric historical drama told explicitly from the point of view of its black protagonists. So it is both ironic and infuriating that it has now been defamed because of the (I would argue false) notion that it isn’t nice enough to a really powerful white guy who plays a key supporting role. More importantly, it is a rare big movie, even if it was merely a $20 million independently financed production, which comes from the lens of a female African-American filmmaker.
He further gives examples of the slow pace of change in Hollywood as regards to greenlighting films about black subject matter with black directors at the helm.
All well and good context.
But the better takeaway is to note how the director has handled herself, and it’s a great lesson for all of us who want to build lasting brands.
Eyes On The Prize, Indeed
Now, if Ava (who I know through social media, but is not a close friend by any means) came to all this with the goal of winning awards, then I’d expect that she’d be feeling a range of emotions now, among them anger and disappointment. But I don’t think that’s the case. As Stacia L. Brown writes in an excellent post: “She is handling a spate of historical scolders with grace, aplomb, and preternatural calm. Every photo of her that emerges features either a poised, beatific expression or a joyous one, as she’s embracing her cast members and captioning each snapshot with gratitude and excitement.”
Either she’s got an amazing poker face, or she’s always had her sights set on bigger goals. I suspect it’s the latter. After all, here’s a woman who not only has three of her own films under her belt including Selma (I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere), but launched an innovative distribution network for African diaspora films and, to date, has put eight (8) films in theaters since its inception in 2011.
I suspect that, if asked, Ava would tell you that the awards are nice, but they were never her endgame. She’s got her eyes on a bigger prize: Long-term impact. In that context, the Oscar is not the point. She not only wants to create stories that show black people in their full humanity, but offer a powerful rebuke to the Hollywood’s non-support of films by and about black people. In this age of #BlackLivesMatter, Ava has been doing her part to make sure those film stories make it to theaters where they can be seen. Between the work on the production and distribution sides of the film business, she is altering the conversation in substantive ways and providing an innovation roadmap.
That’s impact, and the making of a powerful brand.
So, I’ll venture to guess that Ava always reminds herself why she’s made all of this effort in the first place. In that context, the awards are her “nice to haves,” not her “mandatories” in determining success. She continues to use the visibility that she’s gained to praise her collaborators in front of and behind the camera. More importantly, not only is she building a body of work that will stand the test of time, she’s refining and strengthening a mechanism for deserving films to get into the marketplace.
Here are a three things for us all to remember, both as individuals and as brand builders:
- It can’t just be about you. It’s the age of the purpose economy. The people and brands that resonate are focused adding value to people’s lives. If your goals are just about you and your success, then they’re small. Ask yourself, how can I use my success to improve things for everyone? Answer that question, and you’ll find it easier to recruit others to help you achieve your goals. Porras, Emery and Thompson’s Success Built To Last: Creating A Life That Matters (affiliate link)is a great starting point. The key, I think, to Ava’s peace of mind–and that calm that Stacia notes–is that she’s motivated by a desire to create excellent films and create real diversity in the marketplace. And she’s doing both.
- Always remember your reasons why. It’s easy to be distracted, especially as you gain momentum. But the original impetus–your mission–for getting started should provide a powerful gauge for opportunities that arise. Do these opportunities align with your original goal? If not, politely decline and keep moving forward. Your mission will also help you ignore the marketplace’s noise, as Ava is doing so very well.
- Focus on the work. At the end of the day, we only get closer to our goals by putting in the work. The business types say, “Execute, execute, execute!” Being in the spotlight doesn’t mean you’re doing great, excellent work. Of course, doing great, excellent work doesn’t guarantee the spotlight, either. But around here, many of us are interested in legacy. Public adulation comes and goes, but people know what you and your brand stand for by the body of work you produce. Awards or no, Ava DuVernay has made three strong films. That can’t be be taken away. Rest assured, we haven’t yet seen her best work, but it’s coming.
It’s not just the creative industries that can benefit from having a higher brand purpose. Are there ways you can–or already are–bringing your brand’s mission to bear in every aspect of your business? Leave a comment below and let me know.