This Woman of Color in Hollywood is not Supporting Nithya Raman

DECISION 2020--1990, I moved to LA to attend the American Film Institute; only 1 of 6 in the producing program’s second year and the sole Woman of Color producer.

I settled into a place in Los Feliz which has been my residence, but even more importantly my home, ever since.

I love this area. I love my neighbors. My bank, my dry cleaners, my markets, all are here. This neighborhood has supported me during the highs and lows of my life and career. It is where (pre-Covid, sigh) I ate, hung out and even where I filmed some of my movies as an Independent Producer/Line Producer.

Originally, I was in Tom LaBonge’s district. Over time, the boundaries moved and this year, I am in Mitch O’Farrell’s area. But, regardless of the redistricting, Los Feliz is always home.

For 30 years, there has been no place I would rather be than in Los Feliz. In fact, a friend once said, “You will never move.” I responded, “Not if I can help it.” So, I am invested in local politics. Sometimes, like many of you, a lot more so than at other times. This is one of those times for me.

I am endorsing David Ryu for City Council. I have had direct, face-to-face and personal interactions with his opponent Nithya Raman. I like Nithya and her prior work with the homeless. She is a Woman of Color, as am I. And, I appreciate her platform pushing David more to the left. But, because of those personal interactions with Nithya, I cannot support her candidacy.

See, I founded the largest non-profit of WOC in Entertainment, Women of Color Unite (WOCU). A bedrock of WOCU is that we do not charge our members for membership fees and nothing for our events, because I believe it is a form of institutionalized gatekeeping since WOC make so much less for the same work. So, to belong, all you have to do is “roll and stroll” as a WOC in the industry. It wasn’t my intention to become the leader of a grassroots movement, but sometimes you can’t fight your DNA.

My late mother, Joan Theresa Curtis, was an activist. In fact, the database of WOC in entertainment currently curated by WOCU, is called The JTC List, to honor her and the work she did. She came to visit me here in 1993 and fell in love with the weather and stayed. Many folks here in Los Feliz still remember her. Her death is one of the times my neighbors held me down when I, as an only child, didn’t think I could go on. But go on I did. To honor her legacy, I hope.

And, honoring her means stepping up no matter the consequences because as she used to say “right is right”. I am sure there will be trolls on social media, perhaps industry pushback and other confused folks asking how can a WOC not support another WOC. But the truth is, “All skin folk ain’t kin folk”. Just two specific, pertinent examples of incidences with Nithya, the Executive Director of Time’s Up Entertainment at the time, that solidified my support and endorsement of David Ryu.

The first, lunch in the Fall of 2018 at Home Restaurant in Silver Lake. She had just announced a program for WOC assistants. I let her know, “Great, but there are already quite a few programs for newbies. What about WOC like me with 10–30 years of experience? These people should be SVPs, VPs and the Heads of Production and Development. These women are now hitting that intersection of racism, sexism and ageism. What about giving them a shot?”

Nithya’s response, “Oh, I have had those conversations with the heads of studios and production companies, and because a handful of you made it; they just don’t think the rest of you are good enough.” I have to stop there and say my response was full of expletives but I will try to give you a sense…. I said, “Tell them to say it to my @*%$)#*$* face.” Yup, I was hot. After sipping some water, I continued, “Here is the problem with not pushing back. First, by doing your program, you perpetuate the BS that there just are not enough qualified WOC. Second, those young WOC have no support and will look around in 5 years and wonder ‘why haven’t I moved up?’ You have to get WOC in higher positions to support these young Queens coming up”.

I knew right then and there, if you can’t stand up to White Supremacy and acquiescence, then you cannot get real systemic change for working WOC. Not in Los Feliz, not in Los Angeles, and not in District 4. To quote Beyoncé, “Hold Up” to any program that supported this racist/sexist notion. And I speak as the creator of The JTC List with its 1800+ WOC in a multitude of disciplines in my industry — and I beg to differ with that assessment of WOC.

To say I was disappointed is truly an understatement. This is Nithya Raman, Executive Director of Time’s Up Entertainment agreeing with a racist/sexist/ageist paradigm. But, I kept trying.

The second example was in January of 2019, at Sundance Film Festival, sitting on a panel and being called a “racist” for bringing up the white savior trope of the movie Greenbook. The subsequent fallout was traumatic and dramatic. So, I emailed Nithya for backup, because she was at the event. Though varying accounts of whether she witnessed that incident are debatable, the incident itself is not, because as a Black Woman…receipts — I have the footage. So, what I wanted was someone to help me highlight the kind of dismissal that WOC actually encounter daily in the work place — I needed someone with position (like Times Up which had been founded for that very purpose) to stand in solidarity and facilitate change to this systemic dynamic.

What I got was a “sorry that happened” and crickets. Subsequently, I dropped it on Twitter and received a ton of support from a wide range of people (Thank you my Peeps!). I was done. I saw her priorities in action, an advocate for WOC, as long as it didn’t make White people in power uncomfortable. You know, at best, ‘…All sound and fury. Signifying nothing’. I knew that I couldn’t count on her.

And now, with less than a month until the election, I am watching celebrities, who don’t live in my neighborhood, endorse Nithya. And what I find interesting is that no one bothered to ask me. I have been a WOC working for 30 years in the industry, who founded the largest non-profit advocacy group for WOC in entertainment, and I am a contributing member of this district. In fact, I have brought the money I did have as an Indie Producer into my neighborhood every chance I could. I have supported local businesses and many of those I now consider friends.

This is what I know. I want someone who will fight for my neighborhood, for my friends that own local small businesses, and not disappear if a more high-profile opportunity comes along. If you can’t pushback against the establishment or the ingrained powers that are invested in the status quo and have the money to stop you, how will you fight for District 4? If you implement policies that reinforce racism and sexism, please don’t tell me that Black Lives Matter, because when I came to you over and over in the moment of crisis, you took the opposing side.

Now please don’t get this twisted, this isn’t a vote against Nithya; this is a vote FOR David. Sure, you can criticize David on his record, but he has a record. He has 4 years of successes and failures. And he celebrates his victories and owns the failures. I appreciate those who fail, pick themselves up and continue to fight. I have fallen on my face quite a few times, it doesn’t disqualify me. I hope I learn and it makes me better. We don’t need a perfect candidate; what we need — in the middle of a pandemic and a rebellion — is someone invested in our community.

Additionally, as a Line Producer, I appreciate unions. David Ryu has the unions behind him. I have discussed with him the lack of diversity regrading local media unions. We will continue the conversation to have more WOC become union. I walked the picket lines with my mom on strike for union workers (AFL-CIO) as a child carrying signs. My boyfriend’s “sister” Plumbers and Fitters Union has endorsed David. As a union “kid”, I want to strengthen them and work with them to get more WOC into the film unions.

My fellow Angelenos, none of this is new. I have been talking about performative behavior in my business for a very long time. Where is Nithya’s track record of helping women and WOC as Executive Director of Time’s Up Entertainment? Where is the database that puts all marginalized lists in one spot that she and I discussed years ago that was under her purview? Seriously, what did she do in her position that justified Time’s Up Entertainment getting $2 million of the $20M of Les Moonves’ monies forfeited back to CBS for misconduct? Where did it go? Who did it help? A candidate can spout the most progressive platform but that doesn’t mean anything without action. (I would insert my Kamala side eye gif if I could). The real test is transparency and accountability, but that requires a record of action that stands up to scrutiny.

Lastly, to Hollywood celebrities who don’t live in my hood, the next time you want to support a candidate, please ask a WOC who has lived in the area for 30 years, because I am endorsing David Ryu.

(Cheryl L. Bedford, a NAACP Image Award Nominee for “Dark Girls” and Baltimore native, holds a BFA from NYU’s TSOA and MFA in Producing from AFI. She is currently based in Los Angeles, CA. As a Production Manager, Line Producer, and Producer, Cheryl has worked on countless film/tv/digital projects, including 16 Independent Features.) Posted most recently by Medium.