WE SALUTE the achievements of two individuals of TT heritage who have been invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation behind the Oscars. Trini-Canadian filmmaker Frances-Anne Solomon and Tobago-born actor Winston Duke were among the 842 new members announced on Tuesday. Their names appeared alongside other invitees such as Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, singer/actress Lady Gaga and Letitia Wright, herself of Caribbean lineage.
The Academy’s announcement of new members comes amid a push for more inclusion in Hollywood. While there is still a long way to go, the breath of the invitees attests to the fact that there is a rich and vibrant international cinema fraternity yearning to be represented onscreen and for opportunities in the film industry internationally. The new members announced come from 59 countries, 50 per cent of whom are female and 29 per cent are people of colour.
TT is well poised to contribute to the global conversation about diversity and representation, itself having grappled with these issues while simultaneously producing individuals of outstanding talent over the years.
Solomon, who was nominated by award-winning director Ava DuVernay, is known for founding the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival in Toronto as an important platform for Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora films and filmmakers. Her film, Hero, explored the life of Ulric Cross. The film, which provided local audiences a rare opportunity to see the life of one of our own dramatised on the big screen, has screened internationally. While she has had to make her career moving from country to country, Solomon is an inspirational figure for anyone aspiring to get involved in the industry. As is Duke.
Duke grew up in Argyl, Tobago, and moved to the US with his mother and sister when he was nine years old. He studied at the University at Buffalo, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre, then moved on to the prestigious Yale School of Drama receiving a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting in 2013. These achievements alone are noteworthy. But in a short space of time, Duke has managed to make a splash in Hollywood, appearing in the wildly popular Black Panther movie, as well as in Avengers and the horror Us, directed by Jordan Peele.
Though we laud their success and this fresh recognition, that both figures had to pursue their careers abroad is a telling reminder of the challenges which still face locals interested in the arts.
For now, they join a long list of TT figures who have made waves and have been recognised internationally, including Geoffrey Holder, Heather Headley, Sam Mendes, and Naomie Harris, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film Moonlight in 2016. Duke and Solomon are further examples of our capacity to burn brightly in any sphere of life.