Filmmaker Robert Henry: “I believe there needs to be more trust in minorities when it comes to filmmaking”
Diverse representation in film and television is vital in our culture because it makes everyone feel accepted. We do not live in a homogenous environment, everyone has different backgrounds, experiences and part of creating content is exploring those differences in order to spark change as well as to impact individual lives.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make Film and TV more representative of the US population, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Robert Henry, the founder of KING HENRY FILMS, along with Dolapo Olorode, Keshiyena Pieters and Kara Myers who worked as Producers on the short film, “TO RAISE A CHILD”
Robert Henry is a recent graduate from Long Island University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Journalism and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Media Arts, New York-native Robert Henry wrote, directed and executive produced his latest self-funded short film, “TO RAISE A CHILD” as apart of independent study during his senior year. The film is currently making a film festival run, having been selected for four film festivals thus far and will screen at the TCL Chinese Theater in March.
Robert Henry is currently pursuing a career in Public Relations having worked with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a grassroots intern during her presidential campaign in 2016 to the world-renowned dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, even doing a stint working as a Fashion Assistant at Marie Claire magazine as well as additional PR agencies.
Robert founded KING HENRY FILMS in 2013 during his sophomore year of college with hopes to create films that insight thought and exude artistic and innovative cinematography to present powerful messages. He has independently produced all of his short film projects and continues to write, including his first feature screenplay, EASTEND, which he is currently shopping around.
Dolapo Olorode is a producer with a passion for creative content that inspires a generation of dreamers to eventually become a doer. Her educational background consists of a Bachelor’s of Science in Accountancy and Masters of Accounting Science from one of the top business schools in the country, the University of Illinois, Urbana — Champaign.
Currently residing in New York, she has been working on various projects for 3+ years which includes working as a producer and chief editor for Arfpro Studios production company where she produced and built the sizzle reels for shows like “Trish Humphries Show” and “Charity Chef” which was later pitched to major networks such as BRAVO and MTV Networks. She was also signed on as the Executive Producer for a web series titled “4 Halves Make a Whole” which recently was selected to the Golden Door International Film Festival.
Dolapo also served as the Executive Producer for the short film, “TO RAISE A CHILD” which has been selected into four film festivals thus far with screenings in the US and Canada.
Keshiyena Pieters, currently a graduate student studying Physiology at North Carolina State University, is furthering her education and experience in the medical field. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Biology from North Carolina Central University and is headed to become an OB/GYN. However, she has found an outlet for her true creative passion.
Apart from studying science, she is a producer for “TO RAISE A CHILD.” She has aided the director with the needs of pre- and post-production and gives pointers on how things could look and sound. She has known the director on a personal level for more than a decade. Being a part of this film has brought so much light into her life. She has truly done her part in making this the production that the world needs.
Kara Myers is a graduate of Long Island University Brooklyn Campus. She double-majored in Business Management and Marketing and also chosen a minor in Media Arts. Ms. Myers was able to further develop her professional marketing experience working at companies including companies SiriusXM and Viacom (VH1). An interest in social media marketing suddenly struck her. Following the conclusion of her undergraduate career, she began her social media marketing firm, C.A.K.E. Marketing Co. She expanded her knowledge in the different sectors of marketing and stumbled upon King Henry Films. It was when she met Robert Henry that she was able to expand her social media marketing knowledge and work side by side with the illustrious director to aide the marketing efforts of the film company and also acquire extensive knowledge of the film industry.
Thank you all so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have been writing since I was a child and constantly developing and creating stories that would resonate with people overall. I have found film to be a visual medium for my creative storytelling and sought out to learn more about the film industry and directing as a whole. I have since double majored in college and studied Media Arts under the mentorship of Larry Banks and Gerard Butler, both who have worked on the critically-acclaimed movie, Juice. Both professors at LIU Brooklyn have inspired and motivated me to work on my own personal projects which led to the production of the short film, “TO RAISE A CHILD.”
I was always into the arts as a child. I would create drawings and they would be selected to art festivals in addition to participating in school plays and becoming involved and learning how to play various instruments such as the violin and flute. The creative passion that has evolved in me since being a kid led me to gave me the desire to become an actress. As I got older, I started to understand that I can still be heavily involved in the creative process of the film industry without being in front of the camera, which in turn, led me to explore producing and writing.
I’ve always wanted to be an actress, but my passion for science proved to be the top contender. But as I got older, I realized that there was plenty of room for both passions to become fruitful. When my dear friend, Robert Henry, asked me to help him with the production of his first short film, she quickly fell in love with the producing world of film. So while she was in school obtaining her B.S in Biology and graduating with honors, she was also conducting auditions, sending emails and overseeing the cast and crew for a wonderful production company.
I didn’t have an interest in the courses my high school offered until I became a Junior and was able to enroll in a Marketing class that introduced me to my passion. That, in addition, to a film critic class led me to look into integrating the two subjects.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Amidst pursuing a career in public relations, having worked in different areas within PR I was in between jobs, I packed everything that I owned and moved across the country with no real connections, an unfinished film, and faith. There was a moment that I experienced recently at the Canadian premiere of the film where I realized
Having to explain my two separate passions in life that are completely opposite. While I love having a creative outlet in which she expresses myself, I also found comfort in the medical world where I’m able to physically to help those in need of adequate medical care.
While working as a producer for a web series and we had created an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to shoot the remaining episodes of the series. After receiving advice of my hairdresser at the time, I reached out to a fellow alumni from my alma mater, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who was also the co-founder of YouTube, worth over $300M. I surprisingly got a response back rather quickly and he loved the series and ask ‘how can I help?’ I was shocked that he responded and reach out immediately on ways he can potentially help us with the show. Unfortunately, the campaign fell through but at that moment, it was a great victory for me because believe I was able to step out of my comfort zone in order to help the vision come to pass. Ultimately, I learned through this specific experience that regardless of the unknown outcome, if you want to achieve something, you have to speak up and network with people who may or may not be in your circle because you never know who can help, i.e “step out of your comfort zone.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Having a realistic budget is the most important thing that people don’t take into consideration when making a project. When I embarked on my first production, I didn’t have any experience working with a budget and thought it would work itself out. I began pre-production and started the casting process after the script was finalized and thought money would continue to roll in as we kept going. It wasn’t until after the second round of auditions of a project (which was later scrapped) when I realized that I needed to be realistic with myself and with the people who were working on the production.
I admit to wearing my emotions where everyone knows exactly what I’m thinking. There was a particular audition in which I admit to making a face that let the actor know they were not going to get the part. I cracked a smile that was just a little to wide. But what I learned from that is that you should always smile at everyone, that way, no one will know right then and there what the outcome will be, and bonus: everyone will feel good about what they are passionate about!
I had a presentation in my first marketing class in college and I could not remember one word for the life of me and I continued to point to my head for 30 seconds in hopes the word would return and it never did. I received a solid C- and I reminded myself from that day forward to study those vocabulary words. The real lesson being to prepare yourself for what life has to throw at you.
Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
These women that I have had the pleasure of working with have helped me create opportunities for not only themselves but for aspiring filmmakers as well. I knew from the beginning of production that I wanted to have a diverse cast and crew that represented the various backgrounds of the US population. It is my primary mission to create a safe and welcoming filming environment where people could express themselves in a creative setting. I chose to represent our culture by first having an idea and creating a strategy that provided opportunities for other minorities in my film productions.
My current day job revolves around helping underrepresented minorities acquire their dream jobs in industries where there is a dire need for more minority representation. Therefore, when it comes to being involved in creating content, I gravitate towards projects that tell stories about different demographics and issues, such as the short film “To Raise a Child,” that bring awareness of the current injustice in the US.
I credit myself for being the minority in the field. Being the only black woman in a room has allowed my voice my own opinions about what works and what doesn’t work. It gives those, who came after me, the ability to ease into a world that was once set up to work against them.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
My family, in particular, was very proud of me when I shared the film for them to view. They were excited that I actually was a part of something that will have an impact in today’s society but also that I continued to explore my passion and it turned out to be a successful experience. Being apart of the production team for to “TO RAISE A CHILD,” I learned so much about pre- and post-production but also the accolades that came after truly humbled and encouraged me. This is something that my family was most excited about because they know with the success of “TO RAISE A CHILD,” I am now empowered to do other passion projects of my own. I have not run into anyone where my work has directly impacted them directly however as I continue producing, my goal is to come across many people who are inspired by my work in the near future.
I have been a social media professional for years, helping small businesses flourish through this digital platform. Thankfully, I was able to help strengthen King Henry Films marketing efforts by developing engaging copy for social posts and assisting with promotional marketing production. I ran into two young individuals while screening the film in Toronto and introduced them to the director. They were inspired by our journey.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in film and television and its potential effects on our culture?
Mental Health, Acceptance and Relatable Narratives
So the first thing is that we need our children to see that people with their same black skin can be anything they want and there is absolutely no limit. I am pursuing a career in medicine as well as following my artistic side as a film producer. I also feel as though it is not okay to have only one perspective that is explored. It takes away the ability for people to connect and truly invest in a character that has no similarities to their life or experiences.
Where I grew up and where I “glowed” up are two different places. I grew up in your regular suburbia, but my heart yearned for NYC, because of the media that introduced me to this place. Now the real thing was nowhere as nice as the movies made it look, but it was the push I needed to want to see it for myself.
My number two reason being people who cannot experience culture because of the boundaries of their location can get an idea of that culture in films and understand differently than how someone else may have interpreted their experience in that place.
Lastly, an understanding of cultures will hopefully lead to a world of evolution and acceptance.
Diverse representation in film and television is vital in our culture because it makes everyone feel accepted.
We do not live in a homogenous environment, everyone has different backgrounds, experiences and part of creating content is exploring those differences in order to spark change as well as to impact individual lives.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
I believe there needs to be more trust in minorities when it comes to filmmaking. I believe that a lot of movies are made ultimately through the perspective of someone who has been in the industry for a long time. There are a bunch of people, willing and ready, who would love to work on a production set and have a sense of mentorship while doing so. I believe in establishing a trust in minorities and their stories and Hollywood needs to be more accepting of the differences in race, representation, and presentation.
The first thing the industry should consider is to take real action by placing diverse individuals in decision making roles in the entertainment business. Essentially, the decisions makers in the entertainment business set the tone on what the world views and thus impacting the representation within the business. Another recommendation would be to allow more content to be representative of the current nation we live in. Individuals want to see themselves represented in entertainment as it is more relatable and equally enjoy because what they see is familiar to their own background. Lastly, the entertainment industry needs to do a better job at promoting movies to an “inclusive audience” and not cater to a specific ethnic group. For instance, typically movies that have an all-black cast would be advertised to a black audience when such movies should be targeted to a general audience based on the “theme” of the movie and not necessarily the background of the actors. Such recommendations provided could be a start to change the course of helping to address the root of diversity within the entertainment business.
I believe communities need to continue to have their voices heard for issues that may arise locally as they would be surprised who else can relate to their local issues. Society must be receptive to communities voicing their griefs and not be afraid to connect with communities outside of theirs to help overcome their grievances. The entertainment industry does not need to capitalize but spread awareness on these issues. Reach into these communities and show the world what is going on and how to help us all evolve to greatness.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is complex in itself but it takes a team to develop and establish what leadership means. As a leader, someone who considers the strategy, budget, emotional wellbeing of their team and the responsibility that the role entails. As the founder of my independent film company, KING HENRY FILMS, I have found that is hard to “reign in glory” when you face obstacles from all sides of the spectrum. Being a leader is not about how much you can control but rather how much growth and strength is developed while working with your team.
Leadership is an act of taking the initiative to inspire individuals to a certain vision or pathway that will yield positive results. Leaders are generally visionaries who are bold enough to take the step in seeing that vision come to pass. Working alongside Robert Henry, the director of TRAC, has helped me to understand strong leadership in pursuing a creative project with a purpose. Not only was the theme of the project very powerful, but making sure to care for every person on the set was also very apparent from start to finish. Providing praise and constructive criticism throughout the entire process is the fundamental reason that the film has been so successful since it’s release.
To me, leadership is a skill needed to oversee a project or job to successful completion. I say successful because a leader would be sure to set achievable goals that can be measured by the success standards set by them and their team.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
“You’re going to have to give up everything” — I moved across the country by myself with just bags, an unfinished film, and faith after getting laid off from my PR job back in New York. Time and time again right before production, I lose something valuable to me emotionally and I have realized that over time, toxic people and things are removed from your life so that you can inhibit and garner the better things that are to come.
“Do not rely on others to make your dream happen” — My first project I worked on was TV pilot that I really had high hopes for. I thought this is my ticket into film, but the creator and director gave up on that dream and in turn, I was back to square one. Later, I had an epiphany and figure out that there is no one in control of my destiny but me and therefore I should not rely on others but go out there and create my own content and continue to seek opportunities.
“Nothing is forever” — After college, I did not work in my desired field or industry. I was completely miserable and I thought this was the only route to continue at the time because I did not know how to “pivot” or know a “way out” and I just thought having an unfulfilling career is my path and it will be forever
“Be patient” — I wanted everything in the blink of an eye but trying to make it happen that way vs. planning things out helped me see the lessons and beauty in the journey to success.
You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to host an annual party for the people where everyone could come together and celebrate a collection of curated music from all different cultures and celebrate one another. I believe this would inspire a movement to remove the barriers that we set for ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zone to welcome and accept people from different parts of the earth.
Every day you must go up to a stranger and make them genuinely smile. It could be as simple as saying, “I hope you have a great day today” or a joke to make them laugh. I believe this type of movement will have a positive impact on people because a majority of individuals live a monotonous lifestyle and may need a “pick me up” sometimes from someone outside of their circle.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Ghandi. It’s a simple and cliché, yet effective quote that has followed Robert Henry throughout his entire life and his journey as a filmmaker. There are turbulent times in our society and the biggest representation that we have in society stems from within ourselves. The slogan, “don’t forget to dream” has been the main tagline for KING HENRY FILMS.
“Do it afraid” — I use to be a very risk-averse individual when it came to trying to go after my dreams. I didn’t know how my dreams could possibly take care of me financially. However, I eventually got tired of the trajectory of my life and told myself and concluded that I would rather try than regret not never trying at all. Thus, I do everything afraid knowing that I will not live with regrets and become fulfilled in the process of “trying.”
“You can get more bees with honey than you can with lemons.” — This was a quote my great-grandmother used, that my grandmother used, that my mother used and still reminds me to this day. They all lead wonderful, prosperous lives by just being kind and pleasant. You can create your own world of delight by applying this quote to your life. It’s sunshine in the form of words.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Barry Jenkins understands the meaning of film. I feel like we could connect on a personal level and I could share some film ideas that I have including the feature screenplay that I just finished writing. As a black, gay indie filmmaker, I have personally seen the growth in Barry’s work and admire how strong and impactful his incredible filmmaking resonates with an audience and brings a range of emotions that relates to an audience and showcases our culture in a more vulnerable and sympathetic light — it is warm and it is received well. I would like to go to a private breakfast or lunch with Barry because, like him, I am ready to be received.
I would love to have a private dinner with Oprah. Oprah is the epitome of successful black women in media who does it all and pays it forward. In the private meeting, I would not dive into her accomplishments, but rather her biggest fears and deepest insecurities current and past. I see Oprah as larger than life and though I am not oblivious to the fact that she is human and may have some common insecurities and fears, I want understand what pushes her forward in her darkest times.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram — @kingroberthenry // @kinghenryfilms
Facebook — KING HENRY FILMS
Twitter — @kinghenryfilms
Instagram — @ladydeei
Email — email@example.com
Instagram — @fatty.k
Instagram — @cakeboss____