Wednesday saw a unique red carpet unfold in Los Angeles. It had actors and interviewers, but there was no premiere or awards show. And the real stars were the reporters.
The reporters were 10 students from the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), a public high school in Mid-City Los Angeles. The occasion was the conclusion of the inaugural Micheaux Project, the outreach program launched earlier this year by Variety and the African American Film Critics Assn., designed to introduce high school students from BIPOC communities to potential careers in the entertainment industry.
LACES is the first school to host Micheaux Project workshops. The eight-week course covered such topics as film criticism, interviewing, finding a point of view and working with a newsroom. And though the students had dipped their toes into interviewing over seven previous workshops, with the virtual red carpet assembled for the final installment, the budding reporters dove in by interviewing industry pros under time pressure, as actors and other industry notables moved through a series of Zoom breakout rooms.
Talent who volunteered to “walk the carpet” included actors Sarunas Jackson, Madalen Mills, Jaden Michael and Jahzir Bruno; writer-producer Neal Baer, and screenwriter-producer Charlie Cohen, who also teaches film at the school.
“I really liked talking to them. I felt really comfortable,” said Bruno of being interviewed by the student. Baer added: “It was like a real red carpet. They really put me on the spot. It was great.”
For the students, the virtual red carpet was equally thrilling. “I had three or four questions prepared for each person, about different stages of their career,” LACES senior Ellie Gay explained, but as talent began coming and going so quickly, Gay “was searching for general questions, like ‘What’s your favorite role?’ and ‘What’s your favorite song right now?’ It was wild!”
Variety film and media reporter Angelique Jackson guided the Micheaux Project workshops along with David Cohen, senior producer for Variety Content Studio, and Gil Robertson, president-CEO of AAFCA.
“Mastering the red carpet is a true test for any budding reporter and the LACES students took on an even bigger challenge by managing the onslaught of interviews popping in virtually,” Jackson said.
“In preparing the next generation of reporters to join our ranks through this curriculum, we aimed to preach the importance of preparation and innovation, which the key to success in a virtual situation like this,” she said. “And even more important was giving these young people of color access to the proverbial Variety microphone, to give them a head start towards one day holding the real one.”
The Micheaux Project enlists professional journalists, filmmakers and critics to encourage students’ interest in journalism and creative fields, especially entertainment journalism and film criticism. It is open to participation by journalists from any media outlet. This fall’s workshops included speakers from Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter and “Entertainment Tonight.”
AAFCA’s Robertson is an alumni of LACES, the highly regarded LAUSD magnet school for middle school and high school students.
“The members of the African American Film Critics Association are enormously proud of the Micheaux Project,” Robertson said. “I think we succeeded at our goal to motivate and spark curiosity with the students seriously consider the tremendous opportunities available to them in entertainment media.”
LACES principal Kimberly Lesure praised the inaugural program’s impact on the growth and development of the students who participated.
“I’m encouraged by how they’re supporting each other, giving each other positive, actionable feedback,” Lesure said. “And I’m super overjoyed to see that they’re making connections now that will benefit them later.”
(Pictured: Sarunas Jackson, Madalen Mills and Jaden Michael)