The first time Deborah Riley Draper felt seen was in the most literal sense of the word. In 2012, her documentary “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution” screened at Cannes’ Marché du Film.
“That moment, when I sat there and I saw the film credits roll, and I saw my own name, I was actually seen,” Draper said. “[These moments] actually create an opportunity for you to be visible in a space that sometimes dims the light and that marginalize you and pushes you to the back if you’re a small, independent filmmaker.”
Draper’s stroll down memory lane came during Variety‘s Changemaker Summit keynote conversation: Facebook SEEN and Advancing Representation in Storytelling. Moderated by Senior Artisans Editor Jazz Tangcay, Draper was joined by African American Film Critics Assn. President Gil Robertson; Facebook and Instagram Head of Entertainment and Founder of SEEN Jen Louis Barrett; and Universal Pictures’ Digital Marketing Vice President Nicole Schlegel.
In 2017, Barrett founded SEEN at Facebook to foster more moments like the one described by Draper. Her aim was to support “screen storytellers from underrepresented communities to help them harness the audiences and opportunities across our platform to connect more people to their stories in more meaningful ways.” As more initiatives like SEEN bring more underrepresented voices to the table, Barrett foresees doors opening wider.
“I think everyone who has any skin in this game will recognize that the more people with content that looks like the people who want to see it, will win,” she explained.
Universal Pictures collaborated with SEEN for the 2019 campaign of “Queen & Slim.” Joining forces allowed the studio to better connect other audiences with filmmakers Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe.
“We were guided by the notion that the film was a movement and not just a moment,” Schlegel said. “Working with SEEN [was] just a great way to broaden that exposure.”