The goal behind Anacaona Pictures is to create diverse stories that specifically highlight women and people of color. We want to accurately represent the melting pot of the America we know today. Our goal is to also bring development and pre-production to Atlanta. Proper representation is a huge deal to use because there are a lot of stereotypes and harmful narratives that get portrayed in media.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mahalia Latortue.
Mahalia Latortue was born and partially raised in West Hempstead, NY. She received her M.F.A. in Film and Television at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Throughout the course of her career, Mahalia has interned at Viola Davis’ production company, JuVee Productions, introduced a panel at Sundance Film Festival and has produced over seven thesis films, a TV pilot, and a podcast called “The Struggle Is REEL.”
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Storytelling came very naturally to me because I come from a family of storytellers. To give you a little backstory, I am Haitian-American and one of the many things Haitians like to do is tell stories. Growing up, my parents would frequently send my sister and me to Haiti to live with our grandmother, and she would spin endless tales about various Haitian folklores. Ever since I was a little girl, all I’ve ever wanted to do was tell a good story and captivate an audience. I filled endless notebooks and journals with poems, short stories, plays, and soap operas. I would even use my Barbie dolls to reenact scenes from my plays and short stories. My love of storytelling followed me all the way to college, where I was able to take my first film class. At the time, I was majoring in pre-law (International Studies and English) but I switched my major shortly after taking that class and I never looked back. After graduating, I realized that I wanted to learn more about the film industry and network with fellow professionals. I had heard about the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) from fellow graduates and I decided to take a look into the university. Its high alumni employment rate, dedicated professors, and impressive facilities won me over.
Quinn Orear, one of my SCAD professors (and my business partner’s professor), had a huge impact on how we tell our stories. He has always pushed and supported us in many aspects to help tell authentic narratives. He facilitated different opportunities for us to grow and develop as writers. He continuously provides mentorship, resources, and a listening ear whenever we need it. He has been a huge supporter of our mission and we can’t thank him enough for all he has done. Since attending SCAD, my career has skyrocketed in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagine.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
One day at SCAD, right before my class was about to start, my professor Quinn Orear came up to me and pulled me aside. I was super worried that I was in trouble for something (although I had no idea what I could’ve done to get in trouble). Anyways, he causally asked me what my plans were for the following weekend and I said I had nothing in particular planned. He smiled at me and said, “Great, because you’re going to Sundance.” My jaw dropped and I just looked at him like he was crazy. He laughed and said I had been chosen to fly out to Sundance, all expenses paid by the university, to participate in an internship with The Wrap magazine. The next thing I knew, I was on a flight flying over the incredible snow-capped mountains of Utah. If that wasn’t crazy enough, when we landed I quickly found out that I was chosen to introduce a panel with Reggie Watts (who I adored) and Gurinder Chadha (an amazing female director). That was an incredible experience and through the internship I got to interact and see celebrities like Lupita Nyongo, John Hamm, Jesse Williams, Zach Galifianakis, Gina Torres and David Oyelowo. I even got to catch up with my friends from JuVee Productions, where I previously interned, and attended some parties. It was an unforgettable experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My favorite story is from when I was interning at JuVee Productions. I was in the office when in walks this really nice girl with beautifully colored hair. I complimented her hair and we talked for like twenty minutes about random things. Everyone in the office was just looking at me and I didn’t understand why. Once she left the office, the office manager turns to me and asks me if I knew who that was. I said no and everyone laughed. She quickly told me that I had been talking to Kelly Marie Tran from the latest Star Wars movies. Apparently, at the start of my career I was very bad at recognizing celebrities and actors. She was super sweet to talk to and I’m so glad her career is continuing to skyrocket.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
One of the projects that I am really excited about is a pilot we are developing called Children of the Bone. It follows the story of a religious Black teenage girl who finds out that she is a witch on her 16th birthday. It takes place in New Orleans and centers around the magic of Louisiana, Voodoo, Santeria, and other “unorthodox” religions. What I’m excited about is how we incorporate ethnic magic into the story and how culture plays a huge part in both Voodoo and Santeria. Even though I don’t practice Voodoo myself, as a Haitian woman I can’t deny the influence it has had on my culture. It’s something I have always wanted to explore or learn more about and this pilot serves as a way for me to live vicariously through it.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Anacaona is one historical figure that truly inspires me. She was the Queen of the Tainos, which was the indigenous tribe of the Caribbean. When the Spaniards came to the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) she knew that her people didn’t gave the resources to fight or defend themselves from the colonizers. So, she decided to create a working relationship with them in order to save her people from total genocide and extinction. After years of working with the Spaniards, the governor of Spain grew jealous of her and her power. He organized an ambush against her, and her people. She was captured and given the choice of becoming a concubine for Spain or death. In the end, Anacaona chose death to preserve her dignity. Not only was she an amazing leader who kept her people from extinction, but she was a poet, singer and dancer. She is an unsung hero for my people and she inspires me to be great. She defied all odds and in the end she chose an honorable death to preserve her dignity.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
The goal behind Anacaona Pictures is to create diverse stories that specifically highlight women and people of color. We want to accurately represent the melting pot of the America we know today. Our goal is to also bring development and pre-production to Atlanta. Proper representation is a huge deal to use because there are a lot of stereotypes and harmful narratives that get portrayed in media. One of the ways we hope to bring development and pre-production to Atlanta is to curate a writer’s room with local Atlanta writers and help them develop their stories. We are starting small but we are hoping to grow exponentially and be a safe place for writers.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I applied for the role of office manager at a production company and was excited about it. I knew I was a high prospect and I was getting ready to join forces with the company because I believed in their mission and I knew that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. People often dream of getting a moment like that. But then I thought to myself, do I really want to work for a company, or would I rather work with a company? I slowly realized that I owed myself the opportunity to attempt to work with a company and not spend years of my life working for a company hoping to climb up the corporate ladder. I had already invested in myself by getting my master’s degree and I decided that I should give myself the chance to grow and prove myself. Worst case scenario, if it didn’t work out I could always go back and work for a company. But ultimately I decided that I deserved the chance to prove myself.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
1. Follow our social media. It’s the easiest way to interact with us and stay informed on what we have going on.
2. Direct young creatives our way. If you know of a talented writer that’s looking to get on a project, please send them our way.
3. Continue to demand representation on screen and behind the screen. Diversity should come from the top down and without the public’s help, it becomes harder to achieve.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Give yourself permission to fail. People have this fear of failure, and what I found during my time is that have I learned the most valuable lessons more from my failures than my successes. The lessons that you learn from your failures will stick with you for life. For example, the very first film that I did was a complete abomination! I had no idea how to direct actors, I knew very little about lighting and color grading, and the sound was, to put it kindly, atrocious. The film was completed but, my God, that is what I would classify as a complete failure. However, even after all the films that I have done and produce, I learned so much from that experience. I learned about the importance of getting to know your actors, having a shot list, and most importantly, the importance of pre-production and planning. I still shudder when I think of that film, but the lessons that I learned from that experience were truly invaluable.
- You cannot compare your success to someone else’s. Your path is different. Everybody’s journey is different, especially in the film industry. There are so many different ways that you can achieve success and your goals. The things that you go through in life all happen for a reason, and I truly believe that each lesson will lend itself to a higher purpose. It’s shameful to admit, but I used to get jealous of other people and the opportunities that present themselves to them. I used to be of the mindset that there is only one path to success. And oh boy I was wrong! From listening to the stories of other industry professionals, I realized that there is no one right way. Ava Duvernay’s journey is quite different from that of Steven Spielberg’s, but both are extremely well respected and successful. It is simply foolish to try and compare your journey to someone else’s. Just like in any good story or TV show, every character has their own journey and their own arc. Part of the joy of life is figuring that part out for yourself.
- Health comes before anything. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. “The grind never stops.” That used to be my motto. I would spend days on end not sleeping, not eating properly, and definitely not drinking enough water. Soon, my body started to feel the effects of that. I was quite literally running myself into the ground. I learned that there are moments when you need to stop and slow down. It’s okay to take a mental health day every once in a while and take a break. Your body will thank you for it.
- Networking is key. In this industry, it’s all about who you know. Going out and networking with people can help you tremendously. There have been people that I’ve worked with that are now in higher positions and love to hire professionals that they already know. Time and time again, I’ve gotten booked to be on a set because of the relationships I’ve been able to establish and cultivate. A really important factor that I’ve learned is that whether a person is a CEO or a janitor, you treat them with the utmost respect. Kindness goes a long way and you’ll be surprised to see how many people remember your attitude and demeanor.
- Do not wait for permission, there’s a way to get your idea off the ground take the initiative and do it. At the beginning of my career, I had so many ideas that I never fully acted on. I was waiting for someone to give me a greenlight or give me permission. In hindsight, I wished I had just acted on my ideas. In this industry, you only learn by doing. I could’ve been much further along if I had just stuck to my guns. If you truly believe in an idea, you should do everything possible to make it come to fruition. The only person standing in the way of your dreams is you.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
No matter what industry you’re in, diversity can play a key factor in the success of a project. Surrounding yourself with people of different cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, and even religious backgrounds can help you gain clarity and a new perspective on whatever you’re working on. It is extremely important that people in a hiring or powerful position look at diverse candidates that can bring something extra to the table.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to collaborate with Ava Duvernay or Albert Dabah. I would love to collaborate with Ava because I love her method of storytelling and her directorial decisions. She’s a huge inspiration to me because she started her career later in life. She is completely self-taught and I admire her discipline. I would love to collaborate with Albert because his work is all about reducing the stigma of mental health. Specifically, in the Black community, we too often dismiss the importance of mental health of seeking help. I’d love to collaborate with him to help fellow immigrants/POC understand their illness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Just because you don’t share it on social media, doesn’t mean you’re not up to big things. Live it and stay low key. Privacy is everything.” — Denzel Washington
I love this quote because I realized how important privacy is. The world does not need to know every little aspect of your life. Discretion in this industry is a sign of trust, especially if you want to work on a big Hollywood movie. Marvel isn’t going to trust you with the ending to a big script if you’re known to overshare. In addition to this, I’ve learned that not everybody that smiles at you has your best interest at heart. Sometimes it’s better to move in silence and then announce your accomplishment after everything is said and done. I believe in the power of positive thoughts and good vibes so I try to make sure that when I’m on a project there’s no negative energy or thoughts around.
How can our readers follow you online?
Company Instagram: @anacaonapictures
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!