April 24, 2019 | 49° F

Netflix stars discuss diversity, give creative direction at "Night of Netflix" panel

We all indulge in a night of Netflix from time to time, but the chance to hear what it’s like to make it onto a Netflix program is less common. Last night, Daniella de Jesus ("Orange Is the New Black"), Christina Bright ("She’s Gotta Have It") and Lindsey McDowell ("To the Bone") came to the College Avenue Student Center to talk about their experiences. The event, set up by Rutgers University Student Assembly’s Leadership and Experiential Learning, was all about the life that creatives live.

Although they’ve been on major programs, all three actresses spoke about the various routes they took to have the success they have today. De Jesus is an NYU graduate whose hard work got her noticed for her role in OITNB almost instantly after her graduation. Also a playwright, she was recently selected as an emerging writer by The Public Theater.

McDowell spoke about her time at Howard University, and how she was especially moved by being on an HBCU campus when former President Barack Obama was elected. His achievements inspired her to truly pursue what she loved. She moved to Los Angeles and lived on her sisters couch for approximately two years. Although a humble beginning, she worked her way through the industry and eventually found herself roles that launched her career.

Bright’s story is more unconventional, but just as motivating. A Rutgers alumna, Bright is a Douglass woman from the Class of 2010. At the tail end of her junior year, she got pregnant, something that changed her life forever. She had her son during the winter break of her senior year, and post-graduation was unsure of what to do. 

After working in the corporate world for a few years, she realized that she was made for more than just getting by, and quit her job. Her son was the spark of inspiration that she needed, since she didn’t want her son to have an unhappy mother. She started creating all types of content through modeling, acting, designing and more. After building a considerable social media following she went to the open call for Spike Lee’s reboot of “She’s Gotta Have It.” Although showing up late, she caught Lee’s eye and got the role. 

The panel discussion between the three mainly revolved around the sacrifices that had to be made to prosper in a highly competitive creative field. McDowell reminded the audience that building up a career is “a marathon, not a sprint.” Patience and dedication are what makes the difference, and that very few successes are overnight. Of course, not every person’s family is comfortable with their child working in an unstable industry, so the three eventually discussed the types of support systems they had in their lives.

De Jesus spoke about a conversation that she had with her brother, after her parents asked her about her “Plan B” for college. “He said that being 100 percent dedicated is the only way you can make it, and he was right,” she said.

Bright was sure to mention how mothers are expected to sacrifice career goals for their child, while fathers don’t always have the same expectations. Initially, after having her son, she felt like her options were taken away from her, but after taking time to adjust she realized she could be a mother and flourish creatively. She also noted that you have to be willing to support others to expect anyone to support you, that it’s a two-way street.

The trio of artists spoke about how surrounding yourself with like-minded people was crucial to maintaining motivation and drive. As women of color, they all explained that while the film industry is changing for the better, there’s still a battle against stereotypes that they have to fight. De Jesus was candid about what can often be expected of her in casting calls.

“Hollywood is definitely changing, but I still get plenty of calls to be a side character and say one line in Spanglish,” de Jesus said.

Refusing to be marginalized, she’s using her opportunities as a playwright to expand the narrative for Afro-Latinx people. Bright emphasized how necessary it is to be proud of the work that you do. 

“Don’t compromise yourself, ever. What’s for you will be evident, and it’ll be for you. Period,” she said.

All three stressed the importance of believing in the work that you do in any creative medium, with McDowell condensing the message and the importance of the arts.

“Sometimes we view media as a product, when it really shifts worldviews,” McDowell said.

The night was about empowering artists, and the women of the panel offered inspiration and motivation for those trying to lead the creative life. 

Jordan Levy

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