November 15, 2018
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By Bria Overs
Editor-in-Chief

“Queen Sugar” episode director Shaz Bennett and staff writer Mike Flynn gave CSU Dominguez Hills’ students key insights into what it’s like working in Hollywood, as well as their experiences in the media industry as a woman and a person of color at an event hosted last Thursday by Hollywood by the Horns.

“Queen Sugar” is a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network now in its third season. It is a drama about three siblings’ fight to save their family’s farm and their community in Louisiana. It is based on Natalie Baszile’s book by the same name. Praised as one of the most racially progressive shows currently on TV, “Queen Sugar” won the NAACP Image Award for best drama in 2017 and is nominated for the same award this year.

Bennett is a writer and director who has written on shows like “The Glades,” “UnREAL,” “The Faith Diaries,” “Bosch” and “Queen Sugar.” She made her directional debut on the feature film “Alaska Is a Drag” in 2012.

Flynn is a writer and producer who has worked on “Detroit 1-8-7,” “Greenleaf,” “The Chi” and “Queen Sugar.” Outside of these shows, Flynn is developing other projects for film and television.

After the screening, Toddy Eames, Hollywood by the Horns director and film, television and media assistant professor, began the question and answer part of the evening. The audience was also given opportunities to ask questions, varying from which character is a fan favorite to what it was like working on the show.

Flynn said that with each episode, he tries to “attach a pinch” of himself to the character. He also feels connected to each of the characters because he sees parts of his family within them.

“When Ava Duverney interviewed me for this job, she asked, ‘Who do you relate to the most and why?’ and I was like, Ralph Angel,” Flynn said. “I feel like he feels he’s always the underdog and has so much stacked up against him just being a black man in America. And, he doesn’t express himself emotionally and I think that’s something [that I can relate to]. Because coming up, I had a hard time expressing myself emotionally.”

Bennett and Flynn were also asked about the major changes in representation that are taking place in Hollywood and in the film and television industry.

“When I started off, it was mainly white men running the rooms,” Flynn said. “As I kept moving along in my career, it’s women and people of color running the rooms. Whereas, when I started off I was like ‘Do we ever get this opportunity?’ But, it’s happening now. I’ve seen that in just over the course of the last nine to 10 years. It’s like wow!”

Hollywood by the Horns works to bridge the gap between media industry professionals and students at CSU Dominguez Hills. While students learn insights about working in Hollywood, Bennett said the artists benefit as well.

“I mean for me personally, I just like to talk to young and up-and-coming artists because I learn as much as I hopefully tell them,” Bennett said. “But, I find the questions that students ask are so thoughtful.”

Mary Rodriguez, a business administration major, felt that these types of events are meaningful for CSUDH students.

“I feel like because we’re not USC and we’re not UCLA, the fact that we still get people out here means a lot,” Rodriguez said. “Even though we’re not an ivy league or anything like that, we’re still in LA and we’re still accessible. The fact that they take time to come out and visit us, it means a lot and I feel like it gets a lot more people involved as well.”

Flynn also thinks that events like these can have an impact on people and provide beneficial experiences for students interested in the media industry.

“I would love to see more stuff like this,” Flynn said. “If I had stuff like this when I was in school I would have been at every one.”

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