New initiative hopes to diversify ranks of NYC media industry

A few months ago, news media members and onlookers took to Twitter for a prolonged conversation using the hashtag #MediaDiversity.

Last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called on company heads to do more than just talk about fair and equal representation in the film industry.

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But a new initiative called the Roster launched on Thursday hopes to bridge the gap between talented young people and the media companies in New York City that seek to diversify their ranks.

For native Harlemite and local filmmaker Melissa Murray, one of the biggest challenges she said she faces in her line of work as woman of color is the fact she stands out.

“I’m not used to not seeing people who look like me,” the 24-year-old said. “You end up second guessing your skills and question whether you speak up and should add your input.”

Murray said picked up her first camera when she was 14. Not long after, she registered with Ghetto Film School — a program in the Bronx designed to connect kids in underserved communitieswithcreative career paths traditionally unavailable to them.

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“We can’t really break through that until we acknowledge we don’t have the systems to help folks not in those industries know those careers exist,” said Joe Hall, who founded Ghetto Film School in 2000.

Hall’s model helped bring about The Roster, which aims to connect employers access to the a growing cache of young individuals of diverse backgrounds from across the five boroughs.

“Based on our 15-year history, getting hundreds of young people into creative, job what we’ve learned is you can’t can’t solve the diversity issue in the creative sector by focusing on just companies or just job training,” Hall told Metro New York.

The Roster will partner with Queens’ Museum of the Moving Image, the Independent Filmmaker Projectin Brooklyn and the Manhattan-based Tribeca Film Institute — which will showcase workers and connect them to job opportunities.

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In order to make those program available, The Roster will get a $625,000 boost from the City Council.

“As a Latina, I’m always looking and very concerned about the lack of diversity in certain sectors,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “It’s way overdue.”

The program is still in its early stages, and will expand on some of the existing relationships that Ghetto Film School began to build over the last decade.

Murray’s current boss at GawkerMedia — where she works as a video producer —said he tapped into to Ghetto Film School’s network as a way to avoid “a world dominated by uniformity and homogenization.”

“I want something beyond quality work from the people in my team,” said Jesus Diaz at Gawker. “I want passion. She started to answer my questions with that passion — a clear determination and vision.”

That vision includes Murray’s own. She recently launched her own production company — the Cynical Owl — to help bring about more conversations that include underrepresented communities.

“The more people go through in this industry, the faster you learn you’re just as valuable as anybody else,” Murray said. “You’re not the black sheep — you’re adding value that wasn’t there before.”

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