Toronto: “Hotline Bling” Director X Calls for Training Black Talent to Break Down Barriers to Racial Justice

New Canadian Black talent faces many obstacles to making real inroads on film and TV sets, some hidden or barely acknowledged.

But music video-turned-film and TV director Julien Christian Lutz – also known as “Hotline Bling” helmer Director X – sees one barrier in plain sight and easily surmounted: offering support and guidance to emerging Black talent so they can know their way around Canadian film and TV sets.

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“You walk onto those sets and into those writing rooms, they’re very white places,” Lutz, co-founder and managing partner of indie banner Fela, told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of a Toronto Film Festival panel on Sept. 11, entitled Empowering Rising Voices: Advocating for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Through Film, and presented by indeed.

Training Black talent is required across the industry, in front and behind the camera. “We have a talent pool that’s been neglected. They haven’t had the experience they need. They haven’t had the opportunities. Now we need to help them to gain skills, gain experience, the stuff they naturally should have had if we were honestly hiring people based on their talent,” Lutz insisted.

He added that the murder of George Floyd spurred the Canadian industry to make sweeping commitments to racial justice and inclusion: “The industry followed through with what they saw to be a problem, which is great. But the missing gap is in training.”

Lutz argued real change will happen when young people from underrepresented communities get onto sprawling sets where they can go big with new roles and responsibilities, and without crashing hard.

“It’s that middle ground that’s so important to hone your craft, especially on jobs where they’re not paying full attention, where it’s not a top priority for the company. Those are still important jobs, where you learn the game, you can make mistakes that don’t reverberate up to the boss or the CEO,” Lutz insisted.

He said Hollywood is shifting in that direction with lower-budget movies made for emerging streaming platforms. “This is a space for all young talent to learn in. It’s time to go back to the low-budget movie or the contained TV show, because they’re not made to be blockbuster viral hits,” Lutz argued.

The Toronto-based director got to know his way around a film set by making signature music videos for Rihanna, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa, Usher and Justin Bieber. He helmed Rihanna’s 2016 “Work” music video that featured Drake.

And Lutz made his feature directorial debut with the 2018 Superfly remake and also directed episodes of The Imperfects for Netflix. On Sept. 27, he’ll debut his Canadian indie TV drama Robyn Hood for Global Television.

The one-hour action drama, also from screenwriter Chris Robert, was shot in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, as it offers a modern take on the Robin Hood legend. On the Robyn Hood shoot, Lutz recalled having to give extra training to veteran hair and makeup technicians so they could work with Black actors.

“If you’re not a Black person, to say to Black people hair’s not a big deal. No, hair is a big deal. Makeup is a big deal. On my show, it was an issue,” he said. “We have Black talent coming up from America, often time doing Black movies and TV shows. We need talent that can handle hair and makeup for them. We have a gap we need to fill.”

The Toronto Film Festival continues until Sept. 17.

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