James Grisom is a storyteller who aims to share the lives and humanity of his community through film and music. In 2015, he graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Religious Studies. As an undergraduate, he founded Knowledge Seekers, a safe space for students from various cultural backgrounds and beliefs to share their thoughts on life. As a scholar-athlete, he played football for the Cal Bears and received the Jonathan and Judy Scholar Athlete Award for his commitment to intellectual pursuits on and off campus. After graduating, he became the full-time editor and music composer for Still I Rise; a documentary aimed to bring awareness of the disproportionate rate of child sex trafficking impacting young black girls in America. In 2017, he was nominated at Cambridge University’s Water Sprite Film Festival for Filmmaker of the Future Award for his work on Still I Rise. In the same year, he was selected by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) amongst 40 young men across the U.S to take part in an intergenerational dialogue on black men and masculinity. James is currently attending USC’s School of Cinematic Arts MFA in Film & Television. He is a George Lucas Scholar.
Letia Solomon is an award-winning African American filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from the University of California Riverside with a degree in Chemical Engineering and worked as a Materials Engineer in Aerospace for four years before transitioning into a career of film. She wrote and directed Elevate which won for Best Student Film in the 2017 Philadelphia Independent Film Awards and Co-Founded the African World Film Festival in Detroit, MI. Letia currently attends USC’s School of Cinematic Arts for a MFA in TV & Film Production. Her latest film The Cypher was nominated for Best Student Film during the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and screened in CAA's 2020 Moebius Short Film Showcase. She directs and produces edgy dramas and coming of age stories dealing with family and relationships.
Allison A. Waite
Allison A. Waite is a Los Angeles based director and cinematographer. She currently attends USC's School of Cinematic Arts, pursuing an MFA in Film & Television Production with a concentration in cinematography. Allison studied cinematography at AFI’s Inaugural Women in Cinematography Intensive. She obtained a B.A. from Hampshire College where she maintained an interdisciplinary major of Film/Video production and Africana Studies. She has received the Princess Grace HBO Film Award and numerous film festival nominations for her work on the film Roots in Concrete. Film is her activism tool of choice, she aims to give unresolved stories a voice and spark connections within her community.
LaDarius Torrey is currently a graduate student pursuing his MFA at USC’s School of Cinematic
Arts. He is originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and obtained his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University with a major in Government and minors in African American Studies and Film & Media Studies.
As an undergraduate at Georgetown, LaDarius served as the president of Black Student Alliance
and as a founder and director of the URBAN House, living and learning community (which
focused on bridging gaps and extending access to men of color on campus). In addition to holding leadership roles on campus, LaDarius also spent much of his time working with and mentoring youth in the greater DC community, developing bonds and connections with those often forgotten in the nation’s capital.
As an advocate for social justice, LaDarius uses his films to serve as voices for the voiceless, in
hopes of giving the marginalized the agency to claim and share their own narratives. In his work as an MFA graduate student and filmmaker, LaDarius strives to continue this work of reclaiming agency—pushing each one of his films to tackle and challenge misrepresented and/or damaging narratives.
Hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marquise Mays is currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the School of Cinematic Arts.
He received his B.A in Journalism & Mass Communications alongside Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a researcher, maker, writer and developer, he creates a vivid and important venue for the exploration of “the robust identity of Blackness” in film, television, digital/online series, and the entertainment industry more broadly. He has presented his diverse catalogue of research internationally and nationally. His work presents a range of access points for participation in dialogues, theoretical deliberations, and creative enterprises related to Blackness in contemporary media spaces.
With a strong background in research, he intentionally engages in discussions surrounding race, gender, stereotypical appearances and the external imaginations of Blackness that are projected on screen.
Director of Photography
Christopher Hernández is currently a 2nd year Graduate Student pursuing his Master’s in Fine Arts., in the Film and Television Production program at the University of Southern California. He received his B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts from the California State University, of Northridge, in the Spring of 2016. As a George Lucas Scholarship Recipient, Christopher aspires to shed a positive light on the daily lives of minorities and redefine stereotypes that affect the perception of underprivileged communities. He is the first-born American generation, for both his parents immigrated from the third-world Central American Country of Guatemala. Besides Directing on his own agenda, Christopher’s primary concentration is centered around Cinematography, constantly seeking for new ways to cultivate innovative visual experiences for his peers. In addition to mastering his craft, Christopher has dived deeply into Production and Post-Sound. Outside of the film world, Christopher is deeply rooted in the streetwear and sneaker community, searching for ways to blend that passion in his work. You can always find Christopher behind-the-lens of a 35mm camera shooting film photography and nothing will ever compare to spending time with his family and friends, traveling or simply watching the Los Angeles Lakers.
Erica C. Sutherlin
Emerging filmmaker and theatrical artist, Erica C. Sutherlin, is a Shriram Family Fellow and
holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Television and Film Production from the University of Southern
California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Recently, Ms. Sutherlin was selected for a Fellowship
with the Blackhouse Foundation Sundance Fellows program. Ms. Sutherlin, co-wrote and
directed her first feature film, Stratosphere and is completing her thesis film SUNSHINE. After
receiving her Bachelors of Arts in Theater Performance, Ms. Sutherlin became a theatrical
director (stage), Equity actress, writer and arts educator who has performed and taught nationally
As a writer, during her time at USC, Ms. Sutherlin, in various writer’s rooms developed, wrote
and produced the pilot, UnSchooled in front of a live audience; SUGAR LAND, a short-form
limited series drama and in the James Franco writer’s room, completed the feature script, Voodoo
Macbeth, which was produced in partnership with Warner Brothers Studios. As a poet and essayist, Ms. Sutherlin has had several commissions and published works in Building Womanist Coalitions: Writing and Teaching in the Spirit of Love and Hooked on the Art of Love: bell hooks and My Calling for Soul-Work. Ms. Sutherlin has been featured in numerous newspapers, magazine, radio shows and digital media source platforms for her performances, writings and directing accolades.
Theatrically, Ms Sutherlin has directed a variety of productions and as an Equity actress, she has
held leading roles and created notable characters in numerous productions. Employed by the nationally acclaimed Pinellas County Center for the Arts High School, Ms Sutherlin was the first African American performance arts teacher. Another historical milestone for Ms. Sutherlin is her appointment as the first African American director at the historical St. Petersburg City theatre. Ms. Sutherlin was the first black female to own a theatre in Tampa Florida. Ms. Sutherlin has been featured in numerous newspapers, magazine, radio shows and digital media source platforms for her performances, writings and directing accolades.
Brandyn Johnson is a Father, Filmmaker and Educator from Brooklyn, NY; however, California is where he calls home now. He is a M.F.A candidate and George Lucas scholar at the School of Cinematic Arts (USC), and currently being mentored by award winning sound professionals: Stephen Flick, David MacMillan, Midge Costin and Richard Burton. Strengthening his understanding of the film language, he intends to help tell thoughtful and honest stories about the people/communities that have shaped him. Grey, His three-year old son, is his harshest (and most loving) critic.
Alexa Villarreal is a Mexican-American filmmaker. After growing up in Mexico City and moving to Texas, Alexa kept her a deep appreciation for all types of stories that could simultaneously make her feel at home and push her imagination to travel the world. Storytelling was so strong in her that Alexa’s mother would often send her to choose a selection of movies their family would watch together from their small VHS cassette library in her parents’ small closet.
As she cultivated that joyful passion as a hobby, she chose to study English Literature at the University of Texas in Austin, and found out there was a film school there soon after. She made it her mission to take as many film classes as possible.
After achieving admission to the film school and graduating, she was accepted at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Since then, she has been involved in several productions in almost every role, from producer to sound recordist, and continues to develop projects with other classmates and collaborate at every level.
Mathias Coppens (1988) is a Belgian pianist-composer for film and concert works based in Los Angeles, California. He graduated with the highest distinction for piano and composition at the conservatory in Antwerp and graduated in composition with ‘excellence’ at the conservatory of Amsterdam. Mathias also graduated at the famous screen scoring department of the University of Southern California.
He is currently assistant of Aaron Zigman ("The Notebook", 'Sex and the City', etc.)
As a pianist he played several times with orchestra and as a composer he wrote for some leading Belgian and Dutch ensembles/orchestras. Some of his music was recorded at Capitol studios LA, Warner Brothers studios, East-West Studios, etc.
Mathias wrote the music for more than 20 films which were selected for numerous festivals across the USA and Europe.
He is the pianist and artistic leader of the ensembles deCompagnie and a founding member of Tetragonist. Both ensembles recorded an album: under the label Phaedra and TetraGonist recorded the Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps of Messiaen (Aliud). He is the artistic director of ‘The Piano Festival’, which had already two editions in Amuz, Antwerp. He is also co-founder of labsummerclass which had three editions (Germany, Italy and Portugal).