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Los Angeles Film Festival Highlights Diversity In Film Industry

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Los Angeles Film Festival is in full swing in Culver City, Calif. For more than 20 years, the festival has highlighted independent films. And it's known for fostering diversity in the film industry. Nearly half the movies at this year's festival are directed by women or by people of color. To hear more, we called Los Angeles film critic Carla Renata, and I asked her to tell me about Stephanie Allain, the first woman of color to direct the festival.

CARLA RENATA: Stephanie Allain is an amazing woman of color. She was a studio executive. She's worked for such studios as Columbia, where she was a senior vice president of production there, Fox, Warner Bros., the list goes on. But Stephanie brings to the festival the fact that she is very passionate about bringing all types of groups of people together. As a matter of fact, at the festival this year, the film is opening with a Latino film. It opened with a film called "Lowriders," starring Eva Longoria from - everybody knows her from "Desperate Housewives" and...

KELLY: Sure.

RENATA: "...Devious Maids."

RENATA: And it's closing with a Latino film. They've also have films dealing with transgender people, films dealing with the opiate abuse situation that's happening right now, and that's really at the top of everyone's list because of the recent passing of Prince.

KELLY: Tell us a little bit more about the film you mentioned, "Lowriders," which opened the festival with a very mainstream, well-known star, Eva Longoria. What's the story there?

RENATA: The story is about the East LA culture, which deals with lowriders, and the fact that lowriders is not just a car. It's a culture, it's family, it's tradition. And "Lowriders" deals with a particular family, their relationships. It's just a wonderful, wonderful film.

KELLY: I've got to ask, you know, as you make your way around the festival and talk to people, how the conversation about diversity is playing out because this is one that's played out in mainstream Hollywood, of course, when we all followed the controversy at the Oscars, the hashtag #oscarssowhite. So how is that conversation playing out at the LA festival this week?

RENATA: It's interesting you brought that up. Last night, I attended a panel moderated by Stephanie Allain, the festival's director, with Nate Parker, the director, writer, star of "Birth Of A Nation," which is due to come out on October 7. And someone brought that subject up to him. And people are really kind of talking about the diversity thing right now, this week in particular because "Roots" was on television this week. We've got WGN's "Underground" on TV. There's, like, five or six slavery movies coming out in this year alone, and people are just like, really? Enough.

KELLY: Help me understand what you're saying. Are you saying that people would like to see people of color represented on screen, but it doesn't always have to be about slavery? It can just be about people living their life today as it's unfolding?

RENATA: Yes and no. And I can only speak for myself. I can't speak for the masses. I personally would like to see people represented the way they are in real life. Like, I think Shonda Rhimes does an excellent job of that - "How To Get Away With Murder," and "Scandal," and "Grey's Anatomy." It's a diverse cast. You see women of color in positions where they're not playing a prostitute, where they're not playing some downtrodden ghetto mother or whatever. They're playing real people, people that middle-class black people in America can relate to.

So yes, we're having a conversation at the festival about, let's include all people of color - Latinos, Asians, black people, disabled people, LGBT, everybody. Let's include everybody. This is a melting pot that is comprised of a variety of different types of people from all over the world. It doesn't have to just be one narrative of one type of people.

KELLY: That's Carla Renata. She is co-host of On Air With Tony Sweet on ubnradio.com, telling us there all about the LA Film Festival. And Carla Renata, hope you've got your popcorn, and hope you see a lot more good stuff this weekend. Thanks for talking to us.

RENATA: Thank you so much for the opportunity to express. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.