Spotlight on Millena Gay
Although the tall, white letters of the Hollywood sign are visible to most South Los Angeles residents, making a career in the business of “oscars-so-white” Hollywood can be difficult to envision for people of color.
Millena Gay is finding her way, though, as a Black producer and director in tinseltown.
“Misogyny is real in this industry,” Gay said. “It's already challenging in life, as we know, being women and women of color. We get overlooked and taken advantage of often.”
Gay relayed a number of incidents she has experienced toward the upcoming screening of her feature film at the Marina del Rey Film Festival. One involved a videographer who wanted to film a segment his way instead of the director’s (her) way. He only followed Gay’s lead when her mentor, Oba Babatunde, stepped in.
“I’m not going to be told no, or talked down to and ignored,” Gay said. “That initially turned me off on directing.”
Other instances involved producers who wanted to lend money for her films in exchange for physical comforts.
“The ‘me too’ movement is really very real,” Gay said, relaying her story about a producer/financier, who, when it came time to sign contracts and get money, thought he could discuss financing the project while they could enjoy a cruise to Puerto Rico.
“I will not produce anything on my back, on my knees or through my nose. Never,” Gay said. “I work hard at what I do, with integrity.”
When she told a male friend in the business that she turned down the offer, he didn’t understand.
“You know if you wanna get something done, you need to work that thing, work that thing’ he said,” Gay remembered. “Apparently it's a thing, but I’m not that hungry. Those are the challenges that I have experienced. I have refused to succumb to that.”
A native of upper Marboro, Md., Gay has lived in L.A. for 18 years and currently resides near Central Avenue and admits Hollywood wasn’t her first calling.
“To be honest with you, I went to the University of Virginia with the intention to be an international corporate attorney,” she said, explaining how her family expected her to eventually take over the family law firm from her father and uncle. Gay studied pre-law, but after graduation, she took a year off. That’s when she entered a beauty pageant that changed her life.
“Then I won Miss Congeniality,” Gay said, noting that she competed with a dramatic interpretation of “Ain’t I a Woman” at the Miss Black World Pageant near Washington DC. She was hooked. “I love this. The whole process of acting.”
Next thing, a photographer at the pageant took pictures and she sent them to New York casting directors. After getting responses, Gay moved to New York and lived there nearly 10 years, working on “One Life to Live,” “All My Children” and “Guiding Light.” Later, she moved out here to work on “New York Undercover,” “General Hospital,” “The Young and the Restless,” and a few other movies and commercials.
“One of my acting teachers said ‘You are a producer,’” Gay said. “Because I love spreadsheets and legal documents.”
Though she had no experience in making a movie, Gay figured she knew people who are related to a couple of important people.
“I’ll figure it out,” she decided.
It’s been a rocky road. At first Gay promoted her ideas and took meetings without taking any of the precautions, because her story idea was based on a novel.
“I thought I was protected,” she said. No one picked up the project, but a few months later she saw a movie that had an “oddly, really familiar” storyline.
Then she earned a certification for producing film and television at UCLA to learn the business side of Hollywood.
“That’s where you’ll ‘get got’--- if you don’t know the business,” Gay said.
Today she is the director & co-producer at Honey Peach Productions with Noreen McClendon and is an award-winning producer of five short films. Two of her newest films will be screened at the Marina del Rey Film Festival, set from June 8 to 14: “Golden Hearted,” a documentary on politician Diane Watson; and “Fun The Emachee Way.”
Watson has been a friend of Gays a while and the more the producer learned of Watson’s overlooked accomplishments, the more she was inspired to create a feature film about the politician’s life.
“She is the reason we no longer have silver fillings in our mouths,” Gay said. “She wrote the legislation to take out silver fillings and use white fillings. She is the reason we have an ‘African-American’ box on the census form. That’s why we have the African-American notation. This is just the tip of the iceberg that nobody knows.”
Emachee, the title character of the other film, won in the “rising star” category at the Las Vegas Black Film Festival, held last April.
Gay feels the submission fees for film festivals are worth the investment.
“That’s the exhibition then distribution model I like,” she said. “To showcase directing talent and highlight your accomplishments.”
The 2023 Marina del Rey Film Festival is scheduled to be held at the Cinemark 18 and XD in Los Angeles as well as streamed daily on the Roku Channel.