At this year’s Girls United Summit in Atlanta, GA, panelists had an important message for anyone interested in pursuing a career in entertainment. Harvard University student and advocate Aoki Lee Simmons led the ‘I Am The Bar: Cultural Identity, Confidence & Hollywood’ panel, in which Paige Audrey-Marie Hurd, Jessie Woo, and Alycia Pascual-Peña participated and answered some of the audience’s questions.
They highlighted the importance of owning your culture in the industry and how essential it is to have a diverse representation of the Black community on and off-screen. “It’s important to note that we aren’t a monolith,” said Pascual-Peña. “We are multidimensional, we are soft, we are powerful, we are amazing and our journeys all look different.”
Seen above: ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 05: Actress Paige Hurd speaks onstage during the ESSENCE Girls United’s (GU) Summit at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center on November 05, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
Although representation of the Black community has increased in recent years, Pascual-Peña points to the important role played by creators of color in the industry beyond acting. “Progression is not perfection,” the Saved by the Bell star continued. “Diversity on-screen means nothing if you don’t have people behind the camera who are telling the stories authentically.”
“When you have more stories told by Black people, by Latin people, by Caribbean people, then one story doesn’t speak for all of us because that does our community a disservice,” she added. “We can have stories talking about the hood and lower socio-economic communities because those stories are still valid – but you can also have elevating, empowering, enlightening stories about different forms of blackness and people on different journeys because we’re not all living the same life. We don’t all look the same, we all don’t have the same stories.”
Hurd agreed, and used shows like Black-ish as an example of good representation that doesn’t necessarily involve crime and other stereotypes associated with the Black community in film. “I want to see more Black movies, some feel good rom-com movies.”
Seen above: ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 05: Paige Hurd, Jessie Woo, Alycia Pascual-Pena, and Aoki Lee Simmons attend ESSENCE Girls United’s (GU) Summit at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center on November 05, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
Hurd, Woo, and Pascual-Peña delivered inspiring messages when it comes to younger generations who may want to pursue a career in entertainment. Woo highlighted the importance of community and uplifting each other. “Your classmates, they’re there for a reason,” she addressed the college students in the audience. “They’re not just there because they’re your classmates. They’re there to be your partners. Create your own sh-t with your classmates, push each other, invest in each other.”
Hurd mentioned how it’s okay to feel like you don’t have it figured out, pointing to herself as an example. “I just turned 30, I don’t have it all figured out,” she said.
Pascual-Peña added that rejection is part of the process and that it’s only bringing you closer to where you’re supposed to be. “The things that scare you, lean into it,” she said. “Something that empowers me in that narrative is knowing that for so long people that look like us didn’t get a platform,” she added. “Life is too short – so write that story, sing that song, do what feels right and speak your truth and empower yourself and other people around you.”
About Kyra: Kyra Alessandrini is a news writer at Girls United and a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in publications such as Time, The Hollywood Reporter, InStyle, and Elle. Born in New York and raised in Paris, France, she is passionate about culture, street photography, and travel.
Featured Photo: ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 05: Jessie Woo speaks onstage during the ESSENCE Girls United’s (GU) Summit at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center on November 05, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)