Television director Angela Barnes came to Princeton on Friday to talk about her career path, the importance of inclusivity in the entertainment industry, and her work on the show “Mythic Quest.”
The event, hosted by Lewis Center for the Arts (LCA), focused on Barnes’s “approach to directing episodic television, her experience [of being] a Black woman in the industry, and the benefits of inclusive hiring behind the camera,” according to the LCA’s description.
Barnes kicked off the event by playing an episode of “Mythic Quest” that she had recently directed. The show, a comedy series on Apple TV+, follows a video game studio and its egomaniacal owner. During her career, Barnes has directed for “Blindspotting” and has worked on “Atlanta” and “Being Mary Jane.”
She began her career in artistic directing, which she said she initially chose because of the good job benefits, such as health insurance.
One student at the event asked Barnes how she had made the transition from artistic directing to directing, and how she avoided being typecast into one kind of series. She said that living modestly allows her to say no to projects she isn’t interested in and save time for the ones she is passionate about.
“Other people who do what I do [work on] seven series and [own] really nice houses all over the place. But they have to keep working,” she explained. “I drive a beat up Mazda that’s like ten years old. I got a dent in it.”
Barnes pointed out the distinction between film and TV directing to explain her role in the latter.
“In a film, the director is the parent,” she said. She noted that in TV, however, the major decisions fall to the showrunner. “I’m just like a really well-paid nanny,” she added.
She noted that when she started working on “Mythic Quest,” she sat down with Imani Hakim, a Black actress who plays the character Dana, in order to develop the character’s backstory.
Dana’s character had virtually no backstory, according to Barnes. “I was like, ‘What? Where is she?’” said Barnes. “Because I don’t see her Blackness, or even anything there.”
She said that the show had an all-white writer’s room until the second season, when the show’s main producer had hired Keyonna Taylor, a Black teacher from his daughter’s school to join the team and write Dana’s character.
“It wasn’t like [the writers] didn’t care, but they were so afraid of getting it wrong. They didn’t do anything,” she said.
Together, Barnes, Hakim, and Taylor decided that Dana is a middle class girl from Compton, Calif. When another character joked that Dana was her chauffeur, the cast improvised several lines in response.
Barnes’s favorite: “This isn’t ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’”
Barnes made national headlines in 2020 after directing the controversial PSA “Get Your Booty to the Poll.” In it, a group of exotic dancers encourage Atlanta men to vote in the 2020 election.
“It’s got to be something that people are either shocked by or they think it's so hilarious they want to share it,” she said. “And so we checked the shocked box.”
Following its success, Barnes organized a GoFundMe to raise funds to hire a social media manager and community organizer to possibly shoot another PSA. The GoFundMe drew more than $36,000 in donations.
Jingjing Gao ’23, one attendee, reflected on the event in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.
“She’s such a seasoned veteran in TV,” Gao said. “It was especially interesting how she spoke about the ways that you could seem inclusive and diverse but not actually contributing. I think that's probably happening a lot these days in industry and needs to change.”
Barnes noted that she was intent on opening doors in the industry for other people.
“All you need is one person helping you out, and it can literally blow up and everything,” she said. “So I always try to be that person.”
This event was held at the James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street at 7:00 p.m.
Laura Robertson is a news contributor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.