PEOPLE: Award-Winning Director and Producer driving diverse perspectives onto the big screen

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Hawanatu Bangura? 

For me, a normal day when I’m working on my business, it will be first off when I wake up, I tend to do stretches, so I’ll do yoga or another kind of movement. Call your cheek. So I’ll do that for like maybe 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how much time I’ve got. And then also just wanted to say that I work from home, so I have the luxury of time. Then after that, I just get ready, have a shower, brush my teeth and, you know, just dress in whatever I want to dress in and feel really refreshed for the day. So once I’ve done that, I will go and make myself a cup of tea or just warm water with lemon. First thing in the morning, I’ll drink. Or sometimes I just include ginger or something else. It’s all just kind of like healthy stuff I’m trying to get into. And and then I’ll have breakfast, which includes muesli and fruit salad. So that’s the healthiest part of my day. And once I’ve done that, I will get on my I’ll create a to do list of all the things I want to do and prioritize the most cogent ones. So but before I start my task, I usually check my emails and just reply to people that I need to. And then once I finish that, I just start with my task.

So, like most of my time is spent like on the computer and you know, whether that’s like creating new content or developing developing a proposal. So a lot of admin things because of my because of my business and I sometimes have meetings as well inside in the morning or in the afternoon with different people who want to collaborate with me. So we’ll have like. It can be on Zoom, usually with the lockdown and everything. It’s been on Zoom. But before that, yeah, I might be able to meet with the person, maybe at a cafe or their office as well. So I’ll do that. And I also tend to go like during my lunch break, I’ll go for a walk. So I live in the inner west and have the luxury of, you know, like going for a walk and going to the park. And then I’ll come back, have lunch and then continue with more work and then buy each other. I don’t really have a set period when I finish work, but let’s say by late afternoon, I’ll wrap up and then, yeah, just relax for the rest of the evening. Sometimes I just play games with my partner and we have dinner or we watch Netflix, so you know, it’s just something to wind down. So that’s a typical day for me.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

For me, as a filmmaker and and a woman of color, I feel like it’s very important to have authentic and diverse representations of people on screen and also off screen as well. What I do notice now, you know, there has been like throughout the years, couple of years now, there has been some sort of diversity. I think that’s like the, you know, the new way that we’re going, which is really good seeing people on screen. But it would also be nice to see that captured with more people off screen as well as crew members. But just going back to when I started in the film industry in 2009, I made my first film like I never saw anyone that really looked like me. You know, venturing into this, you know, it was it was sort of a risky career path to take. So I didn’t have any role models, and I just have to figure out what to do on my own and maybe get the film industry, which is predominantly made up of, you know, which is predominantly white in a way. And and so for me, I find that that was that was quite hard as someone who’s coming up and, you know, we want to see someone who is from like a refugee background or an immigrant person who is making films and, you know, trying to follow their path. But that was not there.

And I find myself exploring and networking and going to different places. But you know, I did find opportunity to connect with some people, but there’s a level of connection that you have with someone who has gone through similar experiences to you and can give you advice as well. I feel like that was missing in my case, but also in terms of diversity and inclusion. And Australia like this is, you know, Australia as Australians, you know, we really praise ourselves about how multicultural we are, but that’s not reflected in the TV shows and in the movies that we even sell out to the international community. So for me, I really realized this when I went overseas to film festivals where people were always surprised that they’re Africans in Australia, even Asians. So other people decide what they see on TV. You know, they’re not about the indigenous people. But beside that and Caucasians, there was no one else in the picture. And this really does a disservice to our to our nation because this is not what is reflected within Australia. So for me, I feel like it’s really essential that the, you know, the media and everything sort of, you know, keep up with with the fact that this is this is, you know, how things should be, you know, diversity and inclusion is really essential for our community, for our society to thrive.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have to say in terms of like challenges directly based on my identity, not necessarily. Or I might have been oblivious to it, but nothing that really impacted on me in such a way. But just from my own observation of. Like my because I’ve been in the industry for like 12 years now, and just reflecting on that, I have experienced, you know, tokenism. So, you know, whereby like, you know, you just it’s something that’s even though it’s not told, but when things keep consistently happening or people keep approaching you for certain things or put in. Me in a box that I don’t necessarily want to be in. I find that quite contriving and, you know, there has been some quite a few experiences of that tokenism, which I am totally now that I’ve evolved into what I do now, like I can totally identify it. And there’s some things that I will say no to because I can sense that that’s what it is like. There’s nothing essential behind it. There’s no good intentions beside like, Oh, you know, we’ve got diversity, and here is this person, one person that’s part of the, you know, part of this whole thing. But there’s several other people as well people of color who are not being recognised in that way or or it’s just even the language that is used that is, you know, not necessarily empowering. So for me, that’s one thing. And being in the film industry, it is very there is challenges I find am I don’t necessarily be due to my background or identity, but what I find is that when a person is emerging filmmaker, we tend to find there is more opportunities in that level.

From my own experience that, you know, there’s opportunities here, there’s opportunities there to to gain experience to learn about the industry. But the next step from there is where there’s a wall, and that wall is really hard to break because once you’re not emerging anymore, you’re not really like established where you’re in the middle. It’s kind of like a limbo place, and that’s quite challenging, I think for a lot of people in my either make or break. And for me, that’s where I emerge with my with my social enterprise, my creative, because I didn’t necessarily see myself fitting into the film industry. And I consider myself as a storyteller. So I then I’m not necessarily just a filmmaker, but I can tell stories in different mediums and that’s what I wanted to do. And I also wanted to create a initiatives that will help people to transform their personal stories as well. So something empowering. And I also wanted to incorporate my social work skills into it. So none of this really, you know, is something it’s not a position that’s created for me. I had to create it for myself, have to pave my own way in other for like just for the vision that I have for my own career. I think that’s that’s the way I’m going now. So it’s a combination of my social work and filmmaking passion. Combined together is what I have as my social enterprise now, which I really enjoy.

I wake up every day and I’m very enthusiastic about it. So for me, that’s very important and I also like working on other people’s start, like working on other people’s, collaborating with other filmmakers and making their work as well as producer or whatever extent it is. But I feel like the greater impact for me comes from the vision that I have. That’s bigger and I think in in a place like Australia, this is what I find as well. I had the experience of travelling overseas to attend film festivals and met other filmmakers, and I get an understanding of the way they work. You know, a lot of places that don’t have, you know, government initiative. So those sort of things, so they have to work triple had and from there for them to go from nothing or start from scratch to something, you know, make something amazing happen. They have to have a vision for that. And I thought, that’s what I need and having the right people to come on board to work with me and make that vision possible because that’s what is really important in in Australia right now. You know, we may not fit into us. Some of us that come from migrant background might not necessarily fit into that niche or that box of the film industry. We can create our own of what we want to see, you know, with social consciousness, social justice and all the sort of things that are important to us as well.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

The one piece of advice just connecting with what I mentioned before, it’s really I think the greatest thing is don’t be limited by yourself. Don’t be limited by the external barriers, but also your mindsets as well, because their true levels of barriers that you may be facing. You doubting yourself. And also people that are doubting you or not giving you the chance to to do what you you want to do. And I say, once you’re really passionate about filmmaking, it is very hard. It’s one of the most hardest industries to be in and you have to work with people. It’s not just one person, but you have to work with a crew of people or even actors and all these things, sir, you really got to be, you know, you really got to have like a tough game going into it and know that it’s not just, you know, what probably we see with people who have become more established like the Hollywood directors or filmmakers. You know, that is like the, you know, the pivotal point of whatever it is you get to showcase. But in the film industry itself, it’s just like, you know, it’s it’s a hustle. So, you know, really knowing who you are intuitively and making decisions based on your intuition and what seems right for you in terms of the people you get on board to work with you in terms of the stories you want to tell as well. And don’t just see that you know that someone has told a story or whatever it is, think about what angle you can tell the stories because most of the stories are pretty much recycled.

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Website: https://www.mahawacreative.com/
Hawanatu Bangura| filmmaker|writer| director| Australia

Facebook and Instagram handle: Mahawa Creative


About the diversity champion:

Hawanatu Bangura is an Afro-Australian award-winning director, writer and producer. She was part of the prestigious Screen Producers Australia: One to Watch program in 2017. Born in Sierra Leone, she migrated to Australia in 2002 and as a teenager discovered her interest in filmmaking when she was involved in a youth film project. She took the creative lead to make a short film and realised her passion for storytelling, creativity, and expression could be best channeled through the medium of film. Hawanatu relentlessly pursued this passion, attending her first filmmaking workshop and shortly after wrote and directed her first short narrative film about the experience of a person from an African background challenges and triumphs of settling in Australia.

Image description: Hawanatu is looking at the camera with a gleaming smile