Independent filmmakers already face a laundry list of challenges when trying to produce their movies. Add being Black to the equation, and the stakes get even higher. While the Black independent film space can be a struggle, it has birthed some of Hollywood’s most timeless classics, including “Eve’s Bayou,” “Love & Basketball” and “New Jack City.”
But yesterday’s filmmaker isn’t today’s. More and more Black moviemakers are launching their own film companies just to give themselves the shot that others wouldn’t spare them. Enter: Deon Taylor and Roxanne Avent Taylor of Hidden Empire Film Group. They are the Black Hollywood duo that is shooting, producing and now distributing their own films, with a resume including “Fatale, “The Intruder,” “Traffik” and more.
“Hidden Empire wasn’t Hidden Empire. It was forced into our zeitgeist because of us pounding on doors trying to make a way for ourselves with our first film, “7eventy 5ive,” and not being given the opportunities that everyone else would have. That’s how the company was even formed to begin with. I’m not sure if it had an identity in the beginning. It was just two people trying to make dope movies with high-quality, high-concept projects,” said Avent Taylor to For(bes) the Culture.
“Being able to continue to build and create, and tell the stories that we want to tell because we are independent, without being told how to tell them, is priceless for me,” she added.
“We didn’t want to box ourselves in. We wanted to be an exciting new company,” said Taylor. “If it’s something conceptually that audiences will love, and if inside that energy of us loving it if it has a message, or if it could give us something that we take out of the theater as a people, then we want to make that.”
Hidden Empire Film Group launched its content sales and distribution company, Empire Releasing, with its first film slated to be a psychological thriller entitled “Fear.” The Taylors say this will create another avenue for Hidden Empire Film Group and other outside independent filmmakers. “It’s not just for our films. It’s for anyone’s films. It’s for anyone who has a great story,” said Avent Taylor.
“We need to be able to put our product out without asking people for permission. We are fans of every studio. We want to work with the studios. We want to be in the studio system. We love film,” said Taylor. “But, what we have to understand is, there are differences in opinion in art. Some people only want to take chances on this type of art. We’re saying if you don’t like this piece of art, then it still has an audience, and people still want to see it, and we still need to serve those people.”
Building up the community has always been a mission for the Taylors, and it’s transcended the TV and film space. During the pandemic, Hidden Empire Film Group donated money to independent Black journalists, Black film critics and independent Black news outlets.
“We picked up the phone and called 50 Black critics, 50 Black writers, and we gifted them $1,000, $2,000 apiece, said Taylor. “The reason that we did that at that time was because a lot of them were people that when we started making movies and critics wouldn’t write anything, they were the only people that wrote something for us. When I was on a carpet doing promotions for “Traffik,” or “The Intruder,” 7eventy 5ive,” “Chain Letter,” these were the people that wrote a blurb about us. When the world went under we had a little bit of capital, I was like, ‘Man, we should…these are people that are going to feel it first.’ They not writing nothing, they not getting nothing. I said, ‘Man, if we could just help them pay some of their rent, pay their phone bill, and we did that.
To honor Taylor’s work, his hometown of Gary, Indiana, is honoring him at the Gary International Black Film Festival this Saturday. The event will show three Hidden Empire films: “The Intruder,” “Black and Blue” and “Supremacy.”
“Coming from the projects in Gary, Indiana, making your way out, becoming successful and then them turning around and giving you the keys to the city as a Black man in this day and age, I’m just so excited for him,” said Avent Taylor.
“I’m just honored that they would even want to celebrate me and give me an opportunity to come speak back to some of the young artists and some of the young filmmakers that come from the area that I come from,” said Taylor, who says his success is the result of his mother believing in him.
“She had to be a dreamer. For her to pack up her car 35 years ago and be like, ‘I’m taking you somewhere else, so you can see a whole other world,” said Taylor. “My Moms allowed me be the person that always believed you can change your course at any time. You’re not beholden to anything in life that you think you have to do.”
Watch the full interview here.