Michelle Amor Gillie is a clinical professor of screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University. She is a successful woman not only in her career in the film industry, some of her work including Playin’ for Love, Of Boys and Men, Tupac Shakur: Before I Wake, and The Honorable, but also in the educational field as a professor, all while serving as Co-Chair of the WGAW Committee of Writers and spending time with family.
Professor Gillie is from the West Side of Chicago, and grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s surrounded by success. Her family owned several businesses, thanks to her grandfather who migrated to Chicago to escape the racist Jim Crow South. However, when her grandfather passed away, her family lost everything. This left her, her mother, and sister with nothing, leading her mother to work in a factory to support the family.
Raised by her mother and grandmother, Professor Gillie explains that, “…my mother was very big on education and reading, as well as entertainment and movies. I do credit her for my love of movies. My grandmother, she gave me a lot of stability and she taught me about having a faith, which is really important to me.” Due to her upbringing, Gillie learned from an early age the art of maintaining a balanced life.
She explains the importance of faith, and how it is able to cut through the noise and stress of life. “We don’t try to explain the unexplainable…Sometimes we just consider it a blessing.”
Professor Gillie attended a magnet gifted program in the third grade. Children from every part of Chicago and all different races came together in one space to learn. Professor Gillie recalls that this environment and her teacher, Ms. Patterson, taught her what allyship was from a very young age. On an outing with Ms. Patterson at a park, she was called the n-word for the first time Instead of ignoring the situation, the Patterson family stood up for Gillie. “I learned what an ally was…Ms. Patterson, her family, they were allies that day and they really empowered me.” Professor Gillie attributes her confidence and outspoken attitude towards race to this experience with racism and allyship at such a young age. “Miss Patterson was the first teacher who really encouraged my voice and said to me…’You have as much right to speak as anyone else.’”
Although she has experienced racism in her life, both from microaggressions and direct forms of racism, she still has hope for the future. She explains, “…racism is taught, so it can be untaught.”
The Film Industry
Professor Gillie’s face lights up as she describes the film that changed her life, Cooley High. A film written by a Black man, Eric Monte, that depicts the lives of two Black main characters and their journey through their senior year of high school, Gillie was able to see herself in a film for the first time. She later was able to screen the movie at the WGA with Eric Monte.
In high school, she got a taste of her future. After winning several awards at a competition for her short films in high school, a man named James Taylor, JT, said to her, “Little girl, you can make movies one day.” She was offered a scholarship to attend the Community Film Workshop and learned how to write, direct, produce, edit, and shoot films. After graduating from Columbia College, Chicago, she began writing and her career in the film industry.
Professor Gillie explains that being a Black woman in the industry is, “…sometimes exhausting because sometimes you just want to be. You just want to create. You don’t want it to be about race or gender, you just want to tell a story…” Because of her race and gender, she has had to learn to embrace the strategy of her work in the industry. She has learned to stand her ground to create content that she is passionate about, which includes writing stories that are not always covering topical issues.
When Gillie was an undergraduate, she only had one Black professor. She realized her desire to teach and to help give future generations the experience that she longed to have. She moved to Los Angeles for graduate school at UCLA, and after gaining hands on experience with teaching undergraduate students she became passionate about becoming a professor. She found that teaching came naturally to her; she wanted people to tell their stories, and was driven to encourage as many people to write.
She is serving her fourth term as Co-Chair of the Writers Guild of America West Committee of Black Writers. At her first meeting with the Union, she noticed flaws, arguments, and the unorganized plans of the committee. Professor Gillie questioned the committee, planning on never returning. However, a woman noticed Gillie’s natural leadership skills and nominated her for co-chair. She got elected, and from there led the committee to success. She planned and organized events, opening discussions for many filmmakers and writers.
The “Dear Hollywood” Letter
This summer, Professor Gillie wrote and released a letter addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and representation in Hollywood. She recalls reading statements from people, committees, unions, and companies and thinking, “Everybody wants to say now Black Lives Matter. That’s interesting.” With her love for her committee and the Black writers that work night and day trying to earn a living, she drafted a letter. She used her voice to describe the injustices in the United States and in the film industry, explained the importance of representation in film and television, and demanded that Black lives matter always, and not just for a moment in time.
She gives two pieces of advice:
First, balance. Confidence, hard work, and success are all things a person should have and strive for, but she explained that everyone should, “…smell the roses, fall in love, have a family, if that’s what you desire…you can have both.”
Second, “You are good enough, and your story is good enough.”
After speaking to Professor Gillie, I felt empowered and inspired. Hearing about her life and the discrimination she has faced, and her ability to rise above it and use her voice to help others is something that everyone should strive to do.
Her dedication to her faith reminded me of a quote from bell hooks’ feminism is for everybody, “Struggles to end patriarchy are divinely ordained.” The idea of using religion to lift yourself up, as a way to achieve success, to become a more independent and confident woman was not familiar to me before speaking with Professor Gillie. I now understand why faith is so impactful from a feminist perspective; by taking back a patriarchal religion and using it to empower yourself as a woman, more women will then be able to find a connection with faith and spirituality.
The lack of representation in Hollywood has been something I have had to come to terms with as a film major. I am frustrated that inequality is present in an industry that is based off of expression and telling stories that speak to the world. At first I was unsure of what my purpose was and I did not know how to take action. After reading Sandra Kim’s “Why White Allies Can Get So Overwhelmed and Confused About What to Do Next About Racism,” I realized that I need to use my privilege to help lift up the voices of those who have been silenced for far too long.
In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement and Professor Gillie’s response to peoples sudden responses and statements, I am reminded of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, “I don’t need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad it just like…happens.” Instead of saying “Black Lives Matter,” right now, we should say it all the time. We need to realize that this movement is not temporary, we need to fight, educate, and advocate for Black lives now, next week, next year—all the time. Realization of injustice is only the first step, now is the time for action.
It was an honor to speak with Professor Gillie. She is an amazing, successful, and strong woman and has inspired me not only in terms of my aspiration to have a career in the film industry, but just as a woman. She is an incredible person.
Listen to the full interview here.
Reid, Kiley. Such a Fun Age. Diversified Publishing, 2020.
Hooks, Gloria. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Pluto Press, 2000.
Kim, Sandra. “Here’s Why White Allies Get Overwhelmed and Confused About What To Do.” Re-Becoming Human with Sandra Kim, www.sandrakim.com/heres-why-white-allies-dont-know-what-to-do-next?mc_cid=e6a1b89a30.