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True vulnerability is a powerful force. A Guest Perspective by Winter Dunn.

Updated: Mar 2

Winter Dunn

Film and emerging episodic director Winter Dunn, a Ryan Murphy Half Initiative mentee, sat down with us to delve into her relationship with storytelling, the potency of diverse voices, and her aspirations to make a positive impact on the world.

Why did you become a director, and what goals are you working towards right now?

I chose to become a director because storytelling has been my primary avenue for expressing my identity and beliefs. In my formative years, I struggled to articulate myself, but the arts opened a transformative channel. Creating narratives allowed me to communicate unique aspects of my perspective that words alone couldn't capture. While I've since become more expressive, storytelling is where I draw my confidence. As a director, I'm drawn to tales of misunderstood individuals or outcasts because I empathize with their journeys. Through my work, I aim to connect with those who've felt isolated, reassuring them that they are not alone. Ultimately, I believe everyone craves the fundamental human need to be seen.

Although I've previously explored intimate and personal stories through fictional characters, I'm eager to broaden my narrative scope. Venturing into episodic directing, I'm intrigued by the challenge of discovering my voice in stories not crafted by me. While my foundation lies in character-driven, slice-of-life tales, I look forward to unearthing emotional truths and depth in diverse genres. How can I infuse authenticity into an action-driven procedural? Where does my perspective fit in a half-hour mockumentary comedy? These are the questions I seek to answer through collaboration, building narratives that feel both unique and honest.

What does it mean to you to be a Black filmmaker?

I cannot separate my identity as a filmmaker from being a Black woman; it's intrinsic to my worldview. Being a Black filmmaker holds profound significance as it shapes how I perceive the world. I believe it's crucial for society to embrace and honor the stories of Black filmmakers. My journey in filmmaking was paved by the trailblazing work of Black directors and actors. Watching films like "Love Jones," "Do The Right Thing!," and series like "Girlfriends" and "The Wire" made me believe in the possibility of my own path, as I saw reflections of myself in their stories.

Dunn on set of her award winning short, Dear Mama

How will you change the world?

My mission is to effect change by telling stories imbued with honesty and authenticity. I believe that true vulnerability is a powerful force, especially in our current times. By sharing our stories openly, we discover our shared humanity. Through these shared narratives, we realize that our similarities far outweigh our differences.

What filmmaker/artist are you inspired by right now?

Over the past five years, we’ve seen a flourishing of talent across different genres, and I find inspiration in the diverse tapestry of voices that shape our cultural landscape. I draw inspiration from the diverse voices contributing to the cultural landscape. Quinta Brunson, Donald Glover, Shonda Rhimes, Issa Rae, Savanah Leaf, Numa Perrier, A.V. Rockwell, Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, Nijla Mu’min, and Dee Rees are just a few of the many incredible storytellers who inspire me. Witnessing the thriving Black storytelling community is exhilarating and propels me to continue contributing to its growth.

Being a HALF directing mentee within the Ryan Murphy world is an extraordinary experience. The intentional diversity fostered by Ryan Murphy has resulted in groundbreaking television. "Pose" holds a special place in my heart for its unprecedented portrayal of diverse artists collaborating on a scale we had never witnessed before. Seeing Tina Mabry, another artist I admire, direct on the series was a highlight.

The recognition of Paris Barclay's work with an Emmy nomination for directing "Silenced" in "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" further exemplifies the power of diversity in authentic storytelling. And then having the opportunity to shadow on "9-1-1" and witness Angela Bassett's craft was a dream come true. The fact that Ryan Murphy actively facilitates access for emerging directors, like myself, is incredibly meaningful and showcases a commitment to fostering new voices in the industry.

How can the industry support Black filmmakers? 

I believe that, to truly support Black filmmakers, the film and television industry must actively prioritize diverse representation across all levels, from decision-making roles to on-screen talent. While diversity is gaining attention, it's essential to approach it intentionally and with a spirit of joy. Supporting the work of Black filmmakers not only contributes to diversity but also enriches the entire film and television landscape. 

Providing Black emerging talent with access to educational opportunities and creating job opportunities that don't hinge on one high-stakes shot can alleviate the pressure associated with entering the business. I think we need to foster an environment where mistakes are seen as part of the learning process, offering Black filmmakers the room to grow and explore their craft. To me, it's about providing opportunities for hands-on experience and job opportunities that allow us to not just survive but truly thrive and bring our authentic contributions to the industry.

Winter Dunn shadowed Marita Grabiak on 9-1-1. She is an NAACP award-winning director, producer and actress with a passion for depicting universal stories through the lens of BIPOC voices. Her most recent short film, DEAR MAMA... World Premiered at SXSW 2022 and was awarded an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Short Film (Live Action). DEAR MAMA... is currently streaming on The New Yorker. Her debut short film JUNEBUG premiered at the American Black Film Festival, made its television debut on FOX Soul, and is currently streaming on Tubi and Issa Rae Presents/HOORAE. She produced Numa Perrier’s debut feature film, JEZEBEL, which premiered at SXSW 2019, won Best Narrative Feature at the American Black Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix via Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY. Dunn has directed multiple digital content formats, including web series and editorial videos. Her celebrity video features for Vanity Fair, Vogue, Architectural Digest, GQ, Allure, and other media brands have garnered a celebrity feature list that includes Viola Davis, Sarah Paulson, Lena Waithe, Kim Kardashian, Billie Eilish and others. Dunn graduated from the Chicago Academy for the Arts with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Fordham University Lincoln Center.



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