Kyra Peters has always wanted to tell stories. Growing up, she spent hours in the library buried in books or at her grandmother’s home, MaryAnn Laforce, listening to her tell Caribbean folk tales from her native St. Lucia. “They made the world seem bigger than it is,” says the 22-year-old director. When she learned that cinema had the power to literally show people the stories she imagined in her head, she said it was a “match made in heaven.”
Her journey from avid young reader to director has not been easy. Even with the opportunities that presented themselves through her involvement with the Ghetto Film School as a teenager and then in college, she was afraid to go beyond the writers’ room. She felt like no one wanted to hear what she had to say.
The lack of representation of women of color in high-level creative roles can make young girls like Peters feel like their voice doesn’t matter. “There have been countless times where I have been asked if I have a plan B to fall back on because the film industry is not that inclusive for black women. time,” says Peters.
This disparity is one of the reasons Neutrogena partnered with the Ghetto Film School to launch the First Frame Fellowship, which Peters recently received. The program aims to amplify diverse Gen Z filmmakers by giving fellows the tools and support they need to produce their films, including $25,000 and mentorship from industry professionals, R&B duo Chloe and Halle Bailey. “We’ve always been fans of Neutrogena and what it stands for as a brand. Inclusiveness in beauty is so important to us, and we love how they offer such a diverse assortment of products for all people. Plus, we now get to be part of programs, like the First Frame program, to drive change and help provide a platform for people from diverse backgrounds who have a story to tell,” says Chloe.
His winning submission was a script that explored stereotypes and felt unconfident in his own skin. “My skin is something I can’t take off,” she says. “It’s something I live with every day. I had to deal with a lot of colorism growing up and struggled to feel confident in my skin. I also had a lot of acne .So when you feel different, you feel different, you don’t feel as beautiful.And your skin is your first impression on the world.We often think of skin as this theoretical thing, but that’s not not theoretical to me. It’s very literal to me.
As a recent graduate who majored in film and television and minored in childhood and adolescent mental health studies, Peters wanted to reach a younger audience. The finished product, If my voice sounded louder than my skin, is an animated allegorical story of a black teenager from the Bronx who wishes the color of his skin no longer affected his daily life or the way others perceive him. The inspiration for the main character is Peters’ older cousin, Ray. “I would see how the world judged and labeled him based on his looks,” she says. “They didn’t see the same Ray that I saw.”
Ray’s experience is his own, but it is not unique. Peters wants people to see that it takes a collective community to really make a change. “We were drawn to Kyra’s script for If my voice sounded louder than my skin, because it so closely reflects real life. It’s such a relevant story that can resonate with so many people, and the way she uses voice and song throughout the film was especially powerful,” Halle said.
“It means so much to finally be taken seriously as a black female director,” Peters says of that experience. “It means my voice is lifted and heard on a completely different scale than it was before.” She goes on to say that having her “voice potentially reach someone, inspire someone, not just to entertain, but to change someone’s thoughts or create a conversation” is her ultimate goal.
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