Effie Brown Opens Up About That Matt Damon Mansplaining Moment

Photo: Courtesy of Effie Brown/Variety.
Introducing The Gratitude Series, a four-part Refinery29 special running in November that will celebrate the women of color whose work in Hollywood we are grateful for — especially during a time when the industry is still struggling to be more inclusive. Effie is our final subject; be sure to check out parts one, two, and three.

It was the sound bite heard 'round Hollywood last year. In a scene with producer Effie Brown on HBO's series for aspiring filmmakers, Project Greenlight, Matt Damon told the producer that a Black filmmaker might not be necessary for a project they were considering because, "When you're talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show." It was an arrogant moment of white mansplaining that immediately went viral minutes after the scene aired.

"I think people couldn't stop talking about that moment because it was all too common," Brown says. "Everybody was like, 'Oh shit, that happened to me on Thursday,' in their boardrooms or their meetings. People always ask me, 'What was that like?' and I'm like, 'It was like any other Tuesday.'"

Brown clarifies that she's not trying to be flippant — it's just that while conversation is great, harping on the same moment over and over can be frustrating when no actual change is happening. "I think we're getting a little tone-deaf with the word diversity," Brown says. "What we really need is a coalition of people on our side to make things happen. We need the 'woke' people to stand up and say, 'Hey hey hey, inclusiveness doesn’t mean that someone is taking something, it means that we’re sharing. It means that there is a place for all of us to have a seat at the table.'"

The more Brown speaks, the more her ardent passion for the craft is evident. It's a love story that began when she was a self-described latchkey kid in New Jersey, when she'd often do homework and watch movies while waiting for her working parents to get home. An early favorite was The Warriors, a 1979 film about a multicultural gang in the Bronx. It was the first on-screen representation Brown can remember that made her feel "like we are here, we exist, not just with an older white guy taking care of us, like on Different Strokes."

She also loved to bond with her dad over Bruce Lee movies. "We were always into inclusive films," Brown says. "Even if characters didn't look like me, there was still some form of other. Bruce Lee I could understand. Alien with a badass female lead, I could understand. Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch...that was foreign to me."

Initially Brown wanted to be an actress, but because in the '80s she was "a bit of a mess — a dark-skinned Black girl wearing a Jheri curl and purple eyeshadow," her parents suggested she look at other routes in addition to the acting track. So it was at Loyola Marymount's film school that she honed her production skills. But as a senior in 1993, on the brink of graduation without the privilege of the connections that many of her white classmates had, she had no idea how to break into Hollywood.

"I love to tell stories about the marginalized or the other, whether it be a lens of a female, a lens of an LGBTQ person, or a lens of a person of color."

Effie Brown
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So she did the only thing she could think of: call the Black Business Bureau. An operator put Brown in touch with her cousin ("I don't even know that woman's name, but she's responsible for my first big break!), who helped Brown land her first job as an intern on The Five Heartbeats. "I worked with extras in casting and in craft services, which meant dealing with food and garbage," she remembers. "It was really weird, but that's how I made my first connections that have lasted to this day. I still have my first crew jacket from that set!"

The film-and-television producer now has over 50 projects on her IMDb page, including Real Women Have Curves and 2014's critically acclaimed Dear White People — a long way from handling the crew's garbage. She says her day-to-day work now basically means being responsible for a movie production from soup to nuts. "All the way from finding the project to delivering the project to the studio or the financiers at the end, and then getting it out to the world," says Brown. "It’s a job for control freaks, for people who are micromanagers, for people who want everyone to get along and to execute a big plan."

In her eyes, though, it's also a job for people who want to create a broader understanding for viewers. "I love to tell stories about the marginalized or the other, whether it be a lens of a female, a lens of an LGBTQ person, or a lens of a person of color," she says. "I want to show viewers that we’re all going through a similar experience. And it’s time for women and people of color to be heroes and to actually see ourselves in the picture. I feel that a lot of times, we just see ourselves as a struggle. Where's our Black female sci-fi?"

Brown's working on the sci-fi part. But in the meantime, the project she's most excited for is producing a big-screen adaptation of Flyy Girl, the young adult novel by Omar Tyree that has basically been required reading for Black girls coming of age (including this writer) since the '90s. "Yes honey," Brown says, adding that they're going to be announcing the director shortly. "Get ready!"

As the final subject in Refinery29's four-part Gratitude Series, Brown reflects on the women in Hollywood whose work she is grateful for. She lists Shelby Stone, the Emmy- and Golden Globe- winning producer behind HBO's Bessie (and new president of Common's Freedom Road Productions); Julie Ann Crommett, who helps with diversity and inclusion at Google; Neema Barnette, one of the producing directors behind this fall's Queen Sugar; QS director Ava DuVernay and Insecure creator Issa Rae, plus "OGs" Oprah Winfrey, Debra Martin Chase, and Suzanne de Passe.

"My birthday is coming up, and I always get a little nostalgic and think about the people who paved the way before me," Brown says. "Maybe they didn’t have a viral moment like I did with Project Greenlight, but they've had those same experiences happen to them. And they just kept it moving and made things a little bit easier for those of us who came after them. So my hat is off to them, for just doing the work."

We're tipping our hats, too.
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