We are underdogs and champions…

We are underdogs and champions…

  |   audience participation, community, crowdfunding, film, filmmaking, fundraising, outreach, personal, producing

Hello, my name is Sarah and I am an underdog. I am also a champion. And so are you, I betcha, on both counts.


On top of that, I’m a film nerd, so let’s talk about the Oscars for a sec. The 87th Academy Awards are tonight, and every year, I root for the underdogs of the pack. Last year, it was Lupita Nyong’o, who ended up winning Best Actress like a champ. This year, to me the underdog is Selma (although yes, fellow film nerds, you could also argue for Whiplash, but that’s for another blog post). 


Selma is a film that tells a story about underdogs and is directed by Ava DuVernay, a woman who happens to be black. She is not nominated for Best Director this year, although her film is nominated for Best Picture. She’s already a huge trailblazer, being the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance and to be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe. What makes her and her glorious film underdogs?


To me (and the dictionary), an underdog is someone or something expected to lose. Selma already lost out on a lot of the Oscar nominations it was eligible for. And it’s not expected to win Best Picture. It’s expected to lose. Ava herself, plus the film’s incredible star, David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King Jr. in a way that made me think some scientist had resurrected the real MLK, aren’t in the awards race tonight. 


“Losing” is a funny concept, though, isn’t it? Because Ava got to make her mind-blowing film, which is a win.


That makes her a winner, a champion. I’m not painting her as any kind of victim. She is clearly such a strong, admirable force of talented filmmaker. But I am saying that I want her to be recognized. She’s not being categorically recognized in the game tonight. She’s lost that opportunity.


Lots of internet folks have already written very eloquent and fact-filled articles about Ava and Selma, pointing out how Academy Awards voters are very stacked against voting for someone with Ava’s “profile” (google it, you’ll see). I’m writing this article to point out how much of an underdog Ava is tonight, but also how much of a champion her history proves her to be.


You see, a champion does mean someone who wins, and Ava has certainly won lots of different well-deserved awards and recognition in her life.


But there’s also a second definition of champion: someone who champions others, dedicates themselves to helping others win.


And Ava has a long history of championing others.


Before she became a filmmaker, Ava ran her own public relations firm (because she’s a kick-arse entrepreneur as well as an artist, which is personally my favorite combo and makes me want to give her a ridiculously huge hug). She championed other artists before ever making her own art. She lived, day to day, fighting for and dedicating her time and talents to having other people be recognized.


It was only after that that she went on to make films about recognizing the invisible members of our world. Championing the unseen, the people whose stories show what being set up to lose looks like, what winning can be.


Maybe, while Ava was championing others, she grew so empowered within herself from helping people that she was only then able to make the admirable work she now creates. And it made her strong enough to deal with the controversy surrounding Selma, which accused her of misrepresenting history. I think she handled that controversy sagely, brilliantly pointing people back to the objective of the movie by reminding them that she made “this film as a celebration of people who gathered to lift their voices…”


Polyamorous Productions PolyamorousArt - Ava DuVernay Quote


What a champ. Ava, I love underdogs because I feel empowered as I love you and your work. 


I also identify with underdogs because I am one. I’m a female filmmaker. There are less than 7% of us in the feature film directing world. I am a mother, which is such a small percentage of that 7% that I feel too sad to type the number. I am queer, meaning my sexuality (polyamory) isn’t broadly recognized by mainstream society, so now my percentage of “expected to win” is not enough of a digit to express without a silly amount of decimal places. I’m running a Kickstarter campaign right now that’s being told it is currently a statistic loser because my analytics aren’t where they should be right now. Those analytics, by the way, are placed right above a kill-switch button on my Kickstarter control panel that I could use to take down the campaign in two clicks.


But I will not click it. Us underdogs have to do everything we can not to give up.


I am not a victim, and I am very privileged in lots of ways. I am just not expected to win. So I champion others and wonderful people champion me. I’m a Kickstarter creator who has backed 30 projects. I created Polyamorous Productions in order to champion artists and entrepreneurs. I’m making Twice to champion polyamory and love and diversity. I create stuff with the intention of reaching out to support the underdog, and I may not always win, but I promise you that I always try.


Perhaps something about you is not expected to win. Perhaps tons of odds are stacked against you. So what can we do about it?


I say we champion the underdog.


Why? Because imagine how that makes the underdog feel! Imagine how empowering it will be to you to help them cross the finish line. Imagine that maybe you have to practice your skills as champion before you’re truly ready for someone to champion you.


Lupita Nyong’o had a throng of champions leading up to her winning an Academy Award, so many behind-the-scenes supporters both within and outside the entertainment industry that we’ll never know their numbers. Even those of us who were just tweeting and cheering from home as she got closer and closer to winning, and watched from our couches as she finally crossed the ultimate awards-finish-line, were a part of that win.


Why? Because in the end, we are the people who do or do not buy the movie tickets, the VOD downloads, the subscriptions to streaming.


We are the ones championing. We are champions. All those Academy voters? They ain’t got the size of our revolution’s army.


So Ava, Lupita and all the other underdogs out there, you are such champions. Thanks for empowering yourselves, letting us find our strength through you, creating a win-win situation out of us winning when you win.


You and I may be underdogs, but we are also champions, and sometimes us underdogs come out on top.


Love, Sarah


PS Hi, I am an underdog making a film that’s a polyamorous love story called Twice which you can champion at www.twicethefilm.com.


PPS Hi, my name is Sarah and I want to hear your underdog story and how you practice the art of championing. If you’d like to share your experience, please tweet me at @saraharlen or Facebook me.


PPPS Hi, my name is Sarah and I repeatedly watch Cameron Russell’s TED Talk about topdogs, underdogs and how she wants to help.