Blacktag and Versus Unveil SLATE: A Groundbreaking Initiative Championing Black Voices in the Creative Industry

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In an era marked by bold yet unfulfilled calls to action on diversity, the creative industry still grapples with systemic underrepresentation of non-white voices. Blacktag and Versus challenge the status quo as the landscape evolves by unveiling SLATE. This curated roster of 16 Black visionary directors, creatives, and artists signifies a pivotal shift toward inclusivity and recognition. SLATE is a testament to our collective commitment to amplify Black voices and showcase incredible talent from all backgrounds.

PH: What does being part of the SLATE initiative mean to you personally and professionally?

Tramaine Townsend: This initiative shows me that there is more of a platform we use daily that doesn't just get lost in the sauce of it all. We are all here to amplify our voices in this industry, and I know I have felt unheard and unrepresented. The movement with SLATE, I think, will show those we may not be able to connect with normally to see what we are capable of. I'm personally excited to see everyone who’s a part of this to see how we all navigate our artistic expressions. We have all been working hard to get to this moment, and I hope we all continue the trajectory to the next level.

Suresh Gordon: Having access to a team of Black creatives, production teams and a platform for me to bring my own unscripted ideas to life. As an independent creator, it’s challenging to put yourself out there while supporting yourself and your loved ones. 

PH: Can you share a bit about your journey as a creative and how you arrived at this point in your career?

Keaton Greene: I actually went to school / worked in Finance prior to making the jump to full-time creative. Finance was a great place to learn how business works while also refining many of the soft skills I use every day as a creative. After leaving a job in Investment Banking for a more relaxed 9-5, my girlfriend and I relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago, seeking warmer weather. I quickly began tapping back into my creative self, integrating into the creative community and ultimately building up a portfolio as a side hustle until I could sustain myself full-time.

Suresh Gordon: Since I was a kid, I just realized capturing moments, replaying them to people, I see the joy. I just really love it, that sense of getting back that moment. I love to capture that energy. During high school, I was consistently filming and eventually fell into the capturing the car community. You can trace my influences back to here, this is where I found comfortability in the speed and motion of it all. 

PH: How do you see your work contributing to reshaping the Black narrative in the creative industries?

Suresh Gordon: I want to show the industry that creativity comes from within and that self-expression is unique to each person’s experiences. Being someone who is self-taught, the biggest lesson in my career would be that if you put your mind and hands to it, you can accomplish your vision. 

Tramaine Townsend: The works I create will express and illustrate to people that our narratives do matter and we have our particular ways of creating them. Hoping also to be a guiding light for those who are still developing their craft not to be afraid of garnering larger heights we all know we're capable of accomplishing. 

PH: Collaboration is a significant aspect of creative work. Can you talk about a memorable collaboration experience that has impacted your creative process or career trajectory?

Suresh Gordon: Moving to New York and being able to work with people I’ve watched growing up. Nigel Sylvester and the KITH team are some of them; when we collaborate, I can bring my fullest self to the table, unscripted and all as loud as we need to be. We also get to give back to the community and capture wholesome moments.

Dior Rodriguez: Collaboration in film production tends to be collaborative in nature; it's about articulating your vision while empowering those around you to do what they do best. You have to trust those you're working with. Personally, I've been fortunate to work with so many talented individuals who bring unique perspectives to the table. Drawing from my background as a musician, playing the cello, and my passion for photography, I find inspiration in various mediums. Immersing myself in different forms of art fuels my creativity. 

PH: In what ways do you hope SLATE will influence the broader creative landscape and promote diversity and inclusion?

Suresh Gordon: By telling more Black stories from Black points of view. Pushing the narrative of perseverance and growth, highlighting the multi-faceted lives of Black creators. 

Dior Rodriguez: It's more about prioritizing visibility over diversity and inclusion. It's about giving voices a platform and making individuals visible. Visibility is key. Black creators should be able to tell stories beyond what's typically expected, breaking free from limitations and stereotypes. Our voices matter year-round, not just during designated months without being typecast.

PH: Each of you brings a unique perspective and skill set to the table. How do you think this diversity within the SLATE roster enhances the collective impact of the initiative?

Simone Holland: Diversity in perspective means more well-rounded stories. Each one of us on this roster has an individual journey and we have all spent our careers creating work that reflects not just our experiences but our dreams. Some of us create analog, and others use digital technology, but we all find our own ways to express ourselves, continually creating quality work that pushes boundaries. 

PH: As Black creatives, you often navigate spaces where diversity and representation may be lacking. How do you stay motivated and inspired to push boundaries and create meaningful work?

Simone Holland: I grew up with a love and appreciation for animation, stop-motion, and horror. With the lack of representation in these mediums, I decided to explore surreal and abstract expression through a foundation of reality. After graduating from school with a background in Journalism, I wanted more autonomy over the creative aspects of storytelling. Having little-to-no technical camera experience due to lack of access, I struggled to find camera jobs. Eventually, I used my visual art skills to build a fruitful career as a makeup artist and costume designer. This gave me an understanding of production from a different perspective and allowed me to work my way up the camera department eventually. 

Although unconventional, my journey has been beyond fulfilling and has defined my creative visual eye and technical approach to the directorial, cinematography, and interdisciplinary visual work I make today. I continue to push because creating is who I am. There are also more and more young Black creatives who are seeing themselves reflected in the industries they want to work in, and if I can play even a small part in creating more space for them not to have to second guess their place in this world – I will keep working.

Suresh Gordon: Because I have to. There’s nothing else I could imagine myself doing. Life always brings me back into focus whenever I stray away from creating. Creating is how I survive in this world.

Tramaine Townsend: I stay motivated by always pushing the needle of what I'm capable of doing. I've continued to challenge myself when wanting to create something bigger. Especially in those spaces. Building meaningful relationships, experimenting with multiple mediums, being intentional with my messaging, and also keeping in mind that those spaces don't define me. I'm a strong purveyor of knowing and expressing that there are more narratives to be spoken than the industry currently allows. I don't plan on stopping that anytime soon.

PH: Could you highlight a project or moment in your career that you're particularly proud of and how it reflects your artistic vision and values?

Suresh Gordon: Working Appleton Estate Rum is a full circle moment for me. Growing up in Jamaica, Appleton was the island’s favorite rum. This partnership allowed me to express my love for Jamaica and brought me back to my roots. I am proud of the content I created for them, bringing Appleton to the masses. 

Tramaine Townsend: What we did for SALLAD was a huge milestone because I could work with JBW Watches to make it more than a brand film. We amplified it by making it not only a fine art piece but a cultural movement as well. A strong defining moment for everyone involved being from or living in Dallas. We were able to show the vibrance of the city and its black creative community and take it beyond just posting online. We took it to film festivals and won. Created experiences that people could be immersed in. Creating a stronger dialogue of community and culture, with the catalyst being Watches. Showing that the time was now through past, present, and future simultaneously. 

PH: What advice would you give to aspiring creatives who are looking to break into the industry and make their mark?

Keaton Greene: Make what you like. Especially these days with social media, it's so easy to get caught up in trying to do something because you think other people will like it. At the end of the day, though, leaning into your personal interests and tastes is what will inevitably set you apart from others. 

Suresh Gordon: Stay up to date with technology. The world is moving fast, we now have so many tools to help us stand out and break into new rooms.

PH: How do you see the role of technology and digital platforms evolving in empowering Black voices and storytelling in the creative sphere?

Simone Holland: Through my own work, I experiment with analog and digital formats to highlight the importance of archival cultural works, the whimsy of exploring perspectives in the present, and imagining visions of the future. The access and openness new technologies and digital platforms offer gives more opportunities for creatives who have traditionally been redlined from these spaces to create art that candidly reflects the diverse worlds we experience every day.

Dior Rodriguez: The elephant in the room is AI. It's revolutionizing the creative sphere, offering artists unprecedented access to tools and resources that were once financially out of reach. It’s providing access to a whole new world to explore. For good or bad. The important thing is that, as of now, it is accessible.

As we conclude this insightful Q&A session with these remarkable creatives, it's evident that SLATE represents more than just a collection of talent—it's a catalyst for change, a platform for expression, and a beacon of hope for aspiring Black voices in the industry. Through their diverse experiences, innovative approaches, and unwavering commitment to their craft, these individuals are not only making their mark but also paving the way for a more inclusive and dynamic creative landscape. As SLATE continues to evolve and expand, we eagerly anticipate the transformative impact it will have on the industry and beyond.

For more information about SLATE, Blacktag, or Versus visit their website hyperlinked here. 

BT+VS Launch Announcement from Versus Projects on Vimeo.

About the contributors: 

Dior Rodriguez, Director and Editor

Dior is an Afro-Caribbean filmmaker born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Washington Heights, Manhattan. With a background in editing, she immerses herself in each project, paying close attention to cinematography and sound to create impactful storytelling experiences.

Keaton Greene, Director and Photographer

Keaton is a self-taught director and photographer based in Los Angeles. His work explores storytelling through a distinct visual style, capturing narratives through his lens with a unique perspective.

Simone Holland, Director and Cinematographer

Simone, a Brooklyn-based visual artist, brings reality-based surrealism to her work as a director and cinematographer. With a background in multi-disciplinary technical experiences, she pushes boundaries in her directorial, mixed-media, and photographic projects.

Suresh Gordon, Director, Cinematographer, and Creative Director

Suresh, originally from Jamaica, is a videographer and drone specialist known for infusing his work with dynamic perspectives and cultural insights. Renowned for his guerrilla-style filming, he captures moments with exceptional intensity, reflecting life's vibrant pulse.

Tramaine Townsend, Director and Photographer

Tramaine, based in Dallas, is a visual artist and a strong purveyor of aesthetics. His works take on the role of narration, often exploring minimalism and intensive design to create immersive storytelling experiences across various mediums.

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