Dream Hampton Talks Art, Activism and Detroit's Poor Image: "No One Disses Toronto"

Dream Hampton in 2019 - H Getty 2020
Rich Polk/Getty Images for Xandr

The 'Surviving R. Kelly' producer has built a career uncovering abuse of power and celebrity but not from her hometown.

Producer dream hampton says she's happy flying the flag for Detroit but had to leave her hometown for New York City and Los Angeles to build a career documenting abuse of power and celebrity, as with her award-winning Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly.

"No one disses Toronto. No one is against you Toronto," the Detroit-based producer, filmmaker and activist said during a virtual masterclass during the Toronto Film Festival on Monday. "The reason is we had 'Detroit vs Everybody,' what Trump would call an S-hole country, and we are disconnected from Michigan in almost every way," hampton argued, as she referenced the "Detroit vs. Everybody" clothing line.

And she lamented having to leave Detroit for New York City and Los Angeles to produce film and TV content after film school at New York University. "While I represent Detroit, my work, if there has been success, if there has been visibility connected to my work, sadly it's because I was working out of the two traditional and conventional media centers," hampton said.

But she added Detroit has built a community of filmmakers that are finally telling that city's story, and in particular via the Detroit Narrative Agency, of which hampton is a part. "They not only wanted to have the ability to take back our narrative, but they also wanted to see a community of filmmakers who were learning what it is to shoot and direct and edit and produce things that you ordinarily have to go to either coast to learn," she said of DNA.

The Emmy-nominated and Peabody-winning hampton executive produced the Lifetime docuseries that led to sex-crimes charges against R&B singer R. Kelly. "It was my chance to get in there and make a real documentary. I'd never worked in network television. I didn't know how many compromises that was going to involve, but I quickly learned," she recalled during the TIFF masterclass.

Surviving R. Kelly broke ratings records and set in motion criminal investigations that resulted in the sex-crimes charges now surrounding the R&B singer. Working with Dwayne Johnson's production company, hampton recently produced and directed the docuseries Finding Justice, which explores inequalities in Black communities across America for BET.

The filmmaker also directed 2015's feature documentary Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story.

But as part of her activism, hampton said the right-wing media has an expanding viral presence for its content online that is far ahead of rival left-wing advocacy sources in being able to use bite-sized content to sway voters and other audiences. "We are just so behind the 8-ball on that, there has not been similar storytelling," she said.

The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 19.