What Happened When the #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo Creators Finally Met

Meeting Tarana Burke was "a little surreal and yet it felt really comfortable," April Reign says of their chance run-in at Sundance.
@franklinleonard/Twitter
April Reign (left) and Tarana Burke

It started with a chance meeting at the coat check.

April Reign — creator of the #OscarSoWhite movement that upended the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and paved the way for a more diverse membership — went to hand over her coat at a Jan. 20 Power Women's Cocktail event put on by Autograph Collection Hotels and Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, when she met a young female filmmaker. The woman, Kaia Burke, told Reign she was attending the Hotel Park City-set reception with her mother. "That's great," Reign recalls of the moment, which showed the first-time Sundance Film Festival attendee that there was this cool "intergenerational thing happening" in Park City. Also happening that day: Nonstop snow falling from the sky — 10 inches in two days — hence the coat check.

Moments later, Reign came face to face with the mother, a woman she had connected with on Twitter but hadn't met in real life. Someone who had also created a profound movement that had not only caused seismic shifts in Hollywood, but around the world. That would be Tarana Burke, a noted civil rights activist who launched the #MeToo movement back in 2006 and has helped carry the torch into the social media era. (Burke walked the Golden Globes red carpet arm in arm with Michelle Williams on Jan. 7.)

"It was a little surreal, you know, and yet, it felt really, really comfortable," Reign tells The Hollywood Reporter of the encounter, which was caught on camera by Leonard, to whom she gives all the credit for putting "amazing women and allies" all in the same room. "We gave each other the warmest hug."

"I turned around and there she was," Burke tells THR. "Finally meeting in person was great. Our work is connected in some ways, and I definitely was following #OscarsSoWhite and had supported it when it happened and watched the fallout that came when it happened."

Both women attended Sundance for the first time — Reign as an influencer (with 127,000 Twitter followers) brought to the festival by consultant Michael Latt, and Burke as an activist — where they had the opportunity to meet others whose lives had been impacted by their respective work. For Reign, that included filmmaker Julie Dash, who was invited to join the Academy after the organization moved to diversity its ranks. Burke received messages of gratitude, equally, she said, "from well-known people to just people on the street."

"There's a liberation that has happened," continues Burke, noting how festival jury member Jada Pinkett Smith shared on a panel the ways in which both #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo had changed Hollywood, and how swiftly the changes have been put in motion. "People feel open to talking about these things that they've been holding on to for so long. The veil of shame has been lifted so they can finally express what they are feeling."

Reign came up with a great analogy for how to express the emotional impact of coming face-to-face with Burke. "When you're playing a video game and you're down to the last life but then suddenly, you level up," she explains. "Getting a hug from [Tarana] is like a level up — it's so amazing and energizing." 

After the hug, Reign noticed a woman standing over Burke's shoulder, the same woman she met at the coat check.

"It's Tarana's daughter, and that says so much about her character because she wasn't riding her mother's coattails," she says. "She was standing in her own right like I saw so many filmmakers doing that day. And Tarana and I could stand arm in arm for a few seconds and have this moment of affirmation. … She and I were saying to each other, 'I see you, and you are seen.' That really matters. When you are deep in the work and negative things are happening from time to time, you get tired. … Having that affirmation from someone was really striking and beautiful. I don't want to put myself on her level. These are completely different things, but we both have respect for the movements."

For Franklin, it was also a moment. “It’s not often you get to be a host of and a witness to history," he tells THR. "It was a honor to do both for this particular one.”

Reign praises Franklin for providing the space, which was "comfortable, inviting, welcoming" and free of any arrogance.

"I give all credit to Franklin and The Black List for making that happen and allowing me to have interactions with people on whose shoulders I stand," she adds. "Seeing 40, 50 or more people of color involved in film in the same room was fantastic and something I had never experienced before. It was wonderful to see Charles Blow interacting with Rashad Robinson, and then getting out on the dance floor with everyone having a good time. Suddenly it's all these people I've interacted with on Twitter, and we're taking selfies and laughing it up."

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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