Master, Black Monday and Girls Trip star Regina Hall has revealed how honing her acting and writing skills helped her overcome a period when the roles she landed felt “stagnant and didn’t show my range.”
The actress and producer was speaking at a panel at ad market Cannes Lions exploring the impact of women on storytelling, alongside Amazon’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, Ukonwa Ojo.
Hall said: “I always want to do things that are interesting and complex, and show a range of what it is to be human. There was a point the opportunities weren’t there to play those roles. They were stagnant and didn’t show the range.”
She recalled often playing ‘the friend’ or other “marginalized” roles, adding: “You couldn’t perform or showcase the things you have inside.”
She said that only once studios realized there was money to be made out of films appealing to audiences beyond the the mass market did she get bigger opportunities. “You plough away, life changes and then studios realise, ‘Oh, that can make money,’” she said. “It’s so connected to what they believe the masses will receive and buy. Having people take a chance on storytellers also changes what you get to do as an artist.”
Hall revealed she overcame these challenges by continuing to act while also writing herself. “It keeps you active and motivated. You have to make sure you’re always working not to be marginalised; doing smaller films, showcasing something different. Hopefully people in the industry watch that and get to see the range.”
She said there were “so many people who haven’t had necessarily had the opportunity to see themselves reflected” in the range of roles they’d played, adding the solution was focusing on “job at a time and… on possibilities, not limitations.”
Now working as a producer with her own company, Rh Negative, Hall joined Ojo in applauding the growing number of female creatives working both sides of the camera. She said the world had shifted to allow more balance between masculine and feminine narratives. “Both are powerful, and it’s wonderful to experience the yin and the yang of it. It brings out different qualities as an artist,” she said.
Hall recently produced Amazon Prime Video horror feature Master, the drama about a professor and a freshman in a New England college facing institutional challenges that become increasingly supernatural. Hall, who stars in the drama, employed an all-female crew. “It was great to see those passionate creative people who happen to be women bring their wisdom, intelligence and feminine energy to the set,” she said.
She held special praise for writer-director Mariama Diallo, of whom Hall said: “She had a vision, knew what she wanted, and she was fearless. I felt she had lived with that story and knew what she wanted to say and imply. [She knew] how much she wanted an audience to interpret and have fun with it. I trusted her.”
Of the diversity issues raised by a story set in the most traditional of institutions, Ivy League college, Hall said Diallo had taken that framework and used it for the narrative, and then mixed it with horror. “The school is haunted supernaturally, but also by its own history of racism and what dwells within its walls,” said Hall. “It’s the question of what haunts institutions, what haunts us?”
Hall and Ojo urged the advertising and marketing delegates in attendance to support projects that appealed beyond traditional audiences. “How do you make people excited to see ‘the other’?” asked Hall.
Elsewhere in the session, Ojo showcased a video montage of work by women creatives on Amazon Prime, including The Incredible Mrs Maisel, Rizzo’s, Harlem, The Boyz, Being the Ricardos, Cinderella, The Wheel of Time and documentaries on singers Pink and Mary J Blige.
“Women in storytelling roles have a positive impact — across all the roles. When women play a lead role, they create more diverse casts and sets, which is good for everyone,” said Ojo.