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A Letter to Roger Ebert from a Former Ebert Fellow

Dear Thumbs Up Man,

Wherever you are in the universe, it’s likely you are either sitting in a theater enthralled by a moving picture or you and Gene Siskel are having a friendly, yet heated discourse about the best film of all time. Whichever the case, you should know that your legacy for me is as strong today as when I was in college and some of my friends nicknamed me “Ebert Siskel” because of my knack for quickly reviewing films.

Through my film theory studies, I have learned a lot about how film (visual arts in general) mirrors our everyday human experiences—from the discourse to the varied ideologies. I also have learned a lot from reading your reviews. I can honestly say I have yet to meet anyone who speaks about cinema/film with such infectious passion as you did.

Although I never had the opportunity to meet you in person, I feel like I got to know you through your writing and, especially, with my experience as an Ebert Fellow—which evolved from my participation in the Film Independent Project Involve's artist development program to other opportunities I have had in programs Chaz established after your death.

For me, being an Ebert Fellow is larger than film. It is a way of life and words can’t express my deepest gratitude for the nurturing and supportive space that the Fellowship has provided. I have met many wonderful Ebert Fellows creatives at Ebertfest, the Cannes Film Festival, and peppered throughout the industry. 

Through the fellowship I have met a number of wonderful and supportive individuals, with some of us becoming dear friends. In fact, the Ebert Fellows connection led me to my current job. My participation in the fellowship program came at a crossroads in my life, and the financial support was instrumental in allowing me to focus on pursuing my goals.

In appreciation, I visit your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame occasionally, just to say hello. At times, my mind imagines us sharing tea together and enjoying conversations about the current state of the entertainment industry especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I’m thinking that you might agree that, though diversity is well intentioned, the word is thrown around in boardrooms without clear actionable goals and evaluation to track the impact of initiatives. It is my hope that all of Hollywood will be intentional and diligent about inclusivity that supports individuals from marginalized communities.

Programs like the Ebert Fellowship are very important for individuals like myself, a Black, immigrant woman from Zimbabwe who since childhood has had a deep passion for the film industry, yet zero ties to the world of entertainment. My love for film is steeped at the intersection of viewership, scholarship, and creator/maker/filmmaker. Being an Ebert Fellow has allowed me to explore and grow in this trilogy of interests.

As a result, although I’m still growing, I do my best to assist others, just as I have been helped. And when faced with challenges, I try and reflect on the mantra: “Once an Ebert Fellow, always an Ebert Fellow.” With this, my pledge to you is that I will strive always to  practice compassion, empathy, forgiveness, kindness and love—not just toward others, but also toward myself. 

Finally, thank you and Chaz for providing a platform that champions emerging voices from underrepresented communities that otherwise may not have had the opportunity to explore their varying interests in the entertainment industry. It is because of this fellowship that I’m reminded every day to appreciate who I am and to challenge myself to grow in the craft.

Much love and endless gratitude,

Sue-Ellen

 

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