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How Casting Director Tracy ‘Twinkie’ Byrd Found Her ‘Voice to Direct’ (From Variety)

Five years ago, I decided to become a 49-year-old student of Richard Lawson Studios in his PDP 60 (Professional Development Program) class. I was the oldest student in his class at the time. While studying, I learned so many things about myself and my own points of view. I also learned that I am a storyteller and how storytelling has touched my life.

Raised in a mostly white neighborhood in Brooklyn, the same neighborhood that Chris Rock’s character was bussed to on the hit show “Everybody Hates Chris,” I learned the importance of having a Black voice and how to use the compelling truth of Black History in my work. Through asking questions and seeking knowledge of self, this became a burning passion.

First, I had to fall in love with myself. The little girl who was told in her third grade history class “You ask too many questions” and was called nosey by her teachers in school. My mother quickly set the record straight with “The word is inquisitive” and that’s exactly what her daughter is, inquisitive. How did this conversation come about? My Teacher, Mrs. Carter, didn’t care for my simple question, “How can Columbus discover America when people were already here?”

As a child, an amazing miniseries premiered on television called “Roots”. It was a Black History event! We watched “Roots” together as a family to learn and absorb as much as we could. The power in the visuals was astounding. Each episode transported me along with the transformative music of Quincy Jones.

The next day I was teased, ridiculed and called “Kizzy” all day by the white kids, led by the school’s biggest bully. I will never forget it. That amazing event among others taught me the importance of storytelling. That Black History moment stuck with me.

The visuals from “Roots,” “Marva Collins Story,” Roots: The Next Generation,” “The Autobiography of Ms. Jane Pittman,” “King” and many more Black films were so impinging they left an indelible mark on my heart. If it could have that kind of effect on me, then I must be a part of that kind of storytelling for others.

My PDP class was coming to an end and the final class assignment was to direct a short film. I found my voice to direct. Always intrigued and enamored by the superhero courage of the Civil Rights era and especially those students who marched, stood and sat down for our civil rights; I was inspired to write about them.

The A&T four was the inspiration for “The Counter: 1960,” my Award-winning short film. “The Counter: 1960 “is a story about three “woke” students in present day who find themselves seated at the Woolworths lunch counter in 1960. The question is, will they be served?

Utilizing Black History to inspire my art is my Artivism.

Creating Black History.

Moving forward, my goal with my work whether it’s casting, producing or directing is to inspire and educate our youth. To look to the past and glean courage, strength and strategy for our present and our future. A Sankofa Spirit.

Tracy ‘Twinkie” Byrd is a casting director who has worked on “American Skin” and “The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.” She has also worked as a director on projects that include “Making a Sale,” and “No Favors.”

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