Lena Waithe and Other Creatives at Sundance Talk the Impact of ‘Past Lives’ and Broadening Representation Through Art

Lena Waithe and Other Creatives at Sundance Talk the Impact of ‘Past Lives’ and Broadening Representation Through Art

Lena Waithe, who is a juror at Sundance, believes the festival “really sets the tone for the year,” citing “Past Lives” as an example from last year.

“Obviously, ‘Past Lives’ has done really well, surprisingly so to the business. It’s a quiet movie about home, friends, what would’ve happened if you would’ve stayed in one place versus going somewhere else,” Waithe said. “Ultimately, I look at Sundance as a window into our industry, into what’s happening. And I think there’s a huge diversity in terms of filmmakers, writers, cast, and for me, it’s really about making sure this business still has a heartbeat.”

At the Variety Diversifying Storytelling in Film panel presented by Adobe, Waithe and other creatives at Sundance discussed the role art plays in reflecting society.

Dawn Porter, director of “Luther: Never Too Much,” reflected on how films from “Past Lives” to “The Color Purple” demonstrate the range of visions from filmmakers that resonate with communities.

“I’m always going to bring who I am to any project, but there’s different ways of showing who you are. I love seeing the diversity of styles and genre and expression. And I think we are constantly pushing to get out of the box, and I see so many people doing that,” Porter said.

Bao Nguyen, director of “The Greatest Night in Pop,” echoed the sentiments from Porter and Waithe, saying that he was also “going to turn this into a ‘Past Lives’ love fest.”

“My past experience with seeing myself on screen has been through a very narrow lens, as a martial artist, as the best friend, as the nerdy math student,” Nguyen said. “And I think as Dawn was saying, it’s not necessarily about trying to show the wider community that we have complexity, but it’s about showing our community that we can tell these stories for ourselves and that people will watch them.”

As an actor in “In the Summers,” Leslie Grace discussed her experience translating stories on screen that people can resonate with, saying, “You have to hold on to your unique and honest, authentic point of view, so that that can exist. And it will give freedom to others to tell their unique point of view as well.”

Waithe then reflected on how to define success through not just box office numbers but how films are able to connect with audiences.

“What is a successful film? Now, we may be taught it’s ‘Barbie’ and it’s ‘Oppenheimer’ — make a billion dollars at the box office. But also, ‘Past Lives’ was also successful, and even, say, ‘American Fiction,’ or even look at ‘Book of Clarence’ didn’t do well at the box office, but will it have legs? Will people continue to go back to it?” Waithe said. “It’s really about do people go back to the work? Do they keep it alive? Are they continuing to talk about it?”

Watch the full conversation below.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.