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Precious’ producer speaks on film and music careers

Coutesy of MCT

Lisa Cortes, executive producer of the film “Precious,” spoke at the United Black World Month kick-off event Tuesday night at the Ohio Union Performance Hall.


Cortes spoke about her career in the music and film industries and the theme of social justice in films.


“Yeah, I’ve had cocktails with Mariah (Carey), and I’ve hung out with Run DMC, and fell off a camel in India,” she said. “But the one thing that is a constant there, that is real, that is true, is what’s in my heart and my mind. That’s what I spend my career dedicating myself to transforming those passions into active art.”


Cortes started her music career with Def Jam Records in the ‘80s. She went on to become a vice president with Mercury/PolyGram Records and was later given her own label, Loose Cannon.


Cortes said she “hit the glass ceiling” in the music business in the late ‘90s and decided to travel abroad and go on what she describes as a “vision quest.” It was in an Indian movie theater that she had an “epiphany” to go into the film industry.  


“In the (movie), I didn’t need to know what they were talking about (on the screen), because the images told me everything,” she said. “They told me about people’s desires; they told me about their struggles; they told me about the heart and possibility in ways that a song can’t, because you’re limited by language.”


Upon Cortes’ return to the United States, she attended the New York Film Academy. After graduating, she went into film production with Lee Daniels Entertainment, where she worked on the films “Monster’s Ball,” “The Woodsman” and “Shadowboxer.”  


“Precious,” Cortes’ best-known film, is based on the novel “Push” by author Sapphire.  


“I had read the book when it first came out in 1995. I was on the C-train going home in Brooklyn, and this iconic red and black cover seemed to be staring at me from everybody on the train that was reading this book,” she said. “I was not in the film business at that time, but I said if I ever make a movie, I want to do this movie for that little bit of Precious that is in me, that is in you.”


Cortes said the depth of Precious’ character drew her attention.


“What Sapphire did with the novel was give voice to the pathos and the humor and the hopefulness of Precious. Because that’s something that’s important to me, is the hopefulness of the story,” Cortes said.


Cortes told The Lantern there’s one point she hopes students take away from her speech.Investing in the power of ‘yes,'” Cortes said. “Invest in the power of possibilities and to really have a dedication and passion for your dream. I have achieved the things I wanted because as Emily Dickinson says, ‘I’ve dwelled in possibility.’ I’ve found creative solutions and I have not embraced the word ‘no.'”


Jamila Caldwell, a second-year in family sciences and education, said she was looking for what Cortes was doing next.


“What mainly brought me out was to hear about her journey and what inspired her to make the movie ‘Precious’ and how she got to where she is in life and where she expects to go from here with future productions,” Caldwell said.


Jessica Jackson, a fifth-year in strategic communication, was satisfied with the speech.


“I am really inspired by black women that are making moves in the world and the United States. And the movie that she produced (Precious) was so powerful, that I just wanted to hear her words and her perspective on being a filmmaker,” Jackson said. “I figured she’d have a lot of wise things to say and she didn’t disappoint me at all.”

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