Francis Onelum on the Birth of The3As: Transforming the Image of Africans in Hollywood

African Artists' Association

The Birth of the African Artists’ Association Francis-Onelum

The 3As was born out of an ongoing dialogue between friends who are involved in various aspects of the entertainment industry. A common theme of these discussions was our general frustration with how Hollywood consistently presented Africans and African society in a negative light. District 9, a blockbuster film in 2009 that featured appalling stereotypes of Nigerians, became a catalyst for The 3A’s formation. We agreed that our goal was not to stifle Hollywood’s creativity but to achieve a balance in the portrayal of Africans by getting more high-quality stories from the African Diaspora into the marketplace.

The Early Days of The3A’s

Our first meeting was about 12 people crowded into my tiny living room in Northridge. I remember my wife, Amy, asking me if anyone would actually show up, since most of them were already established with agents, managers, publicists and network shows. But, the response was immediate, and our numbers have grown ever since. Our gatherings have been held in living rooms, apartment rec rooms, a library, the Writer’s Guild of America, and our current home, the American Film Institute. We’ve had a wide range of guest speakers from all facets of the entertainment industry, including director/producer Ava DuVernay, who is a truly dynamic and inspiring filmmaker. One of our first celebrity guests was my good friend, actor, Obba Babatunde. He encouraged us to keep the movement going and not lose sight of why we started.

Steps Towards Evolution and Growth 

Implementing a dues structure was a difficult choice but has enabled us to bring more structure and sustainability to our monthly gatherings, and also allowed us to develop our website and social media presence. We’re recognized now within the entertainment industry as a purposeful association of professionals and the “go to” agency to reach our community.

The Future of The 3As

Fundamentally, the dream for this organization remains the same: for The 3As to be a conduit for its members to connect with the investors, producers, studios and labels that can get their work into the marketplace. We also want to bridge the cultural gap between the African Diaspora and the entertainment industry, not just in Hollywood, but globally. Our plans to achieve this sort of impact include increasing our presence through film festivals, awards, seminars and workshops and the further support and education of our members. New opportunities for our membership appear every day, and I can’t wait to see where we will be five, ten, twenty years from now.

Francis Onelum is the founder and president of The3A’s. You can follow him on Twitter.