Recap: An Evening with Oscar Winner and Filmmaker Kevin Willmott

In collaboration with The Midwest Tech Project, we provided West Michigan with the opportunity to spend an insightful evening with 2018 Oscar winner Kevin Willmott at Studio Park. Awarded a 2018 Academy Award for co-writing BlacKkKlansman with Spike Lee, Kevin told the story of how his humble Kansas origins inspired him to tell stories and write screenplays that no one else was writing at the time.

The event kicked off with a screening and award ceremony for our 2019 Mosaic Mobile college finalist films. Mosaic Mobile encourages college students to film, edit, and submit a short film using only their mobile device. Each year, the competition has a unique theme, prop, and saying every year that the students must implement into their pieces. The 2019 theme was “Belonging,” the prop was “signs,” and the words “I never thought of that” had to be shown or spoken in the film.

2019 Mosaic Mobile College Winners

First Place ($1,000) – Chrystel Lopez, Michigan State University
MOTHER, a remake.”

Second Place ($500) – Celia Harmelink, Grand Valley State University
Mosaic Mobile 2019 – Submission.”

Third Place ($250) – Connor Durow, Calvin University
Colorful Smiles.”

Following the presentation of awards, Kevin took the stage and spoke about his 30-year career in film, screenwriting, and cinematography. The premise of his talk focused on how he uses film to explore race, class, identity, and American culture. He also discussed the inspiration for the filmmaking process of some of his notable works.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Marymount College, Kevin traveled north and earned his master’s degree from New York University. He spent some time in the big city and eventually found his way back to his roots, to pursue his career goals.

“It doesn’t matter where you live; it matters what you’re doing. I didn’t need to go to New York City or L.A.; I needed to go home and do my thing,” said Kevin Willmott, filmmaker.

Kevin spent the majority of his career writing, researching, and telling stories. After spending nine years writing his first film screenplay, it was the mid-1990s, and there were very few black people in the room. There, he began building a foundation for his work and making his name known.

“I wasn’t much of a networker. I was in Kansas; ain’t nobody out there,” said Kevin Willmott.

“It’s about the work. It’s about doing what you do best, and if you’re doing the work, you will get the break.”

Willmott attributes the success of his films to his ability to accept his blackness and utilize the power of cinema to educate his audiences.

“What we need is for you to be a little bit uncomfortable,” said Kevin Willmott. “In films like BlacKkKlansman, we did not try to make racism palatable; our goal was to make you as uncomfortable as we could, and then you expose the absurdity of racism.”

Following his talk, Kevin answered questions from the audience and offered his advice for young filmmakers and those aspiring to pursue creative careers.

“Figure out your story, what you do best, and what you want to say to the world. It’s an evolving thing, so don’t feel like you have to figure it out all at once,” said Kevin Willmott. “Say that thing that’s on your mind, write what you know but also write what you believe in, and you’ll be okay.”

Spending an evening with Kevin Willmott offered a great amount of inspiration for young filmmakers, as well as life lessons from a seasoned writer, director, and visionary.