Oscar buzz: Whittier alum Emily Baeza works on Academy Award for Best Picture nominee 'American Fiction'

January 31, 2024

Emily BaezaWant to work in film? You need an open mind and willingness to learn, says Emily Baeza ’13

From there, it’s about being available and marketing yourself.

“There's a lot of great people in the industry who want to see you succeed,” Baeza said. “They just have to know who you are.”

This awards season, Baeza is seeing her own willingness to learn pay off. She worked as the second assistant director on the Oscar-nominated film American Fiction, which is up for five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

And yet Baeza only recently entered the film industry.

While she took impactful filmmaking classes at Whittier College, Baeza was in the Whittier Scholars Program, in which students design their own degrees. She tailored her studies to cover a diverse mix of anthropology, journalism, and creative writing. Looking back, Baeza said, the interdisciplinary curiosity Whitter nurtures greatly helped in her role as an assistant director creating daily schedules and managing other logistical details to keep the project on time and budget.

Emily Baeza“Film is one of the most collaborative, team-based professions you could be a part of,” Baeza said. “It's because I have that ability to see across many different departments that I feel like it really helps my work now.”

Diversity is why Baeza went from her hometown of Montebello to Whittier College, and it has been a guiding through line in her work. After graduation, the Thalian Society member worked at the education nonprofit City Year in Los Angeles and Boston. City Year expanded her marketing and filmmaking opportunities, and Baeza received a master’s degree in civic media from Emerson College in Boston.

Baeza is passionate about increasing representation both in front of and behind the camera; her membership in the group Women in Film & Video New England played a pivotal role in connecting her with opportunities like American Fiction.

Set in Boston, the comedy-drama is based on the novel Erasure and follows the story of a Black novelist — played by Jeffrey Wright — who is fed up with Black media’s reliance on tropes. He writes a book in the style he dislikes under a pen name as a joke, only to see it become wildly successful.

Now based in Burbank, Baeza cried tears of joy last week when she heard that American Fiction was nominated for the Oscars.

“I especially was excited for [supporting actor nominee] Sterling K. Brown and [best actor nominee] Jeffrey Wright's nominations, because they are some of the most talented actors and wonderful people,” Baeza said.

The Oscars will be broadcast at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Sunday, March 10, on ABC.

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