Producer and director Deborah Riley Draper is committed to storytelling as a medium for connecting people on common ground. She’s particularly motivated to tell stories that allow underrepresented voices to be heard.

Impactful work

“Filmmaking feeds my soul as an artist,” she shares, “and gives me a platform for engagement with diverse audiences in a dynamic and participatory way.”

Her latest film, “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” documents the story of 18 black Olympians at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The film led to the families of the Olympians being recognized 80 years later by President Obama at The White House.

Filmmaking has helped Riley Draper in business, too. She started as an advertising account executive and worked her way to the top. The same way she serves an advocate for underserved people in her films today, she’s also comfortable standing up for “marginalized voices and communities” within the advertising industry.

Perspective on diversity

Riley Draper says uniting the country is more about equality and inclusion than it is about diversity.

“We too often think diversity means replacing someone with someone else,” she explains. “It actually means making room for someone else. It means adding a seat at the table — not replacing someone already sitting there.”

“We too often think diversity means replacing someone with someone else. It actually means making room for someone else.”

From there, she adds, the focus can fall on universal truths and commonalities, instead of getting stuck on differences. “This focuses us on appreciation instead of judgment, on trust instead of fear and collaboration instead of separation.”

Smart networking

The founder of Coffee Bluff Pictures, Riley Draper says she’s learned to tap into the power of her network, which has helped her with crowdfunding her film, partnership programs, audience development and grassroots outreach. She looks at her network as a “relationship bank,” where she needs to make more deposits than withdrawals.

In addition, Riley Draper personally creates opportunities for underrepresented voices in both paid and non-paid scenarios to give exposure and opportunity to the next generation. She asks herself these questions: Did I open the door or close it behind me? If I can’t open the door or keep it open, can I crack open a window? Did I offer to start a conversation or establish a process to build equity and inclusion on this project or at this company?

She also advises millennials to sharpen their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. “Identifying the problem is not enough,” Riley Draper says. “Success comes from identifying a solution, implementing and measuring it. And it is okay to execute, test, fail and refine.”