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Conversations with the Inspiring Janna Macatangay

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janna Macatangay.

So, before we jump into specific questions about what you do, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My love for entertainment and storytelling started as early as my childhood. I grew up in a conservative, low-income Filipinx household in San Bernardino, CA, so I was discouraged to spend any free time outside of the comfort of home. So, I spent most of my free time reading, writing, and watching TV. Even at a young age, it was natural for me to pick up a pen to write long-winded stories after finding inspiration from Harry Potter or to pick up my little Nikon point-and-shoot camera to make home movies. When it came to decide what I wanted to pursue as my profession during senior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to combine my love for visual storytelling and shape it into a career as a film screenwriter and director in the entertainment industry.

My long fiction stories transformed into an English degree, and I swapped my Nikon point-and-shoot for my first Canon DSLR camera and a Film minor at UCLA. I spent a lot of time in a college building my skills in video production. Eventually, social media was added to my skill set as social platforms continued to grow throughout my time in college. After graduation in 2016, I started working full time at a social video agency that served entertainment companies such as E! Entertainment and Netflix. I learned so much about social strategy and account management, but over time I felt so stuck in the operational and demanding nature of the job and knew in my heart that I wanted to pursue something that aligned more with my creative interests. So, on the side, I starting doing things that piqued my interest such as taking graphic design classes, starting a lifestyle/travel blog, providing photography services, creating video content for different start-up brands, bullet journaling, and co-producing short films. It was definitely a lot at first, but dabbling in these creative areas kept me sane when my day time job became too much to bear and gave me more confidence in my ability to shift more into finding a producing/editor role for social media.

After two years of working at that agency, I landed a role at BuzzFeed as a Social Strategist, where I help create strong YouTube content for brands such as As/Is, Ladylike, Tasty, Nifty, Goodful, and Bring Me. It’s been amazing working with producers to create content for many niche audiences, and I am excited to really grow as a strategic creative within BuzzFeed while also continuing to write my own stories.

I am nowhere close to where I want to be now, but I can’t help but look back and realize that I’m living and working on my dream in LA when just a few years ago, I was dreaming from the comfort of my home in San Bernardino, with books and my television set to keep me company.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As someone who identifies as Filipina-American, it’s still difficult to find people in my dream career who look like me in my industry. Lack of Filipinx-American representation is one of the reasons why I used to struggle with convincing my family that pursuing a career in entertainment would be successful for someone that looked like me. There was also the expectation of me becoming a nurse or medical practitioner when my brother, who is 4 years younger than me, was born with cerebral palsy. My parents wanted me to continue helping the family through the only field they thought they knew could help him. And they weren’t the only people who thought so. I remember when I visited The Philippines during my sophomore year of college, most of my distant relatives and cousins were shocked to hear that I was an English major and kept pressuring me to pursue nursing. They didn’t think literature or entertainment was anything worthwhile. Their constant reprimanding felt shameful and hurtful.

As you can see… I still didn’t listen to any of them. I still pursued something I knew in my heart I wanted to do. Sometimes the guilt of that choice haunts me when I feel like I’m not sacrificing enough for my family, and sometimes it’s discouraging when I struggle to navigate dominantly white spaces on my own to even make my voice and stories heard. But I continuously remind myself that what I’m doing is bigger than myself. There is an intuitive feeling inside my chest that writing stories and editing/producing videos, even back when I was a small 7th grader doing these things just for fun, is the thing that I am meant to do in this lifetime. It’s so important to do what you love because if you don’t, the world will not see your gifts, talents, or your unique voice — and that is such a discredit to the life that was given to you. I know I am much better off working hard at something that I know fills me with great purpose and meaning, and I am proud to contribute work that I am truly passionate about in the world. I know that one day, the payoff will be much more worth it when the grit and perseverance I exuded to make this happen will come into fruition in the form of giving my family the resources and financial support they need to live the best life they deserve. I am happy to say that my immediate family fully supports me in my professional decisions (TBD on my family in the Philippines through… but I hope they will come around!).

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I am a storyteller that uses different means to tell stories, particularly through social video, fiction stories, photography, or short films. I also enjoy editing and have begun editing Facebook videos for BuzzFeed in addition to my job as a social strategist. Currently, I am also in the process of writing a short story that I plan to adapt to a short film next year with the goal of submitting to the film festival circuit, which is something I have not yet done but have always wanted to do. I strive to tell stories that have yet to be told through my unique lens of being raised in a conservative Filipinx household, having lived in an impoverished neighborhood in San Bernardino throughout my childhood, and growing up with a brother who has a disability. My unique background in social video and content strategy also gives me strong knowledge and insight into what audiences love when they watch social content. This strategic mindset I have developed through three years of social strategy is useful in identifying strong stories and content, and I hope to continue developing my creative storytelling and production skills to tell my own visual stories that truly resonate and positively impact people.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
I think one of the biggest barriers to female leadership is properly setting up women for success in leadership roles when there are constant gendered stereotypes at play in the workplace. The “think manager, think male” mindset is still something that is perpetuated even today, especially when I look at entertainment and media companies with mostly white cis-men taking up a majority of their C-suite. There’s no easy way to figure out the best way to dismantle the mindset that women cannot be successful leaders, but every time I see a woman, especially a woman of color, take on a leadership position in my company, gain mobility in their career, or even take a stance against gendered stereotypes (such as Adele Lim exiting the Crazy Rich Asians sequel project due to pay disparity between her white male co-writer), it really inspires me in my own work to continue exuding confidence in my vision and purpose. After all, the future is female.

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