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Meet Trailblazer Dr. Nicole Haggard

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Nicole Haggard.

Dr. Haggard, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I imagine my story as all the different sides of me coming together to create our organization The Center For Intersectional Media and Entertainment or CIME (pronounced: See-Me) as we like to call it!

First, there’s the little girl obsessed with movies and the Academy Awards who became a serious binge-watcher, then there’s the white-female teenager living her best life in LA with a bunch of interracial friendships having all these realizations about how whiteness works in America, there’s the super nerd who went from a GED to a PhD, became a professor, and wrote “Race, Sex, and Hollywood,” and finally there’s the teacher-healer who is obsessed with all versions of Mary and loves having expansive conversations that transform people.

All these sides of me combined to create a public intellectual with my unique brand of assessing and discussing race and gender in Hollywood and the power of media to impact society. Nothing gives me greater joy than watching the ripple effect of my students and clients showing up as their fullest selves using media to change the world.

Then, in 2018, I was selected as one of 50 Women Changing the World in Media and Entertainment for my work combining the worlds of higher education, social justice, and entertainment. Through the #50WomenCan program, I met two incredible women Joy Donnell (media entrepreneur and producer) and Munika Lay (executive producer) and together, we ended up forming CIME. Our organization is dedicated to advancing representation.

So, here we are, tackling Hollywood’s diversity problem with a new twist focused on the power and legacy of storytelling in a way that is both nerdy and holistic grounded in helping people in the industry rise to their fullest selves. It really is all the pieces of me coming together!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Do you have those moments from your past where you got rejected and you use it as proof that you really aren’t qualified or worthy of the new thing in front of you? Well, I think REJECTION is actually magical. Trust me, someday you’ll look back and laugh. I’ve definitely been hit over the head with this lesson a couple of times, but the most recent time really stuck.

One of my BIG rejections was from my first big girl interview out of grad school. I was so excited to be adulting and kill it in the “real world.” In my mind, the job was PERFECT for me, I’d be advising kids and consulting with their families on how to navigate the process of applying to college, and make a bunch of money doing it! The interview was at a fancy hotel right on the beach in Santa Monica and in my mind, I did SO GOOD and crushed it. But then they emailed to say, “sorry, you aren’t right for this position. Blah Blah Blah…” I was DEVASTATED and I carried that rejection with me. This was right at the beginning of my career-defining who I would be and I felt like I failed and wasn’t actually qualified or ready.

I still HATE applying for jobs, fellowships, really anything. Every time that “I’m not enough” feeling would pop up (and it always does) my mind would drift back to that moment as proof, yep you aren’t!

Fast forward to last spring when then the college admission scandal hit. As a USC grad, I was all caught up in drama and clicked an article about the guy behind it. As I was reading the names, Rick Singer with The Edge College and Career Network, something felt familiar. I shook it off… no way, it couldn’t be! I did a deep dive into my old email account and sure enough… it was the company that had rejected me! I had spent 11 years of my life holding on to this negative moment but really it was such a blessing that I didn’t end up working for them! Like I said, rejection is magic.

But this wasn’t the first time; I’d learned this lesson before when I was applying to grad school and the rejection letters started pouring in. I only got into one out of ten schools I applied to, how embarrassing! Plus, it was some random school in the midwest, Saint Louis University, which super sucked for a born and raised Cali girl. At this point, in my mind, I’m clearly not smart enough or really qualified to go to a Ph.D. program, what was I thinking even applying? The next day, they called to offer me a full scholarship, so now, I have to go! But while I’m there, all those rejection letters and that feeling that I didn’t actually belong stayed with me.

One summer, I took some film classes at UCLA to transfer back and learned about the Production Code. The Code was the early rules of what could and could not be in the movies and one of these rules was that they FORBID “sex relationships between the black and white races.” I was super intrigued and told my advisor that I wanted to explore this for my dissertation. He told me to look up who wrote it so I could investigate further. Turns out it was a Priest whose archives were at… yep… the only grad school I got in to… Saint Louis University. Crazy!! See what I mean?! This project evolved into my big contribution to the history of Hollywood.

The moral of the story: trust your rejection moments. Don’t trip off of your perceived “failures,” you never know where and why rejection is leading you. I always tell those stories to young women starting out cause I know first hand how those rejections can stick to our bones in crazy ways that limit us. Stay in the flow, keep moving forward, don’t make assumptions, and be the best you regardless of what rejection comes your way.

We’d love to hear more about CIME.
One of the things I am known for saying is, “When women gather in a circle, the world changes” and it shows up in all my work. I’ve seen this over and over again; in the ripple effect, it creates in empowering women’s sense of self and the sparks that drive the work they go off to do.

This circle thing is a theme for me. One of my favorite parts of CIME is our Women in Hollywood Circles. This is a monthly gathering that travels all over LA. Most events feature a panel or speaker and talk about the data behind the lack of gender equity in Hollywood’s workforce (in 2018, men held 80% of the key jobs in top 250 films). But I wanted something different, a place where we could share. I wanted a space where we could address HOW the “status of women in Hollywood” affects us as people, as women, as members of different identity groups. What does it feel like to be the only woman in the room? How do you deal? How do we raise our vibration to do the work we are here to do and show up as our fullest selves? Media Matters, our work matters, and we need to have a place to brainstorm, to heal, and to plan our strategies. These circles, are that space.

CIME offers three levels of programming for people working in the industry: Heal, Rise, and Create. The Circles are part of our Heal initiative.

As a professor, I’m most known for creating a safe space for my students to cultivate discussion and discover what matters to them. My most popular class is Women in Hollywood, also a circle gathering! I’m proud to teach in the Film Media and Social Justice Program at Mount Saint Mary’s University. MSMU is the only women’s university in Los Angeles and one of the most diverse in the nation; 80% of our students identify as women of color. It’s an incredible place and community. People always ask me why I don’t teach at USC or UCLA, but really why would I? I’m honored to work with these young women. And given the film industry’s problems with diversity and inclusion, our students are the population that is needed, so I am literally empowering the next generation to be expansive leaders and storytellers, to be the change we need.

The Women in Hollywood course is unique because it’s a history class remixed with a guest speaker series. Powerful people are always so excited to come and tell their stories and impact our students. Tons of internships and mentorships have come from this class. At the end of each session, we all CIRCLE up hold hands, share a word that resonated with us from the guest speaker and together chants “I am Enough. I am Enough. I most certainly am Enough” three times (it’s a line from one of my favorite poets Natalie Patterson). This industry and this world, teach women that they are only as valuable as they are desirable to a man, and I find spending 16 weeks bringing in powerful women who challenge that narrative for my students and allow them to sink into their own worthiness makes this class a uniquely transformative experience that I am proud to facilitate.

When women gather in a circle, the world changes!

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
Figure out a position you are interested in, then send an email or DM telling them why they inspire you and that you would love to set up a coffee or phone chat. This does wonders! Let them know that you want to get advice from a “woman working in this industry.” I have this as an assignment for our Women in Hollywood class and I’m always shocked and impressed who my students end up connecting with. People love to be acknowledged for what they have accomplished and shared their wisdom. Being a student really helps. MAKE SURE you take advantage of that status if you still have it.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.cime.us
  • Phone: 213-327-4410
  • Email: nicole@cime.us
  • Instagram: heydrnicole
  • Facebook: heydrnicole
  • Twitter: heydrnicole


Image Credit:
Jeff Moeller

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