Skyler Glover named Marlon T. Riggs Fellow in documentary filmmaking

October 14, 2020

Photo: Clara Mokri (’21)

For the past week Skyler Glover has been waking up most mornings at 5 a.m. to head to the beach. At his home in south Berkeley, Glover packs his camera gear, folds his 6 foot 5 frame into the car and joins a documentary team as a production assistant for National Geographic shooting a film about women empowerment and female surfers in Half Moon Bay, California. Once filming’s done, he starts his day job as a visual journalism tutor to first-year students and a “J-sibling” for two first-year students.

But Glover takes the busy schedule in stride, gifted as he is with a work ethic that just landed him one of Berkeley Journalism’s most prestigious fellowships: the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship in Documentary Filmmaking. The fellowship is named after graduate and former professor Marlon T. Riggs (‘81) and was started in 2014 by Prof. Jon Else and filmmaker Vivian Kleiman.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Glover said about winning the $10,000 fellowship. “I’m excited about it and [it] was something I aimed for when thinking about this program.”

Riggs was a gay Black man during a time when discrimination was rampant, Glover said, and Riggs’ ability to flip stereotypes and push past discrimination is something he uses for motivation in his own storytelling. 

“It’s something I try to apply in my own work, pimping your struggle through your successes,” Glover said. “Turning negatives into overwhelming positives, taking negative stereotypes and stigmas and turning them on their head and using those as a weapon to show how amazing you are, how strong you are, how different you are, and how special you can be.”

Glover grew up in a middle class neighborhood in southern New Jersey called Barrington, and attended Rutgers University for his undergraduate studies, double majoring in urban studies and film while juggling time as first baseman on the university’s baseball team. At Rutgers, Glover became fascinated with urban studies, intrigued about the power dynamics that exist in modern America and how policy can be used to both uplift a certain community and “to actively hurt others.”

His love for filmmaking first started with making music videos. When Glover lacked the knowledge or production experience, he turned to the internet for answers.

“I kind of became a student of YouTube University,” he said with a laugh.

His filmmaking leaped to the next level during his sophomore year when Rutgers’ Camden campus started its film program. Glover said he didn’t care about the burden of taking on more classes. He pushed forward and earned the dual major. 

Glover was indefatigable in pursuing film work. While in college, Glover worked as an investigative reporting intern for NBC Bay Area on two different occasions and as an intern for Shingetsu News Agency based out of Tokyo, Japan. All of this professional experience, as well as Glover’s own personal history, play a role in his approach to filmmaking. 

Photo: Orin Rutchick

“My style is greatly reflected in the imagery that I’ve seen throughout my life, and the culture that I’m a part of,” Glover said, adding that his grandmother, an art teacher, and his mother, a photojournalist in Philadelphia and the past president of the National Association of Black Journalists, also inspire him in his own work with the NABJ Chapter at UC Berkeley. “To be around strong, Black journalists my whole life gave me a certain drive and a certain motivation to do more, to be more and to build on their successes.”

Glover is particularly drawn to two photos his mother took. One is of a young Black child in Sierra Leone in 2004 looking through a chair with a piercing stare, shot for her master’s thesis project at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. The other is of a young Black girl playing in a water fountain

“She captured pure emotion, pure happiness,” Glover said of his mother’s photo of the young girl. “These moments happen so often and we don’t recognize them. [Photos] like this drive me to find my own versions.”

Sarah Glover said she is honored that her son looks to her for inspiration. Like most mothers, she is proud of her son’s work and accomplishments so far. Ms. Glover said she thinks her son is a powerful storyteller because of his caring attitude and dynamism, character aspects that are widely known amongst his Berkeley cohort. 

“As a photojournalist myself, I know that this is work that you commit yourself to and you have to have a passion for it,” Ms. Glover said about visual journalism. “And it’ll be exciting to see what future projects Skyler picks up and where he spreads his wings.”

Glover knows it’s a bit cliché, but for him “story is king.” He uses this mindset to focus on conveying a powerful message that elicits intimacy and has the ability to make an audience laugh or cry. He likened his film work to painting with large brush strokes to set the scene — like the classical editing techniques of Hollywood that insert seamless edits. Glover said learning these techniques are key to a solid foundation in filmmaking, but expressed his desire to break with the norm, and to break from it with intention. 

“Understanding your composition and your craft to the utmost degree, but learning to break those meticulous skills and break them with purpose is 100 percent what I hope my career’s work is,” Glover said. 

His bold, creative style choices are some of the reasons why the fellowship committee chose Glover for the Riggs fellowship. Prof. Jennifer Redfearn, director of the Documentary Program, said Glover’s ability to tell a story with empathy and compassion is critical, especially during these times of renewed calls for justice. 

“In a time of racial reckoning in the U.S., Skyler’s work perfectly aligns with the fellowship’s mission to report on subjects of social importance to the American people,” Redfearn said. “Over thirty years after Marlon Riggs released his film Ethnic Notions, about deeply entrenched and disturbing racial stereotypes, Skyler is continuing in this tradition, confronting racism by showing how young Black women are striving to upend systemic racism through grassroots organizing.”

Glover’s project, which he is co-directing with classmate Goran Zaneti, will look at a Black woman’s journey mobilizing youth in San Jose to confront social injustice in public education and juvenile incarceration. Glover is also working on another project about the first seven days of protests in Oakland following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. 

The fellowship committee also considered financial needs as well. Geeta Anand, interim dean, said the Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship is a way for the school to support a student financially and to also point a spotlight in their direction. 

“I see [the fellowship] as a way of rewarding student excellence, and an opportunity to help support a deserving student during this difficult financial experience of paying for journalism school,” Anand said. “This is a really special one, because Marlon Riggs was beloved and many people, especially older faculty members, collaborated with him, and just loved him. He was not only extremely talented, but a wonderful colleague.”

It appears that in a number of ways Glover is already honoring Riggs with not only his filmmaking and his pursuit of justice from behind the lens, but also in the generosity of his time and his commitment to helping those that come after him. Glover pointed out that journalists should turn inward to find their passion, to look at what is affecting their lives and use it to fight for change in the world.  

“Find your light, find that thing that you love and just go for it,” Glover said. “I want to show the next young Black man or woman that they’re special and that they are [creative] geniuses in their own right.”

By Freddy Brewster (’22)

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