From the Barrio to a Big-time Break, One Latino Director Explains His Journey

By Nina Terrero, NBC Latino

Thrilling movies. Amazing stories. Captivated audiences. [NALIPster] Rashaad Ernesto Green has had big dreams since he was a child, all centered on his passion for storytelling.  And while he may have come from humble circumstances, the independent film director has had a recent string of big-time successes, crowned by his time as a fellow in NBC Universal's director program through which he'll finally break through as a prime-time talent, directing an upcoming episode of the hit series "Grimm."

"I was in my late 20s when I had a sense of the legacy I wanted to leave behind," says Green, now 34. "For me, film is a way to share the truth; a truth that is authentic and of utmost importance to share with the world."

Born and raised in a humble neighborhood in the Bronx, New York to a Puerto Rican mother and African-American father ("a tostones, smothered chicken and dumplings kind of childhood," says Green), Green and his younger brother Reinaldo had a happy childhood and were encouraged to aim high, study hard and pursue big dreams.

"I never felt out of place," says Green of growing up in a bi-racial, bi-cultural household in a diverse neighborhood. "I never felt that I was alone. But I learned very early what it meant to lift yourself out of abject poverty through education."

Green's parents – his mother was a teacher, his father, an attorney – divorced while he was just ten years old. His father encouraged him to pursue law, medicine or engineering he says, but Green says his love of storytelling lead him to study acting at Dartmouth College, where he dreamt of one day appearing in Hollywood's most compelling films.

But life had other plans. Three years after graduation, Green was employed as an actor in regional theater when his paternal grandfather died – an event that would impact him forever and change his goals in a way he would have never dreamt possible.

"I envisioned myself in a casket and thought about what I would want my future wife and unborn children to say about my contribution to the world," says Green solemnly. "I wanted my children to say their dad never waited for an opportunity to come his own way. I didn't want to be a Denzel Washington anymore. I wanted to create something like Spike Lee or Shakespeare."

With a renewed energy regarding the direction he wanted to take in the entertainment industry, Green applied to and was accepted to New York University's prestigious film program. His thesis and debut film, "Gun Hill Road," was accepted into the 2011 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition and in summer 2011, was the #1 independent film box office opening. The film has since aired on BET and HBO and has been praised at film festivals internationally, making Green –  named one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" in 2010 – an independent movie  director of significant acclaim.

"Because I was an actor first, I try to write material that actors love to act," says Green of his approach to film making. "I use the script as a blueprint and during the research process, actors are free to communicate with less language. I want my camera movement to feel inspired, authentic. And of course, truth is of the utmost importance with the aesthetic as well as the performance."

And Green isn't one to shy away from controversial, eye-brow-raising subject material. "Gun Hill Road" centers on the story of a Bronx-bred teen who struggles with his sexual identity amid his father's disapproval. Starring Judy Reyes ("Devious Maids") and Esai Morales ("Burn Notice") the film delivers poignant messages about race and family that Green hopes to make a focal point of his work going forward.

"I want to address topics of social justice that sometimes we like to sweep under the rug as a culture and community," explains Green. "I'm not interested in themes that have been done before. I'm not a documentarian, but I feel the need to interview real people and create a narrative around those issues."

Towards that end, Green stands apart from his peers in the industry and was selected to be part of NBC Universal's prestigious Directing Program. As a fellow selected from a rigorous, nomination-only process, Green shadowed directors affiliated with some of NBC's most popular prime-time shows and learned the mechanics of filming broadcast television.

"Television is unlike anything I had experienced before; it's extremely fast-paced," says Green, who particularly enjoyed his time under "Grimm" director (and fellow Latino) Norberto Barba. "It made me realized that not everything has to be treated like it's precious. You have to trust your instincts because the pressure of time is so immense. One episode might take one week and that type of material might take us indie directors, 3, 4 or even 5 times that amount of time."

Now, Green – equipped with his new television know-how and gift for poignant storytelling – is set to direct an upcoming episode of "Grimm" that will air this winter.

"I'm nervous and excited all at the same time," says Green. "But I know Noberto won't let me fail."

And the experience in television has inspired Green to pursue a new goal in his career. He's currently writing a television pilot featuring a bi-racial, bi-cultural family very much like his own.

"TV offers me a way to share the stories I wanted to in film, but in a medium that reaches millions and millions of people," says Green. "Some Latino and African-American filmmakers might view this industry as more difficult terrain to climb than their white counterparts. But it's important to ignore that idea because it's false. Everyone out here is struggling to achieve their dreams – but if you just go after it with everything you have, you might find that along the way, people identity with you."

"So get started today."