Veteran Hollywood Exec Elizabeth Grizzle Voorhees Joins Nonprofit Organization Founded by Jose Antonio Vargas Dedicated to Changing Perception of Immigrants, Immigration and Citizenship Through Entertainment and Media
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Media Contact: Lara Drasin, Define American
August 1st, 2016 – (LOS ANGELES, CA) — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas’ nonprofit organization Define American announced today that it has hired Elizabeth Grizzle Voorhees as the organization’s first-ever Entertainment Media Director. Voorhees’ role will be to grow existing initiatives such as the Define American Film Festival and pursue collaborations with writers, directors, producers, and the rest of the entertainment industry to elevate the portrayal of storylines around race, immigration, and citizenship in mainstream entertainment. Voorhees will also be charged with leading efforts to build a pipeline between Define American, which has amassed the largest collection of immigrant- and citizenship-related stories online, and content creators looking for compelling stories about the modern day immigrant experience.
Voorhees comes to Define American with more than 10 years experience in showrunning and executive producing, having overseen projects for networks such as VH1, OWN, Lifetime, and Syfy. She is a seasoned storyteller who is passionate about harnessing the power of media to create positive global and domestic social change, and holds a Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship from Pepperdine University.
“I am delighted to join Jose and Define American, an incredible organization that is on the forefront of the U.S. immigration conversation during such a pivotal time for our country,” Voorhees said. “I am confident that together we can leverage the power of media and entertainment to create a new rhetoric and cultural relevancy around this crucial topic.”
“The media is at the heart of how we understand ourselves. As a young immigrant making sense of my new adopted country, most everything I first learned about America I learned from the movies and television shows I watched, and from the plays I read in middle school and high school,” said Vargas, who was recently appointed as one of the 51 members of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee. “So many immigrant stories at the heart of our changing country need to be told, and we are thrilled to have Elizabeth on board to strengthen our relationships with Hollywood’s creative influencers.”
For over half a decade, Define American has been at the forefront of using media to change the culture around immigration. Vargas started the organization in June 2011, when he memorably “came out” as undocumented in a first-person essay for the New York Times Magazine, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” Launched with the organization was an online story bank where personalities like Stephen Colbert and Russell Simmons defined what they think it means to be an American, along with user-generated immigration stories contributed by people all over the country from all walks of life. The story bank, a central part of the organization’s signature “Coming Out” campaign, can be seen at defineamerican.com.
One year later, Vargas appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine worldwide along with 35 other young undocumented immigrants for a story he wrote entitled “We Are Americans, Just Not Legally.” That cover story kicked off Define American’s #WordsMatter campaign, asking mainstream news media to more accurately and humanely describe immigrants. To date, the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, and BuzzFeed, among other news organizations, have banned using “illegal” as a noun referring to people.
In 2013, Vargas and Define American produced “Documented,” a feature-length documentary film that aired on CNN in June 2014 as a part of the CNN Films line-up. Now available on Netflix, iTunes, and other digital platforms, the film tells Vargas’ personal story, and was suggested as a potential Academy Award contender by The Hollywood Reporter. “Documented” was the first film produced and directed by an undocumented immigrant, and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary.
In 2014, Define American collaborated with UCLA’s Global Media Center for Social Impact on “Dreaming On: Living Young and Undocumented in America,” a panel discussion at the Writer’s Guild of America, West in Los Angeles. Writers for film and television came together to learn and ask questions about the modern undocumented American experience to facilitate greater clarity and more accurate representations of undocumented and immigrant characters and storylines that might be incorporated into their work.
In 2015, in collaboration with MTV, Vargas and Define American produced “White People,” an hour-long MTV special in which he talks to college-age students about race, immigration, and the concept of white privilege. “White People” was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in 2016 for “Outstanding Special Class Special.”
Most recently, Define American staged the inaugural Define American Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa in January 2016 before the Iowa presidential caucuses. Films selected for the festival focused on a diversity of immigrant narratives, and post-screening panels included notable activists, journalists, and industry experts like: Chris Weitz, Demian Bichir, Janet Yang, and Arturo Castro. Voorhees will now head up next year’s festival, to be put on in another U.S. city.
Define American is a media and culture organization using the power of stories to transcend politics and shift the conversation around immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America.