The drive to own his work is in his DNA.
By Antonia Naje Allsopp, Photography by Trey Hutch
Celebrate National Latin-American/Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Through October 15, we’ll be sharing various stories from the Latinx community — be sure to read them all here.
In an adorably straightforward cartoon to explain his Mexican-American, bicultural, mixed-race heritage, cartoonist Terry Blas clarified the confusing terminology: “Hispanic” defines
language, while “Latino” defines geography. (“Latinx” is becoming popular, too, as it eliminates the male-female binary inherent in the original term.) None of these distinctions are defined by race. Let’s explore the many shades of Latin that grace us each day.
Emil Pinnock is an American film director, producer, writer and actor from Harlem, New York, U.S. In his 30s, Pinnock has been active in the film industry for more than two decades. On-screen credits include PBS’s “Reading Rainbow” with actor LeVar Burton and roles in major motion pictures, such as The Sixth Man, Beloved, Gridiron Gang and the NBC series “E-Ring.”
Since youth, however, Pinnock yearned to be behind the camera, to be in a position of ownership. It’s a yearning that’s part of an entrepreneurial spirit inherited from, and espoused by, his great-grandfather Rocky, a Panamanian who spoke nine languages fluently. But even though Pinnock grew up in Spanish Harlem and considered that “a really good reminder” of his background, he never really examined his family’s heritage. Fast forward to today and Pinnock is crystal clear that his lineage is where his career ambition, drive and passion for ownership is rooted.
“My mother was an artist and entrepreneur and my great-grandfather was an entrepreneur,” Pinnock says. “He grew up in poverty and instilled in us the idea of ownership. Just because we’re black and Latino, let’s not let that hold us back. Let’s be proud. We need to use that pride in who we are to drive the things we are pursuing.” As a child actor, Pinnock knew he would work behind the camera one day because that meant leading the charge, and essentially, leading change.
Already successful, Pinnock’s path to ownership was sparked when he and five friends were out celebrating his 19th birthday and were falsely arrested for possession of two firearms. From that experience, and the journey to all six being acquitted, came “Up North,” an award-winning series pilot loosely based on Pinnock’s personal story. He raised $400,000 to produce the drama and has since seen his star rise even more. “There’s so much conversation we’ve had about prison reform, fair rights, the different racial lines and the discrimination that’s going on, so to make a piece that caused that type of conversation, I’m just so proud to be a part of that,” he says.
His company Unleashing Giants Studios has since closed six more production deals, allowing Pinnock to pass the torch, mentor youth with theater-based after-school programs and create jobs for others like himself. “We define ‘unleashing’ as to set free or run at will and a ‘giant’ as someone of unusual size or strength. Most of the time, I don’t believe African-American and Latino kids are being told that they are giants,” he shares. “We tell them, ‘You are a giant and you can do whatever you want to do.’ Now, you have to plan for that; you need some goals or a road map of where you want to go.”
Pinnock is passionate about providing opportunities for undiscovered talent and creating the next generation of storytellers. “We will mentor them, so they can go and unleash somebody else,” he says. “The cool thing about it is hiring somebody for a job in film and not only seeing them on television and seeing their success but knowing that these African-American and Latino families’ lives are going to change forever. It changes their zip code, it changes their education, it changes their kids’ upbringing. It’s the coolest thing to know that.”