The movie industry still has a long way to go toward achieving its goal of providing equal opportunity to minorities. Instead of waiting for these doors to finally swing open, many African American filmmakers have decided to create their own projects and tell their own stories.

To help get the ball rolling, Jack Daniel’s launched “Real To Reel,” a nationwide competition for aspiring directors to submit their best work and potentially win a cash prize from the brand’s newest alcoholic beverage line “Gentleman Jack”.

Thousands of submissions were reviewed, but only four made the final cut, and they were recently showcased at The Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. The event was part of a seven-city screening tour, and attendees were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite film via text message.

Votes will be compiled throughout the tour to determine which filmmaker will be awarded the $4,000 grand prize from Gentleman Jack.

Before the screening began, dozens of people gathered in the lobby to mingle, network and imbibe complementary shots of whiskey and various alcoholic beverages. The crowd eventually migrated to a spacious auditorium where the short films were shown.

Anthony Rose served as the evening’s host, and his film, “Behold A Lady,” was chosen to be featured during the screening.

“I wanted to provide viewers with a lighthearted look at romance and relationships in modern black culture,” he explained during an interview. “We always see our sisters being torn down by the media. As a black man, I wanted to create a project that promoted black love and positivity. I wanted to remind our women that we still care.”

He continued, “I’m encouraged by all the support we’re getting from everyone who came [to the screening] tonight. The film industry is difficult to penetrate. This competition has given filmmakers like me a chance to get our foot in the door and gain valuable exposure along the way.”

A big hit among viewers that evening was the screening of director Angela McCrae’s short film, “Where is Beauty.”

“It [the movie] follows a day in the life of a young woman who’s overcoming the pressures of beauty in social media,” McCrae explained. “She’s on a path of self discovery.

“There’s a lack of authenticity when it comes to the beauty industry. We wanted to depict young women in a way that’s natural and unique.”

McCrae hopes the film will deliver an empowering message to women in a world that’s consumed by exaggerated depictions of beauty.

“Define beauty for yourself,” she urged. “Be confident in your own skin. If you feel the need to change the way you look, do it because it’s authentically who you want to be.”

During a panel discussion after the screening, director Terrisha Kearse revealed the inspiration behind her short film, “The Mia Countdown,” which delivers a powerful take on the dangers of social media.

“It [the film] is based on a girl who is live-streaming [broadcasting] her suicide,” she explained. “I have read so many stories about people using Facebook as a platform to express their emotions. The outcome can be deadly.”

She added, “I recently read an article that said live streaming suicides is the new norm. Those words shouldn’t even co-exist in a sentence together, and this has been a problem since 2008. When these incidents happen, the people watching think it’s a joke. But eventually there’s a ‘holy crap’ moment when you realize that what’s happening isn’t fake and the person really needs help. By then it’s too late.”

There have been at least three live-streamed suicides in the past month, two by teenage girls. And while suicide isn’t a new concern, the ability to live-stream the act—and therefore encourage copycat behavior—is an issue that experts fear could grow, especially among young adults.

One of the earliest cases of a live-streamed suicide was Abraham Biggs in 2008. The 19-year-old Florida teen had posted multiple times on an online body-building message board that he was planning to kill himself. Eventually, he linked to a live-stream site called Justin.tv, where the video showed him overdosing on prescription pills.

Bloggers egged him on and told him to “go ahead and do it,” according to ABC News. Those bloggers said they didn’t believe it was real so they didn’t do anything to help.

“If you stumble across anyone live-streaming and they’re talking about committing suicide, do something,” Kearse urged during a one-on-one interview. “Don’t assume it’s a prank. You may save a life.”

“Real To Reel” is a national platform to help celebrate and support African American voices and film. Visit GentlemanJackFilm.com to learn more and see exclusive program content featuring actor Omari Hardwick.