Filmmaker Gabrielle Gorman on the Power of Authentic Storytelling: "Don't Limit Yourself"

Al Noelle
Al Noelle

If you took Edna Mode from The Incredibles, Jim Carrey's Grinch, Moira Rose from Schitt's Creek, Naomi Campbell, and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada and rolled them all into one, you'd get existentialist YouTube personality Bell Parks. Bell is filmmaker Gabrielle Gorman's Shakespearean alter ego and the star of her own fictional YouTube vlogging series about college life, filmmaking, and being a young professional.

"I like to say that Bell is me when I'm hungry," Gabrielle told POPSUGAR. "She kind of represents the façade that I put on sometimes or I think what people assume. I'm one of those people that has a very resting b*tch face and I seem like I'm judging people when I'm really just thinking about the fact that I'm hungry for a burrito or something. I can think of so many times in college, I'd be like, 'Why am I at this event or this party or whatever and no one is approaching me?' People would tell me, 'Gabrielle, you show up giving people side eye. You're quiet and stand in a corner wearing your faux fur coat.'"

"I would love to be a showrunner, love to start my own production company, create a chain of theme parks, start a fashion brand. The whole gamut, you know?"

Much like her melodramatic YouTube character, Gabrielle, Amanda Gorman's twin sister, is no stranger to the spotlight. In 2020, Gabrielle graduated from UCLA's School of Film and Television, where she specialized in screenwriting. In her time as a burgeoning filmmaker, she's received nearly 20 film-related accolades and was named one of seven top filmmakers in the country by the National Young Arts Foundation in 2016 for her short film Dear America. The video also earned Gabrielle a nomination for US Presidential Scholar in the Arts and the Aaron Sorkin Writing Award at the WestFlix Film Festival. "It's something I filmed literally with a camcorder with three of my friends in high school in the auditorium, no budget," she said. "Kind of just whipped it together in iMovie, did this voiceover. I think it kind of speaks to the fact that it's really about story, and now I always remind myself it doesn't matter how much money you have to make something or how many people are working on it, if the story's not there, then what are you making?"

Amanda Gorman

While some people daydream about becoming writers, directors, filmmakers, fashion stars, or CEOs of their own companies, Gabrielle aspires to achieve all of the above and then some. "I have a plethora of career goals. I concentrated in screenwriting because I felt like at the heart of all my goals is to be a storyteller," she said. "I would love to be a showrunner, love to start my own production company, create a chain of theme parks, start a fashion brand. The whole gamut, you know? Magazine, buy an island, and start my own civilization. Those are just some smaller goals that I have short term."

"It was so funny to see that this was something that I was doing from a very early age. I was just talking to this invisible imagined audience."

To keep track of all her stories, Gabrielle carries a journal with her everywhere she goes to jot down ideas and write poetry and songs. "I literally have a whole shelf full of journals, and I've been journaling since — well, as long as I can remember. It's really insane for me to go back to the screenplays that I was writing in my journal before I even knew that they were screenplays. It's inspiring and it also shows me that I'm on the right path because this is something that I was doing before I even really knew that it was a career path."

While creating her vlog-style YouTube series "Bell Parks," Gabrielle came across her journals from first or second grade, in which she was writing in the voice of a blogger speaking to a full-fledged audience. "It was so funny to see that this was something that I was doing from a very early age," she said. "I was just talking to this invisible imagined audience, very similar to the way that I spoke to them in my series."

In addition to her YouTube screenplay, some of Gabrielle's other proudest achievements include directing the short Amazon Fire TV documentary Mr. Ewing, the story of a 99-year-old English teacher and World War II veteran, and creating the #Vote4theFuture campaign video — which featured Oprah Winfrey, Mahershala Ali, Tessa Thompson, and more — with Amanda ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

click to play video

Inspiration for filmmaking is not difficult to come by when you're as big of a cinephile as Gabrielle, who lists Moonlight, Lady Bird, Little Miss Sunshine, Zootopia, Spy Kids, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D, and more among her top films. "I would love to make a children's film like that one day that is something that everyone kind of has in common, everyone has seen it and can make memes about it and can reference it and they're not really considered high brow or whatever, but they have a lasting impact on people," she said. In addition to movies, Gabrielle takes inspiration from Little Women director Greta Gerwig's character-driven narratives, which add a deeper layer of authenticity to her films, and Spike Lee, who "doesn't sacrifice the authenticity and the quality for Hollywood."

Asha Irani

Through her own filmmaking, the "Bell Parks" creator wants to inspire other artists to speak out about issues that are close to them, thereby generating greater onscreen representation for communities that are often overlooked. "I think we're seeing changes in Hollywood [but] we're certainly in need of more changes, not only in terms of Black representation but representation of all people of color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, the list goes on," she said. "And I want people to know that Hollywood is definitely a very large propeller of change, but it can't end there. It also takes people doing a lot of the groundwork, and you don't need to be an artist to help activate change. It's something that we all need to do as a practice locally as well as globally."

"Listen, Beyoncé is amazing. I love her as much as the next person, but that's not going to solve the school-to-prison pipeline. That's not going to solve police brutality."

As the film industry continues to progress, Gabrielle hopes to see issues of social injustice become more prevalent on screen to shine a light on minority groups that do not see themselves represented in films. "I'm a Black woman speaking my truth, and of course, inequality and social injustice is a large part," she said. "I just hope that my filmmaking will implore people to always consider whatever story isn't being told," Gabrielle added, citing that Black trans women, in particular, have endured numerous hate crimes, which are rarely, if ever, presented in the media. "I'd like to see more visibility given to that and to these communities within the larger community because we do have a tendency to speak more about the cis, straight male narratives and I think it's really important to include everyone in the conversation and make sure that we're constantly assessing the lens through which we're looking at social injustice."

Beyond representation, Gabrielle says people must not simply be satisfied with the work that's already been done, but continue to push for change every step of the way, both on screen and off. "It goes past representation," she said. "I was actually talking to someone the other day and she said, 'Oh, how could you have felt so insecure as a child when you have Beyoncé?' It's like, 'Listen, Beyoncé is amazing. I love her as much as the next person, but that's not going to solve the school-to-prison pipeline. That's not going to solve police brutality.' It takes so much more than that."

click to play video

In terms of creating stories that are dynamic and engaging, Gabrielle encourages other filmmakers and artists to experience new things and immerse themselves in the world around them. "I think my advice to young people and honestly anyone of any age is to understand that you're never going to know everything, but that's not an excuse not to try," she said. "It doesn't mean be like, 'Oh, OK, I'm not really into this, so I might as well not study it.' Just try your best to learn about as many different parts of history, as many cultures, as many groups of people as you can."

For Gabrielle, her college years were formative to the issues and ideas she integrates in her work. "Take that opportunity to challenge yourself and to learn about injustice, but also to learn about current movements, past movements," she said. "I think that doing that, for me as a filmmaker, has really informed how I move forward and the stories that I feel inclined to tell. It's also gotten me in this constant process of questioning my own preconceived notions and always just thinking about how I could do better . . . Constantly challenge yourself, challenge the system, challenge those around you."

"As artists, we have to be the authors of those things that deserve to be seen but haven't been made yet."

Most importantly, Gabrielle encourages anyone with multiple passions to not limit themselves to achieving just one and to use their voice to tell stories that have never been heard before. "For young artists, I would just say don't confine yourself, and I mean that in terms of the stories you're telling but also how you tell them," she said. "I spoke about thinking, 'OK, I could either be a director or a screenwriter or this or that,' because you have to choose a track oftentimes. Oftentimes, when people ask you what you want to do, they're expecting just one answer. I think it should be shifted to, 'What all do you want to do?' . . . Don't limit yourself. Oftentimes, we're best at writing the things that we are most eager to see . . . So, as artists, we have to be the authors of those things that deserve to be seen but haven't been made yet. If you're looking for a place to start, you're looking for the right stories to tell, think about the stories that you want to see."

Al Noelle

When the camera isn't rolling, Gabrielle finds joy in dancing, daydreaming, good coffee, deep conversations, and all things Disney. She's also been practicing on her new piano during quarantine and hopes to release a song someday. In the meantime, she has a plethora of playlists to get her creativity flowing.

"I'm kind of a major fan of Disney, Disneyland, and I'm a theme park junkie, so I have this whole playlist of stuff that you would hear in a Disneyland park, because I get super nostalgic," she said. "I'll listen to what they play in the wait for Pirates of the Caribbean, I'll listen to what they play on Main Street, the whole Ratatouille soundtrack, all that stuff. I'm deep in it." When she's in the mood for something a little more exhilarating, she also has a playlist called "Success Only." "I listen to these sports coaches who give motivational speeches . . . It's these very deep-voiced men just yelling at you. It's stuff I used to listen to at the gym."

"I'm a big 'dreams only' kind of person."

With so many projects on the horizon, Gabrielle is currently focused on continuing "Bell Parks," infusing the screenplay with humor evocative of Charlie Chaplin and Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners to create a series that challenges the stereotypical portrayal of women in media. "I'm a big 'dreams only' kind of person," she said. "I want [the series] to get picked up by a streaming service for season two . . . I hope that it just is thought-provoking for people; I hope that it challenges them; I hope that people can also enjoy watching Bell. And I really do hope that it'll push for just more representation of women in roles where we're not trying to be super likable and we can just be eccentric or a bit neurotic, in Bell's case, and just be flawed."

As we patiently wait for Gabrielle's film, music, and theme park careers to take off, check out some of her best fashion moments here.