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Paris Barclay & Me: Alvin Agarrat Reflects On Artistry and Influence of Groundbreaking Director

The name Paris Barclay is synonymous with television. The two-time Emmy award-winning director was blazing a path in Hollywood and opening doors for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ performers years before he broke the ultimate glass ceiling in 2013 by becoming the first openly gay African-American to become President of The Directors Guild of America. While Barclay may not receive the type of celebrity attention as the actors he directs, his work behind-the-scenes on television shows such as ER, NYPD Blue, Glee, Scandal, Empire, and Station 19 over his 30-year career has repeatedly landed him on Variety Magazine’s list as one of 500 most influential business leaders in Hollywood. But before he was in demand out west, Barclay was making a name for himself as a music video director on the east coast—having directed videos for Bob Dylan, New Kids on the Block, “The Best Things in Life Are Free” for Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross, and the MTV and Billboard award-winning “Mama Said Knock You Out” for LL Cool J—a partnership that would see the rapper and director team up for eight music videos.

A Chicago Heights, IL native and graduate of Harvard College, Barclay’s transition to New York City in the 80s after a stint as an advertising executive set the wheels in motion for him to launch Black and White Television, a production company he co-founded with business partner Joel Hinman, who is white, and Barclay who is Black, resulting in its name. It’s the place where Miami transplant Alvin Agarrat, a young, hungry director desperate for an internship first crossed paths with Barclay in the early 90s. Agarrat, who has called Atlanta home since 2007, tells The Reckoning that his professional relationship with Barclay began out of proximity, coincidence, and a popular first name.

“When I moved to NY, I took everything I’d ever directed, which was literally some no-budget music videos, the different shows I’d created for Access Channel, etc,” said Agarrat. “I edited together my three-quarter inch reel. I must have sent out 100 reels to every single production company at the time,” he said.

In the pre-internet and social media era where human connection and in-person applications were still common practice for job consideration, Agarrat says he hit the New York City pavement, visiting production company after production company to get his foot in the door. One of the buildings he recalls visiting was at 73 Spring Street where the production company responsible for videos for the 90s hip-hop group Organized Konfusion had an office.

“I went to their production company with my reel asking to intern,” said Agarrat. “They said, ‘we don’t need any interns right now...we’re a small production company.’ Their office was 501 at 73 Spring Street, and Black and White Television was at 503. They said ‘maybe if you go down the hall they might be looking for interns and you can ask them.’ And that’s what I did,” he said.

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