Texas Tech alumna shows Hollywood what Red Raiders can do.
The film industry has long preferred women in front of the camera rather than behind it. While there have been leading ladies since Hollywood's inception, it was a hundred years later in 2010, that a woman first won best director at the Academy Awards.
Cinematography saw its first female win in 2017, and film editing has only had 15 female winners since 1934. The more technical the job, the harder it's been for women to find opportunities – especially women of color.
One Texas Tech University alumna is breaking through that ceiling, though.
Liliana Huantes graduated with a bachelor's degree in creative media industries from the College of Media & Communication in 2021. Since that time, Huantes has made her way to Los Angeles where she's become a post-production assistant at Lionsgate.
“It's surreal that I get to drive down Sunset Boulevard every day to work,” Huantes said.
She was introduced to film editing in middle school and never looked back.
“I wasn't much of an academic growing up,” Huantes said. “I never felt school was my thing until I took a media course, and suddenly, everything clicked.”
While her classmates were struggling to work the computers, Huantes was mastering Adobe Premiere Pro. School became something she looked forward to once she found her strength.
“I started a film club when I got to high school,” Huantes said. “I wanted to make short films and recruit others to create stories with me. I quickly realized how difficult it was to piece together a whole project yourself.”
The difficulty never stopped her, though.
“Looking back, most of my editing has been trial and error,” Huantes said. “I've just tried to get my hands on whatever I can. It didn't always turn out the way I wanted, but I knew if I kept trying new things, I would get better and better.”
When it came time for college, Huantes had her heart set on film school – Texas Tech wasn't even on her radar. However, her parents were concerned about their daughter investing in such a niche degree.
“My family is Mexican-American and there is a lot of value placed on safety and job security,” Huantes said. “I come from a line of engineers so my desire to be a film editor seemed very foreign. My family is supportive, but they're also nervous about me pursuing a career that's so unpredictable.”
Agreeing to look at comparable four-year universities, Huantes visited Texas Tech.
“I was really pleasantly surprised,” Huantes said. “I remember meeting Robert Peaslee and Todd Chambers among other faculty members during my visit and feeling so welcomed. I felt like I belonged.”
Huantes moved from San Antonio to Lubbock a year later.
“The creative media program at Texas Tech gave me the technical experience I wanted but with broader applications,” Huantes said.
Her parents were delighted their daughter would have a competitive degree from a Carnegie Tier One university in case her dreams shifted away from Hollywood one day.
“I got so much hands-on experience as a student during my time at Texas Tech,” Huantes said.
Whether it was in the classroom, a student organization or her internship, Huantes logged thousands of hours editing footage. Huantes found various opportunities with Tech Creative Media Association and University Recreation to not only edit, but get behind the camera as well.
“I also got an internship with Texas Tech Public Media and worked alongside professional storytellers such as Paul Hunton and Jonathan Seaborn,” Huantes said. “These are individuals who have produced Emmy Award-winning documentaries and films. Not a lot of people realize there is that talent in Lubbock.”
Beyond technical skills, Huantes was gaining the grit she'd need to make it in the film industry.
“I quickly became used to being the only woman in the room,” Huantes said.
While much emphasis has been placed on female-involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields over the past years, the film and entertainment industries still have a long way to go. In film editing alone, Huantes has discovered 80% of jobs go to white men, leaving few opportunities for women, and even fewer for women of color.
“It's scary being in a male-dominated field,” Huantes said. “I am a Mexican woman and I wear that on my sleeve. But if people aren't willing to treat me the same way they would a man, that's their problem, not mine. At the end of the day, we all want to see the industry better than it was yesterday. A few people don't and that's their loss; they just won't be part of my story.”
Since moving to Hollywood, Huantes joined the Handy Foundation, a nonprofit that is working to close opportunity gaps in the entertainment industry.
“Connecting with Handy has been encouraging because I've networked with people who look like me,” Huantes said. “Growing up, I would watch award shows and rarely see anyone I could identify with, so seeing faces that look like mine is very empowering.”
According to the Handy Foundation, the Latino population only accounts for 7% of the entertainment industry, and most of that percentage is male.
“I want to become the norm in this industry,” Huantes said. “I want other little girls from minority communities to see they can succeed.”
Having more representation in the film industry will also generate better films.
“Editing is an empathic process,” Huantes said. “We speak to experiences and convey perspectives that are not our own. We want people to see or feel something in a film that they've not encountered in their own lives.”
The less diversity there is on set, the less perspective the film might have.
While Huantes certainly brings empathy to the table, she also brings hard work. She was hired to help with the Sundance Film Festival before she even graduated from Texas Tech.
“I got involved with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) when I was an undergraduate,” Huantes said. “During that time, an opportunity arose to broadcast for Sundance. I got to meet other film editors which was so encouraging. Not a lot of people my age focus on editing. It's usually their steppingstone to another role in production.”
Huantes' passion for editing was one key factor that landed her a role at Lionsgate.
“I think the managers sensed I wasn't just using this position as my ticket to directing,” Huantes said. “They sensed my passion for storytelling, and they saw my consistency. That was key. I worked hard and always showed up.”
Soon, Huantes was finishing in one day what was taking other interns a whole week. After just three months, she was promoted into her new role which enabled her to move out to California.
“What I want other women to know more than anything, is that it's possible,” Huantes said. “But, you also won't get there on your own. As much as this is my own success, it also belongs to everyone who has helped me along the way.”
And that is key for the industry's female future.
“We need more women mentoring women,” Huantes said. “I've worked with fantastic male mentors but having a female mentor would be invaluable. That's something I'm still trying to find. So, if you've had success in this industry, please, share it with those coming up under you.”
And as daunting as being the only woman in the room can be, Huantes claims it's only made her stronger.
“Would life be easier if I were a man?” Huantes asked. “I don't know, but I'm going to do the best with what I have. Great films are about different perspectives, and I think I bring a pretty great one to the table.”