USC alumna gives fresh take on classic cinema

Kennedy Hill stands in a room filled with lights that are strung from the ceiling.
Kennedy Reed wears many hats: actress, singer-songwriter and artist. (Photo courtesy of Jackson Case.)

On any given weekend, the dulcet tones of Cary Grant’s voice and countless other Hollywood stars from days gone by would fill the Reed household. Curled up in her pajamas, Kennedy Reed grew up watching Turner Classic Movies with her mom. A tradition passed down by her grandmother, the two would spend hours captivated by the breathtaking performances of Hollywood’s finest. 

Reed discovered her interest in filmmaking as a child. But it wasn’t until college that her passion for classic cinema would take root through the creation of her digital platform, Gold Souls. 

Reed, a 2020 graduate who majored in cinematic arts, film and television production, started Gold Souls as an apparel shop on Red Bubble in 2017. Since then, Gold Souls has grown into a YouTube channel with a presence on Instagram and, most recently, TikTok. 

With the slogan, “Look back. Move forward.,” Reed uses Gold Souls to share both her love and criticism of vintage pop culture by presenting retro movies, fashion and music in a new way that is engaging for younger generations. Through Gold Souls, Reed hopes to create aesthetic content but with the long-term goal of educating and telling stories from bygone eras to today’s youth. 

“I feel like, as a Black woman, I bring a unique perspective,”  Reed said. “And my hope is [that] other Black girls will watch my channel and feel like, ‘Okay, cool. It’s okay for me to exist in this space and community. And if anyone tries to tell me that I can’t, if I know my history, then I have every right to be here.’” 

The Golden Age of Hollywood is an important cornerstone of Los Angeles history and as college students living in this city, Reed hopes that her peers will take the time to educate themselves on the injustices against, as well as the achievements of, Black artists at that time. 

“They had so much put against them. They were really struggling to be able to just exist, let alone create art,” Reed said. “The fact they push[ed] through and persevere[d], despite all of that, laid the groundwork for what I’m able to do. I stand on the shoulders of those people every single day.” 

Journey to classic cinema

Reed’s all-encompassing love for artistic expression allows her to wear many different hats: actress, singer-songwriter, content creator and digital artist, to name a few. A true Renaissance woman, art for Reed — in all its forms — is a way to escape, heal and reflect on the past. 

One of the strong motivators for the Gold Souls YouTube channel came from Reed’s two years at the TCM Classic Film Festival, spending her days with the TCM marketing team and running between theaters for screenings. For Reed, this is the best way to watch classic cinema as it’s the closest anyone will get to the original viewing experience one would have had in the 1940s or 1950s. After the festivals, Reed started making videos to share her experience and posted her first festival recap along with the Gold Souls trailer in April 2019. 

But the real launching point for the YouTube channel was an occupational therapy class Reed took at USC called “Creativity Workshop.” Under the guidance of Kim Eggleston, an assistant professor of occupational therapy, Reed got the push she needed to take Gold Souls to the next level. 

“It kind of changed my life as far as just creative confidence and really understanding the creative process and how to kind of care for your ‘inner artist,’” Reed said. “And I ended up making the Gold Souls channel trailer for my final project in that class. And that’s what really kicked it off.” 

For many in Reed’s cohort at SCA, the YouTube channel really seemed to pop up over night and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. 

“Everyone knew that Kennedy was the gal for Old Hollywood glamour,” TJ Ryan, a 2020 graduate who majored in cinematic arts, film and television production, said. “Kennedy has always been so genuine and authentic in her love for that medium, and sort of that world that you couldn’t really help but follow along and be … eager to delve down those roads with her.” 

Gold Souls

On the channel, the breadth of Reed’s knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood is truly astonishing. In her videos, Reed discusses everything from her collection of vintage Vogue magazines and the hot gossip between Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, to her favorite Hollywood history books and classic films starring Black actors. 

“Her work is so impressively researched. She knows the backstories to every single person that she references, she understands the interconnected relationships between all these people and how that manifested in the work,” Madi Boll, a 2020 graduate who majored in cinematic arts, film and television production, said. “That is only something that people can gain from hours and hours of reading.” 

Reed acknowledges that finding ways to make the old more palatable to a modern audience can be tricky; particularly when it comes to generating interest in black and white films. 

For Reed, it’s the storyline that really matters the most. If people are willing to look past the outdated filmmaking techniques, she believes that they’ll be pleasantly surprised. 

“What I try to do at Gold Souls is to repackage some of those things in a fresh way that will hopefully get young people interested and influence them to want to check stuff out,” Reed said. 

On the Gold Souls Instagram page, Reed creates a unified aesthetic with warm colors and scrapbook-like composition where each of the posts compliments the other. Video clips, vintage photos and an occasional period portrait of Reed are surrounded by doodles and objects symbolizing the era. 

Reed is currently building up a similar aesthetic on her TikTok page. 

“The aesthetic qualities to it are so clearly and meticulously thought out,” Boll said. “She has done such a good job of finding the qualities in the medium and sort of the history that she loves, but also making it so visually attractive that there’s no way that anyone within our generation could discount the fact that what she’s doing is really pretty damn impressive.” 

Black Hollywood 

Because of these misconceptions and others, Reed believes that young people — especially young people of color — need to be introduced to classic cinema in the right way. Another reason younger generations tend to lack excitement for Old Hollywood is due to the lack of diverse representation. 

Whether in front of or behind the camera, Black creatives such as actresses Ethel Waters and Hattie McDaniel, dancers like the Nicholas Brothers and directors like Oscar Micheaux and groundbreaking films like “Cabin In the Sky” and “Paris Blues” made their mark on the film industry. 

“Cancel culture can be problematic,” Reed said. “If we pretend that Hollywood wasn’t racist by erasing racist films, I feel like then we’re discrediting what people like Harry Belafonte or Sidney Poitier or Lena Horne had to go through. So I feel we just have to contextualize them properly, not so much cancel them, but perhaps change the conversation around these films.” 

Reed also encourages people to go beyond the screen by reading up on Hollywood history. She recommends starting with author Donald Bogle, who is one of the leading authorities on Black Hollywood. Reed believes that his books and others can help the modern moviegoer learn more about Black creatives and how their experience differed from their white colleagues in the industry. 

“A lot of the people in the vintage community are totally open about criticizing the past eras and, and a lot of them use this phrase called ‘vintage style, not vintage values,’” Reed said. 

By using this phrase and the slogan of Gold Souls — “Look back. Move forward.” — Reed wants her generation to understand that people can appreciate the artistry of classic cinema and still be critical of the era. 

“People dress[ed] beautifully back then [and] I like the way people talk, I like the music, it’s just kind of a fun escape and it’s just an interesting way to learn about the past,” Reed said. “But more than that, I think as a woman of color, as a Black woman, knowing my history empowers me.” 

Still, Reed has found that some people don’t understand how she can have an interest in the culture from a time that was so oppressive to people of color. But Reed says that there are quite a few Black women in the vintage internet community, it’s just that they’re very underrepresented and can be difficult to find given that vintage YouTube content tends to be heavily marketed to white people. 

“People don’t expect a Black woman to be interested in some of the things I’m interested in. So I kind of like that, because it kind of shows people not to put people in a box,” Reed said. 

Ever the optimist, Reed hopes to use Gold Souls to bring attention to the vintage internet community and to continue the conversation on the contributions of Old Hollywood artists of color. 

“They left behind a legacy of strength, resilience and excellence that we should fight to preserve and use to educate ourselves,” Reed said.

Looking to the future

Reed hopes to continue growing Gold Souls. While the YouTube channel is still her main focus, Reed sees TikTok as an opportunity to catch people’s attention with her DIY content to then direct them to her longer YouTube videos. In the long term, Reed would like to see Gold Souls become a resource for creatives to learn from one another. Samantha Sadoff, a 2020 graduate who majored in cinematic arts, film and television production, shares that sentiment. 

“Her passion with this project is so immense, that it’s not something she would walk away from,” Sadoff said. “She has the ability to take this project and turn it into something bigger, like her own production company … possibly even consulting and advising with studios today about how to bring back some of that nostalgia and some of that romance of these old Hollywood films.” 

While the pandemic has disrupted the film industry and other creative fields, Reed’s friends and peers all believe that she’s the type of person who will excel at whatever she sets her mind to. 

“Everything Kennedy touches turns to gold,” Ryan said. “Whether that be in front of the camera, as an actress, or behind the camera, as a creator.”