We have been about representation since day one. For over fourteen years, WFilm has brought over 600 films to audiences, including feature films, short films, animation, docs, and music videos, representing a diverse range of American and international independent filmmakers. My quest started as a budding filmmaker enrolled in the cinema program at San Francisco State University in 2004, and part of the requirements before taking production classes was taking a Film History II class that covered the history of film from the 1950’s to present. Each day as the lights dimmed and we watched some of the greatest luminaries in the Coppola Theater, I dreamt one day I would watch my movie on the big screen. The semester came and went and we never saw a film directed by a woman, nor was there any discussion about women’s contributions to film history. This was a huge oversight. It was important to me and my classmates to see this missing piece of our history. I come from a matriarchal family: my mom was a single mom and I knew damn well there had to be entrepreneurial women like her running Hollywood. This led me back to the birth of cinema in 1896 where women were integral to the invention of the cinematic language we know of today.
One example of many: In the late 1920s, the industry was in the midst of a transition from silent films to “talkies.” Dorothy Arzner (1897 – 1979) was on the set of one of Paramount’s first talking films, The Wild Party. She tied a microphone to a fishing pole – in effect inventing the first boom microphone. She’d go on to teach Francis Ford Coppola, direct Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, and become the first female member of the Directors Guild of America. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It’s an exciting time for WFilm as the awareness of issues we champion are coming to the forefront. Natalie Portman spoke out about the contenders for Best Director at the 75th Golden Globes noting “the all-male nominees.” Women have only been nominated for the Best Director prize seven times, and Barbara Streisand was the only woman that won for her film Yentl in 1984.
Finally, at the 90th Academy Awards, comedian turned director Jordan Peele became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as the first African American to be nominated for producing, writing, and directing in the same year. He recently hired cultural activist Kamil Oshundara with his production company, Monkeypaw Productions. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the goal of Oshundara’s new role is to improve representation and portrayals of marginalized groups.
At this year’s Oscars, Frances McDormand mentioned the term “inclusion rider.” An ‘inclusion rider’ is a clause that was coined by media researcher Stacy Smith in a TED talk. Her mission is to show more women, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities on screen. Actors can insist an ‘inclusion rider’ clause be added to their contracts: demanding at least 50% diversity, not only in casting but also [in] the crew. Let’s hope these A-Listers are demanding the ‘rider clause’ in their contracts, and making movies that reflect the world in which we live in. There’s no better time than now to ensure more generations of women and marginalized voices will have pathways to careers, leadership roles in filmmaking, and be heard.
Pulling focus from inclusion in Hollywood to our everyday lives, I’d like to share a moment demonstrating the importance of educating our kids on inclusion early. Last year, I dropped my daughter off at daycare, and my daycare provider told me another kid told my daughter, age 3, that she couldn’t be a superhero because she’s a girl. On the drive home, I felt so heartbroken and helpless for my daughter. I was crushed. It made me think about all those moments growing up in a world with my peers telling me I couldn’t do certain things because I was a girl. I picked myself out of my stupor and showed her kickass female superheroes so that she knows this dream is achievable. I bought her some books for us to read together to let her know that she’s capable of anything that she sets her mind to, regardless of her gender.
Making a film is a huge feat. As I look back on my personal growth and career path, I recall the humble beginnings as a budding film student at San Francisco State University wanting to write, shoot, and bring my vision to the world. Along the way, I encountered my fair share of gender bias as a filmmaker. A dear friend and I would always go to film networking events together, and people just assumed that I must be his production assistant. It was beyond annoying, but it hasn’t stopped me from moving full steam ahead and putting in the work to become a better storyteller and filmmaker. Our dreams are attainable, our voices matter, and my advice to anyone is that if someone tells you that your stories aren’t fundable, mainstream, or box office worthy — it is time to prove them wrong. Never give up because sometimes you have to hear a ton of “No’s” to get that one greenlighted “Yes.”
This is why I’m proud to share with you that WFilm is developing a multi-pronged approach to increasing creative leadership and representation in the media with a new suite of free to affordable artist development programs to help you solve some of your challenges as filmmakers.
Every film and filmmaker is unique, and each project has its own set of challenges. We want to learn more about the barriers that exist for you as a filmmaker. I’m asking for your help today by taking our survey: http://wfilm.org/2018/03/survey/. It will take less than 2 minutes.
Together we can work collaboratively to increase the dismal statistics of representation in the entertainment industry and beyond, and work to build strategies and programs that lead to success. I hope you enjoy the blog. Just by reading this you are part of the movement to ensure our voices are visible.