Women in Film

Ava DuVernay Is in the Door-Making Business

Ava DuVernay is a force for change in Hollywood. And when we say force, we mean category-5 hurricane force. Her mission is to make Hollywood more “inclusive,” not just diverse. She’s fighting to not just open up old long-closed doors, but to also build new ones for women and people of color in the entertainment industry.

And as the first Black female director to helm a movie with an over $100-million budget (A Wrinkle in Time, 2018), 2017 has given her the biggest door-building opportunity yet.

“The images in our minds that make up our memories are all told by one kind of person, one kind of background. It shouldn’t be this way.”

To say Hollywood has an inclusivity problem is a massive understatement, particularly when it comes to women — and especially women of color. A recent University of Southern California study found that only four percent of the 1,000 top-grossing films during the last 10 years were directed by women.Only three of these films were directed by Black women, three by Asian women and one by a Latina.

In light of those grim stats, DuVernay’s successful rise to the status of powerhouse director is one of the most unlikely. She didn’t start her directing career until 2008, when she self-financed a documentary at the age of 36 after years of being a film publicist. Her first major studio success, Selma (2014) — which also made DuVernay the first Black female director to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award — happened within six short years.

Remaining Time -1:22

DuVernay has since seen massive success with the OWN network series Queen Sugar and the groundbreaking 2016 documentary, 13th for Netflix, which explored the “intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.” The latter was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary and won four Emmy awards.

But DuVernay isn’t just resting on those laurels; she’s looking to make a sea change. Following the success of Selma, the directing powerhouse expanded her film distribution company to become ARRAY, dedicated to getting more independent films by women and filmmakers of color out in the world. And on Queen Sugar, she set out to build a crew of minorities and women both on set and in the writer’s room, and chose all women directors for season two of the show.

“If the person who gets to tell the story is always one kind of person, if the dominant images that we see throughout our lifetimes, our mothers’ lifetimes, our grandmothers’ lifetimes, have been dominated by one kind of person, and we take that? We internalize it. We drink it in, as true, as fact,” DuVernay wrote in Time magazine earlier this year. “The images in our minds that make up our memories are all told by one kind of person, one kind of background. It shouldn’t be this way. That is a deficit to us. A deficit to the culture.”

Among the biggest risks DuVernay has taken on in her mission is in her forthcoming adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle classic novel A Wrinkle in Time. Starting last year, she showed just how daring she could be by casting young Storm Reid, a Black actress, in the role of main character Meg Murry, who was traditionally depicted as white. From there, DuVernay went on to add more diverse actresses to the mix, including Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which.

When the film’s trailer debuted earlier this year and we got our first glimpse of Meg, it caused quite a stir. Alongside the praise of a more modern Wrinkle came reactions from those who thought DuVernay was aiming to politicize a childhood favorite.

“You’re seeing worlds being built from the point of view of a black woman from Compton,” she said at this year’s New Yorker Festival. “So when I’m told, ‘Create a planet.’ My planet is going to look different from my white-male counterparts’ planet, which we’ve seen 97 percent of the time, so you’re used to seeing that.”

Moving into 2018, DuVernay’s poised to have her biggest year yet. A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters in March, Queen Sugar has been renewed for a third season, and she’ll begin a new series for Netflix on the Central Park Five, part of a first-look TV deal with Oprah’s Harpo Films. Along the way, she’ll also keep chipping away at that mission, opening her own doors, and breaking her own glass ceilings.

This profile is part of our new project “Year in Women.” Check out all the women featured:

 

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Women’s Voices Heard at AFM

Women’s Voices Heard At American Film Market

Geena Davis
“The Future Is Female” session sparks lively discussion, cites problems, points to progress; Overall AFM shows gains in attendance, exhibitors

Known for drumming up business, the recently concluded American Film Market & Conferences also generated food for thought, particularly during an AFM session presented in partnership with the Alliance of Women Directors. Titled “The Future Is Female,” the panel discussion identified problems in the marketplace as well as signs of progress–both of which were touched upon, for example, by Jennifer Warren, chairperson and founder of the Alliance of Women Directors, in her introductory remarks.

Warren noted that 94 percent of feature films are directed by men. This lack of parity in the workplace is detrimental to society, she affirmed, citing the importance “for women and girls growing up to have role models and to see things from a woman’s point of view.”

She added that striving for hiring parity is good business, as proven by FX which instituted a program to get women to direct half of its content. Last year, said Warren, FX attained that 50-50 balance and saw its ratings go up 15 percent. Contending that a woman’s POV offered a fresh perspective to storylines and characters, helping to boost Nielsen numbers, Warren then turned the stage over to discussion moderator Wendy Calhoun, a Writers Guild Award nominee (and producer) for Nashville and Justified, and four panelists: Geena Davis, an Oscar-winning actress (The Accidental Tourist), who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; director Jen McGowan (Kelly & Cal, the upcoming Rust Creek); and Catherine Hand and Jim Whitaker, producers of A Wrinkle in Time, the Disney feature slated for release in March 2018. Based on the novel of the same title by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the first feature with a budget of $100 million-plus to be directed by a woman of color, with that historic achievement being made by Ava DuVernay. A Wrinkle in Time features a cast which includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine.

Davis noted that the launch of the research institute bearing her name was sparked in part by her noticing that children’s programming seemed to feature a disproportionate number of male characters. She saw the need for delving more deeply into this from a research standpoint, confirming that “there are profoundly more male characters than female characters in the content we are showing our kids. Female characters don’t take up half the space, aren’t doing interesting things, aren’t leaders, are more hypersexualized…The worst  ratio of male to female characters is in what’s aimed at kids 11 years old and under. We are training kids from the beginning to have unconscious gender bias.”

Feature films also don’t have much to boast of when it comes to casting diversity. According to Davis, “The ratio of male to female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946.” She noted that most think the percentages have gotten better when there have been certain turning points over the years such as Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, featuring two strong female characters, including Davis’ Oscar-nominated performance as Thelma. “You think that this [breakthroughs like Thelma & Louise] changes everything but nothing has changed,” said Davis.

Still she thinks that exposing gender bias and its negative impact on casting and society has resulted in more people proactively looking to improve the situation–but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to those who have the power to hire directors. “Directing is a completely different problem that I don’t think is unconscious. People who are creating content that is gender biased are horrified to find out and immediately want to do better. The fact that there are no women directors is not a secret and hasn’t been for decades yet no one is making the change.”

Technology is also advancing to help the Davis Institute in its endeavors. “We have a brand new tool that never existed before to do our research with–Google gave a grant to develop the software that uses face and voice recognition to tell us how many female and male characters are in film and television, but also how much screen time they have and how many lines they have, down to the millisecond. It is very revealing and horrifying; far fewer characters are female and the ones that are, are on-screen less and talk less.”

On the casting front, Davis shared several other insights with AFM attendees. “In movies with female leads, the male supporting character is onscreen an equal amount, however if there is a male lead, the female counterpart is only on-screen 25 percent of the time.”

Davis continued, “When women are talking, they are onscreen less than when men are talking (the shot is cutting to something else), so now we need to talk to the editors! Unconscious bias is happening on every possible level.”

Moderator Calhoun, who’s currently working on a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff, said that re-writing certain characters to be female instead of male in TV and features, can help to address the situation.

Director McGowan said she  makes it clear on her projects that diversity is a must. “I do not want to see an all white, all straight, all male crew.”

Sadly, coming up the commercialmaking ranks, McGowan witnessed a profound lack of women. “For 20 years I worked in commercials; I never worked with a female first AV, grip department, electrical, and only three female directors (and only one who worked regularly). Those are all union and really high paying jobs, jobs that filmmakers use to supplement creative careers, and those are completely shut off to women.”

McGowan has set up Film Powered, a networking and skill sharing tool for female professionals in the industry. It is a free, membership based community of over 1,300 vetted women offering classes, social events and job postings designed to increase the skills and strengthen the contacts of and relationships between its members in an effort towards gender parity in the business. She advised AFM session attendees to check out her filmpowered.com site.

A Wrinkle in Time
Producers Hand and Whitaker discussed A Wrinkle in Time, a film which has been a lifelong dream for Hand whose storied career includes collaborating over the years with iconic TV series creator Norman Lear.

“When I was a little girl,” recalled Hand, “I read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and I thought it would make a great movie so I wrote a letter to Walt Disney to say he should make the film and that I wanted to play Meg. I never sent the letter and on December 15, 1966, when he passed away, I cried because I felt so guilty for not sending it, because no one else would make that movie. That day I promised myself I was going to grow up and find someone to make it. That was 50 years ago.”

It was worth the wait as Hand and Whitaker both said they treasured the experience of working with DuVernay. Hand said that DuVernay make it a point to seek out female and minority talent for her crew. For industry vet Whitaker, DuVernay was the first woman director with whom he’s collaborated. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he assessed–so much so that Whitaker is gearing up for a feature which too will have a female director. He provided some backstory for the pending project which he wasn’t yet at liberty to publicly discuss in full detail.

Whitaker, shared, “Most of my other films, candidly, were male driven films; can’t say that was by design; it comes down to the stories, finding stories that have, for me, an emotionality and hopefulness. I’m working on a story now that is all female…and an incredible true story; I would say influenced by the experience on Wrinkle, we made a contractual necessity that a female director make the film. It’s important for stories to be told from female perspective in general, not just for female-driven stories.”

Hand sees cause for optimism. “I think that the world is changing and we are in a really wonderful time. Women are in more powerful positions and have the pocketbook more than ever before.” She added, “Middle aged women are a market; when they start to realize we matter, they start to make product for us.”

Hand offered aspiring women filmmakers a simple piece of advice. “Don’t give up.” Alluding to the ability to post work and find audiences online, Hand affirmed, “In today’s world, you have so many opportunities to be heard.”

Increased attendance
Exhibitor and attendee numbers were up at the overall AFM. In total, 7,415 participants visited the event’s prime venue, the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, as attendance rose by 6%. The market also saw 1,476 buyers arrive from 71 countries with China and Taiwan each seeing growth of 35% more buyers.

Overall exhibitor participation was up 18% with 445 registered exhibiting companies, with the largest number of exhibitors arriving from the United Kingdom, France, South Korea, and China, after the U.S.

AFM Conferences drew an international audience of more than 700 each day listening closely to advice and insights from the likes of Cassian Elwes (Producer/Agent), Jesse Sisgold, (Skydance Media), Adrian Alperovich (OddLot Entertainment), Tobin Armbrust (Virgin Produced),  Rebecca Cammarata (Stay Gold Features), Brian O’Shea (The Exchange), Alison Thompson (Cornerstone Films) and Sam Brown (STXfilms).

In addition to “The Future Is Female,” AFM Roundtables included sessions on Documentaries, Faith & Family films and LGBTQ representation in cinema.

The newly introduced Writer’s Workshop also proved to be a highly popular addition to the AFM experience with instructors from USC and UCLA teaching audiences of 400.

The AFM Campus was busier than ever as attendees took in screenings of 337 films (40 more than last year), including 264 market premieres and 61 world premieres. An additional 78 films screened on demand.

The American Film Market & Conferences is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance.

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How TV Writer Angela Nissel Is Bringing Her Unique Voice to Tyler

the Creator’s The Jellies, and Why Black Female Writers in Hollywood Need to Be Heard

Angela Nissel; scenes from The Jellies (Adult Swim)

If you took a look at the writers’ room of some of your favorite television shows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a black person, and even harder pressed to find a black woman. But for the last decade, Angela Nissel has been leaving her mark behind the scenes on shows like Scrubs, The Boondocks and, now, The Jellies—Tyler, the Creator’s Adult Swim show, which premieres Oct. 22.

Before Nissel’s foray into scripted television, she was best-known as one of the creators of Okayplayer and for her two sidesplitting memoirs that captured the essence of her formative years, and of being broke and biracial. Both The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke and Mixed: My Life in Black and White were heralded by critics, as well as the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry, and Nissel became the “it” woman of literature in the early 2000s.

It was those books that set the University of Pennsylvania grad (she graduated with a degree in medical anthropology) on her way to a career in TV. But, of course, Nissel’s ascent into television writing wasn’t easy, especially as a black woman. After being in the game for 15 years, she is still fighting her way into writers’ rooms, and she made it into The Jellies’ room even though she thought she hadn’t landed the gig.

“Me being old enough to be Tyler’s aunt, I said, ‘I’ve heard of him,’ but I don’t really know him. And then I researched him. I was nervous in the meeting, but when Tyler came in, he just wanted to get to know about me. Ten minutes later, the meeting was over. I called my agent and was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that job; they thought I was a total nerd,’” Nissel says.

As luck talent would have it, Nissel landed the consulting-producer-and-writing gig on the series, and so her work began. And, yes, she was once again the only black woman in the writers’ room. As Nissel segues back into animation (after lending her talents to The Boondocks), she notes that writing live action and books is totally different from writing for animation, especially when it comes to the fans.

“In books, everything you write, even typos, it’s your fault. When it’s live-action TV, people tend to realize there’s a writer behind the words,” Nissel says. “But in animation, people fall completely in love with those characters. I’ve never worked on anything quite like animation, where the fans are so into it. And with the way Tyler’s fans are, I can only imagine the response the show will receive,” Nissel says.

To call Tyler’s fans “die-hard” would be an understatement. From his music to his cartoons, they’re nothing if not loyal. Both Tyler and co-creator Lionel Boyce, who make up Odd Future, premiered The Jellies on Tyler’s Golf Media app in 2015. Some may think the premise of a family of jellyfish adopting a human boy strange, but to them, chances are it’s not.


The Jellies follows in the footsteps of cartoons like The Boondocks in that it is created by young black men. But as Nissel lends her comedy and writing expertise to yet another animated series, the question remains: Why is there still a lack of black people, particularly women, in Hollywood when it comes to writing? Veterans in the game, like Nissel, have paved the way for the Issa Raes out there, but it’s still a drop in the bucket.

“I’m usually the only black woman in the writers’ room. I remember I pitched a really shitty joke one time, but Tyler said, ‘No, maybe women will understand the joke.’ He was so good about listening to my point of view, where sometimes, in other writers’ rooms, I would get shut down,” Nissel says. “When you’re immediately shut down, you don’t feel like you ever have the space to speak up again. But he always gave me that space to feel free to speak my mind.”

It’s that aspect of being shut down that many writers have to deal with when they’re in the minority. Earlier this year, Tyler quickly had to shut down a question from a fan during Comic-Con, when he decided to change Cornell, the main character in The Jellies, from a white teen to a black teen.

“How many fucking black cartoon characters is it on TV right now?” Tyler responded. “Name five. I’ll give you time.”

Nissel shares similar sentiments about Cornell’s newfound blackness.

“If you don’t like Cornell being black, color him another color in your head. What is wrong with people wanting to see the representation of themselves on-screen?” Nissel asks. “That’s why I think their generation will do better, and hopefully build on what my old-ass generation wasn’t able to do. Tyler is an outsider coming into this industry and wants Cornell to look like him. I don’t understand how anyone can be upset with that.”


After watching the first two episodes of the new season, I was left wondering one simple thing: “WTF?” And it wasn’t a bad “WTF?” either. More like amazement at how and why jellyfish are living among humans and raising a black kid. Even with Cornell going through his own self-discovery and having jellyfish as parents, shortly after the 15-minute cartoon starts, you actually forget they’re even jellyfish. Especially when it comes to Cornell’s mother, who is a combination of Tyler’s and Lionel’s moms. She definitely has the whole “I’m tired of your shit” down to a T when dealing with her jellyfish husband.

“Cornell’s mom is so tired of her husband,” Nissel says. “He reminds me of my ex-husband, and that’s why it was funny to write her. If you had a husband like that, you’re going to drink just to forget about it. I look at her as the epitome of someone who’s had a hard upbringing and a hard life.”

In The Jellies season premiere, Cornell has to deal with his parents fighting, primarily over his father’s spending habits, and he decides to track down his parents’ favorite R&B singer, who ignited their love for each other.

So where does a teenager go to track down someone who was popular back in the day? The Gangster’s Paradise retirement home, of course. And yes, a life-size statue of Coolio welcomes each visitor. Viewers will also notice little jabs here and there at celebrities, as well as some pretty on-point pop-culture references. Basically, nothing is sacred.

People watching the cartoon will soon realize that the comedy isn’t for the faint of heart. Nissel realizes that and helped set the tone by cautioning against certain things making it from the script into the show.

“Sometimes I would say, ‘This may be going a little too far.’ Even if [Cornell’s mother] is a jellyfish, people might be offended. Sometimes you have to be that person, when you’re the only one in the room, to educate people on how others may view things,” Nissel says. “So, sometimes I’ve had to be the person to say, ‘Yeah, we’re all laughing in this room, but we all have the same type of humor. But when it gets outside of the room, it could be viewed differently.’”


As someone who has watched Nissel’s career and who considers her a black-writer heroine, I know she has experienced it all: from people promising to turn books into movies, to seeing others get their careers catapulted, all because they were social media famous, and most importantly, having to be somewhat of the oracle for everyone who isn’t white.

Adult Swim

“Being forced, till this day, to speak up for everyone who is not white is my biggest gripe. When they turn to you and ask, ‘What do you think a handicapped person would say about this?’ Having that burden of having to speak for everybody, when even among our own community, we all have different points of view,” Nissel relates.

“And then having to hold your breath when something comes out because you realize just because it has ‘written by you’ on it, [but] it has to go through the editor, studio and network, and someone is going to find fault in it. As an artist, you want people to be happy. In this day and age, when outrage sells, you don’t want people to be upset about something you create,” Nissel continues. “There’s not a lot of black women, or women, period, in comedy. We’re just exiting the era of ‘Women aren’t funny.’ We’re just now getting a black woman late-night talk show host. It’s slowly coming around.”

With the success of this summer’s blockbuster hit Girls Trip, the spotlight is now shining on funny black women in front of and behind the camera. And Nissel has some savory advice for the bigwigs in Hollywood.

“I wish more people realize that having one voice in the room sometimes isn’t enough because you’re only going to get one point of view. At the end of the day, I just wish people would go outside of the neighborhoods and make friends with people who aren’t exactly like them, so they can bring that to the room if they don’t have the budget to hire 25 women,” Nissel says.

“I really want to create shows that show that women over the age of 40 still have lives, and they can be messy,” she adds. “To talk about the imbalance of women and men, like my own personal story of paying alimony. I want to tell the richness of women of color over 40 because sometimes I look on TV and we’re all dead, except for Oprah.”

Nissel doesn’t mince words, and as far as The Jellies are concerned, it’s coming out at the right time. Between the doom and gloom of a Trump presidency, sex scandals and everything else shitty in the world, laughter is definitely going to be the best medicine that you don’t need health insurance for.

“I have grown tired of watching TV that shows the bad of the world. You go online and everyone is ranting about something horrible” she says. “The Jellies is a big bowl of WTF. It’s 15 minutes of Easter eggs and fun hip-hop references. It’s like traveling to a world of where jellyfish and humans co-exist. And you can just forget everything for 15 minutes. It’s just pure silly comedy, and I think that’s something comedy has gotten away from.”

The Jellies premieres on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.

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About the author

Yesha Callahan

Deputy Managing Editor. Don’t start none, won’t be none.

Ayesha Curry Inks Deal

…With Endemol Shine North America

TV and social media personality, best-selling author and chef Ayesha Curry has signed an exclusive deal with Endemol Shine North America. Under the pact, the studio will develop original unscripted content with Curry and Flutie Entertainment’s Yardie Girl Productions for Curry to both appear in and also executive produce. In addition, Endemol Shine North America will work in conjunction with Flutie Entertainment, supplementing its work on licensing and brand partnerships for Curry.

Curry, who has redefined the content distribution model and has millions of social media followers, is set to co-host ABC’s upcoming season of The Great American Baking Show and hosts her own series, Ayesha’s Home Kitchen, on Food Network.

“Ayesha is re-defining the way audiences connect with celebrities, brands and content and we’re thrilled to have her joining the Endemol Shine family,” said Sharon Levy, President, Unscripted and Scripted Television, Endemol Shine North America. “We’re already developing a number of potentially ground-breaking projects with Ayesha to front and we’re collaborating with her to executive produce others with our team.”

“From the very first meeting I knew that Endemol Shine was a great fit for me,” says Curry. “I believe that in today’s media landscape, we can create and distribute content on multiple platforms, while remaining fresh and relevant. Endemol Shine North America CEO Cris Abrego and Sharon Levy openly supported my vision of being able to push limits and be on multiple platforms and their creative spirit and enthusiasm made me feel comfortable and at home.”

Flutie Entertainment discovered Curry through her local Bay Area access show, Cooking with the Currys, and has been serving as her management firm since 2014.

Curry, who has had a life-long interest in food and is a self-taught chef, was encouraged by her husband to start a blog that parlayed itself into a YouTube channel and ultimately into TV and book deals. Curry also recently launched her own meal kit company, Homemade, and her line of cookware is now available at Target stores and will be released at retailers nationwide next month.

Her restaurant International Smoke, in partnership with Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina, has locations in Waikiki, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Curry, who is the mother of two daughters, Riley and Ryan, and married to NBA superstar Stephen Curry, was announced as one of CoverGirl’s newest brand ambassadors in September. For her first role as the newest CoverGirl, Curry will be starring in a national campaign that launches in October.

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These Emmy Winners Made History

Wins by women and people of color broke new ground in Hollywood.

September 18, 2017

Amid the glitz and glam and—of course—political commentary of the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, there was also history making and barrier breaking.

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and HBO’s Veep were the big winners Sunday night, taking home the coveted prizes for Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series, respectively. But among the other awards handed out, several wins by women and people of color broke new ground in Hollywood.

Donald Glover became the first black person to win an Emmy for directing a comedy series for his work on FX’s Atlanta. Glover won a second award Sunday night, receiving the nod for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, again for Atlanta. It’s been 32 years since a person of color won in that category.

Lena Waithebecame the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy, when she—along with Aziz Ansari—nabbed the statue for Best Writing for a Comedy Series for Netflix’s Master of None. In accepting the award, Waithe delivered a powerful speech, thanking the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community.

“I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers—every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it,” she said. “And for everybody out there that showed so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago. We appreciate it more than you could ever know.”

Riz Ahmed, meanwhile, won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his starring role in The Night Of on HBO. The honor made him the first man of South Asian descent and the second Asian entertainer ever to win an Emmy.

Amid the wins by relative newcomers, television veteran Julia Louis-Dreyfus snagged the statue for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep. Louis-Dreyfus’s win—her sixth consecutive for Veep—broke Candice Bergen’s record of Emmy wins for a single role (Murphy Brown) and tied Cloris Leachman’s record eight Emmy wins by a single performer.

Meanwhile, other prizes awarded Sunday night broke lengthy Emmy droughts. This Is Us star Sterling Brown, for instance, became the first black actor to win in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series category in 19 years. Likewise, Reed Morano, director of The Handmaid’s Tale, was the first woman to win an Emmy for Best Directing in a Drama Series since 1995 when Mimi Leder took home the honor for ER.

The history-making wins of women and people of color on Sunday night are especially notable since Hollywood, in the wake of the #OscarSoWhite controversy, continues to endure criticism for its lack of diversity.

 

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Lena Waithe Breaks Down …

…What It’s Really Like to Be a Black Woman in Hollywood

Image via Getty

Earlier this year, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to be nominated for an Emmy for comedy writing for her work on “Thanksgiving,” one of the best and most acclaimed episodes of the last season of Netflix’s Master of None. But Waithe is by no means resting on her laurels. She’s also producing her own series for Showtime called The Chi, has a role in the upcoming Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One, and has been getting Whoopi Goldberg on the phone (okay, that’s an old story).

Waithe sat down for an interview with The Atlantic to talk about her career, the challenge in “selling complex minority characters,” and what her experience has been navigating Hollywood. And in true Lena Waithe fashion, she told it the way it was, giving us some really interesting insight on what it’s like for women of color in entertainment:

Honestly, [I learned about] decorum and the way specifically black women have to carry themselves in this industry. You can’t be pissed about a note, you can’t be angry about the way that something is happening, you can’t be unhappy about the creative process. When you handle it, you have to be Claire Underwood in House of Cards.

In that town, there is still a stigma that goes along with being a woman, particularly a woman of color, where people already want to label you difficult or not easy to work with. It’s happened to me. So we ultimately have to navigate this industry in a different way. We have to sometimes be kind to people who aren’t kind to us, we sometimes have to be polite, even when we’re not in the mood, we have to handle dealing with executives in a different way because otherwise we run the risk of being put in industry jail.

We’ve seen the films and shows. We’ve seen the data. We know for a fact that women of color are immensely underrepresented in entertainment, even though Hollywood is (slowly) waking up to the fact that it’s not the people “in charge” who are creating the culture that people actually want. But hearing what the experience is actually like, and what it takes to keep moving forward, is important and makes the success of women like Ava DuvernayGina Prince-BythewoodShonda Rhimes, and Waithe herself all the more notable.

Read the full interview here.

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84 Films By and About Women of Color

… Courtesy of Ava DuVernay and the Good People of Twitter

If you were on Twitter recently, you might have seen
director Ava DuVernay’s clever call to social media to name films with “black,
brown, native or Asian women leads” which were also directed by women.

Though it seems like common sense that these films exist,
the question proved to be a serious challenge for Twitter, with many listing
the same handful of titles.

The clear point is that there are too few films that fit the
above criteria, and that those of us claiming to support diversity in
entertainment should do our part to change that. All of this helps bolster the
case for DuVernay’s AFFRM + Array
Releasing
, which distributes black films and is in the midst of an annual
membership drive.

With efforts like AFFRM, the ACLU’s
push for an investigation into Hollywood’s hiring practices
and other recent
initiatives for the inclusion of women and diverse voices in film, change
appears to be on the horizon.

In the meantime, here’s a list of the films that Twitter
came up with starring women of color and helmed by women directors. When
cross-referenced with data sources from The Black
List
, Shadow
& Act
and others, there were about 85 titles that fit the bill.

Find them below. Watch, enjoy and most importantly, support!

“35 Shots of Rum” by
Claire Denis (2008)

“A Different Image” by
Alile Sharon Larkin (1982)

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at
Night” by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

“Advantageous” by
Jennifer Phang (2015)

“Ala Modalaindi” by
Nandini Bv Reddy (2011)

“All About You” by
Christine Swanson (2001)

“Alma’s Rainbow” by
Ayoka Chenzira (1994)

“Appropriate Behavior”
by Desiree Akhavan (2014)

“B For Boy” by Chika
Anadu (2013)

“Bande de Filles/Girlhood”
by Céline Sciamma (2014)

“Belle” by Amma Asante
(2013)

“Bend it Like Beckham”
by Gurinder Chadha (2002)

“Bessie” by Dee Rees
(2015)

“Beyond the Lights” by
Gina Prince-Bythewood (2014)

“Bhaji on the Beach” by
Gurinder Chadha (1993)

“Caramel” by Nadine
Labaki  (2007)

“Circumstance” by Maryam
Keshavarz (2011)

“Civil Brand” by Neema
Barnette (2002)

“Compensation” by
Zeinabu irene Davis (1999)

“Daughters of the Dust”
by Julie Dash (1991)

“Double Happiness ” by
Mina Shum (1994)

“Down in the Delta” by Maya
Angelou (1998)

“Drylongso” by Cauleen
Smith (1988)

“Earth” by Deepa Mehta
(1998)

“Elza” by Mariette
Monpierre (2011)

“Endless Dreams” by
Susan Youssef (2009

“Eve’s Bayou” by Kasi
Lemmons (1997)

“Fire” by Deepa Mehta
(1996)

“Frida” by Julie Taymor
(2002)

“Girl in Progress” by
Patricia Riggen (2012)

“Girlfight” by Karyn
Kusama (2000)

“Habibi Rasak Kharban”
by Susan Youssef (2011)

“Hiss Dokhtarha Faryad
Nemizanand (Hush! Girls Don’t Scream)” by Pouran Derahkandeh (2013)

“Honeytrap” by Rebecca
Johnson (2014)

“I Like It Like That” by
Darnell Martin (1994)

“I Will Follow” by Ava
DuVernay (2010

“In Between Days” by
So-yong Kim (2006)

“Introducing Dorothy
Dandridge” by Martha Coolidge (1999)

“It’s a Wonderful
Afterlife” by Gurinder Chadha (2010)

“Jumpin Jack Flash” by
Penny Marshall (1986)

“Just Another Girl on the
IRT” by Leslie Harris (1992)

“Just Wright” by Sanaa
Hamri (2010)

“Kama Sutra” by Mira
Nair (1996)

“Losing Ground” by
Kathleen Collins (1982)

“Love & Basketball”
by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2000)

“Luck by Chance” by Zoya
Akhtar (2009)

“Mi Vida Loca” by
Allison Anders (1993)

“Middle of Nowhere” by
Ava DuVernay (2012)

“Mississippi Damned” by
Tina Mabry (2009)

“Mississippi Masala” by
Mira Nair (1991)

“Mixing Nia” by Alison
Swan (1998)

“Monsoon Wedding” by Mira
Nair (2001)

“Mosquita y Mari” by
Aurora Guerrero (2012)

“Na-moo-eobs-neun san
(Treeless Mountain)” by So-yong Kim (2008)

“Night Catches Us” by
Tanya Hamilton (2010)

“Pariah” by Dee Rees
(2011)

“Picture Bride” by Kayo
Hatta (1994)

“Rain” by Maria Govan (2008)

“Real Women Have Curves”
by Patricia Cardoso (2002)

“Saving Face” by Alice
Wu (2004)

“Second Coming” by
Debbie Tucker Green (2014)

“Something Necessary” by
Judy Kibinge (2013)

“Something New” by Sanaa
Hamri (2006)

“Still the Water” by
Naomi Kawase  (2014)

“Stranger Inside” by
Cheryl Dunye (2001)

“Sugar Cane Alley/Black Shack
Alley” by Euzhan Palcy (1983)

“The Kite” by Randa
Chahal Sabag (2003)

“The Rich Man’s Wife” by
Amy Holden Jones (1996)

“The Secret Life of
Bees” by Gina Prince-Bythewood (2008)

“The Silence of the
Palace” by Moufida Tlatli (1994)

“The Watermelon Woman”
by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

“The Women of Brewster
Place” by Donna Deitch (1989)

“Their Eyes Were Watching
God” by Darnell Martin (2005)

“Things We Lost in the
Fire” by Susanne Bier  (2007)

“Wadjda” by Haifaa
Al-Mansour (2012)

“Water” by Deepa Mehta
(2005)

“Whale Rider” by Niki
Caro  (2002)

“What’s Cooking?” by
Gurinder Chadha (2000)

“Where Do We Go Now?” by
Nadine Labaki  (2011)

“Whitney” by Angela Bassett
(2015)

“Woman Thou Art Loosed: On
The 7th Day” by Neema Barnette (2012)

“Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down
Girl” by Joan Chen (1998)

“Yelling to the Sky” by
Victoria Mahoney (2011)

“Young and Wild” by
Marialy Rivas (2012)

What are your favorite films that tell the stories of women of color, which are also directed by women?

jai tiggett is a
writer, content creator and curator. Find her at jaitiggett.com

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