Women in Film

Hollywood’s Leading Ladies Turn Out in Full Force

 The Women in Film Los Angeles Awards

Last night, a glittering crowd came out for the annual Women in Film Los Angeles Crystal + Lucy Awards, sponsored by Max Mara, Lancôme, and Lexus. Industry heavyweights and leading ladies including Lake Bell, Jane Lynch, Katherine Langford, Michaela Watkins, and Letitia Wright turned out in full force at the iconic Beverly Hilton hotel, packing the ballroom to capacity to honor 45 years of WIF as they advocate for and advance the careers of women in the industry.

The star-studded evening featured a host of female entertainment icons such as Grey’s Anatomy’s Ellen Pompeo, who presented the Lucy Award (named for Lucille Ball) for Excellence in Television to ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey—who most recently made headlines when she canceled the network’s Roseanne revival following Roseanne Barr’s racist Twitter comment. Beyoncé protégés Chloe x Halle performed and presented the Artistic Excellence Award to the Grammy Award–winning songwriting and production team Nova Wav, aka Denisia “Blu June” Andrews and Brittany “Chi” Coney, whose work last year included A Wrinkle in Time. And actress Alexandra Shipp, of X-Men fame, received the Max Mara Face of the Future Award.

Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand finally shared the story behind her acceptance speech “inclusion rider” closer, which set the film world abuzz earlier this year. “A couple of nights earlier, I heard about the idea at a dinner party from agent Blair Kohan,” she recalled. Fast-forward to the awards ceremony and “in the excitement of having all those women rise to their feet and stand with me in that room, I got flustered, and I improvised—little did I know. Now I know a lot more. And I’m here tonight to take some responsibility for my actions and to restate a call to action. If I may use a sporting metaphor: If you want to go fast, go it alone; if you want to go far, do it together.”

The last award of the evening—the Crystal Award for Excellence in Features—went to Brie Larson, who used the moment to promote a new kind of inclusion rider—this one calling for more diversity among film critics. “If you make a movie that is a love letter to a woman of color, there is an insanely low chance that a female critic of color will be able to review your movie,” she said. “I am thrilled to announce that [next year] Sundance will ensure that at least 20 percent of their top-level press passes will go to underrepresented critics.” She added that the Toronto International Film Festival would do the same. There was a physical takeaway from the night, too: McDormand’s red and black “Inclusion Rider” bumper sticker—inspired by the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri movie signs. “Every revolution needs really good merch,” she quipped.

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At Sundance, The Films Took A Hard Look At Race In America

Storytellers behind seven major movies are working through the themes that haunt our national headlines.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Clockwise from left: “Monster,” “Tyrel,” “Sorry to Bother You.”

“Representation” has become a buzzword over the past few years, often used to excoriate the limited diversity that Hollywood brings to our big screens. But, with the Sundance Film Festival come and gone, and a new year of movies revving up, it’s clear that when it comes to matters of race, popular culture has taken note of our national talking points.

No fewer than seven major Sundance movies tackled race relations in America and the issues related to them ― and that’s not counting documentaries. Storytellers had police brutality (“Blindspotting,” “Monsters and Men”), wrongful imprisonment (“Monster”), the Ku Klux Klan (“Burden”), microaggressions (“Tyrel”), code-switching (“Sorry to Bother You”) and the foster care system (“Night Comes On”) on their minds.

We’re witnessing a phenomenon in which socially-minded artists are processing the topics that make headlines almost daily. More than any other Sundance lineup before it, 2018′s was a heady and searing crop, aptly reflecting our national mood.

One year after Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” raised the bar for veiled social commentary, “Tyrel” presents a similar premise, sending a young black man (Jason Mitchell) into the woods for a weekend getaway with a batch of white dudes. Meanwhile, “Monsters and Men” evokes the real-life killing of Eric Garner and the persecution of NFL iconoclast Colin Kaepernick, and “Burden” (which won the festival’s audience award) portrays tensions among neighbors sharing turf in the South.

“Blindspotting,” a passion project co-written by “Hamilton” breakout Daveed Diggs and performance poet Rafael Casal, is a hip-hop-inflected tour through Oakland, California, where gentrification has tarnished the area’s working-class restaurants, and black residents watch white cops shoot their black neighbors at traffic lights. In “Monster,” racial profiling lands even a college-bound teenager (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) with a bright future behind bars. These movies portray a world, not unlike our own, in which only whiteness gets ahead; just ask the telemarketer Lakeith Stanfield plays in the surreal comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” who is advised to use his “white voice” if we wants to get sales.

For Hollywood, indie filmmaking is a platonic ideal, painting a progressive image that puts Sundance and its ilk one step ahead of the wider industry, in terms of style, content and representation. Still, that hip image doesn’t always prioritize women and filmmakers of color. (Women helmed 37 percent of this year’s lineup ― an above-average figure that still lacks parity.) But with 2018′s movies, the festival claimed a newfound sense of topicality. The conversations unfolding on Twitter, in the media and in many Americans’ homes are resurfacing right before our eyes. Artists are doing their best to sort out the issues plaguing the country.

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In the Next 2 Years, Only 15 Hollywood Studio Movies Will Be Directed By Women

Director Ava DuVernay / Image via Getty

When it comes to helming major Hollywood studio projects, the future for female directors in 2018 and 2019 doesn’t look too bright.

IndieWire reports on the 2018 and 2019 schedule for films coming out of studios like Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Sony, and finds that so far, only 15 of those projects will be directed by women.

There are plenty of bright spots and familiar names—like Ava DuVernay, Elizabeth Banks, The Handmaids Tale director Reed Morano, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl director Marielle Heller—leading highly-anticipated projects this year (hellooo A Wrinkle in Time!). And there are also three superhero movies directed by women, a development no doubt inspired by the immense success of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman: there’s Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Spider-man spin-off Silver and Black, Anna Boden’s Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman 2 of course. It’s as if Hollywood finally realized, yes, women can direct blockbuster action movies and people want to see them!

It’s important to point out that the report does not include movies that have yet to be scheduled, so there’s still hope for more women-directed movies to make their way to theaters in the next two years. But considering 92.7% of the 109 top film directors in 2017 were male, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s study “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Gender, Race & Age of Directors across 1,000 films from 2007-2017,” the industry has its work cut out for it when it comes to hiring women at legacy studios.

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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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.

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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Disrupting Hollywood

by Sheree L. Ross

Over a hundred thousand scripts will be written in 2017, as well as tens of thousands of independent films made. Hundreds of contests will be entered and most filmmakers will not move very far towards their goal of a distribution deal or theatrical release.
What once seemed like the “impossible dream” has now almost become a thing of the past.  Yet, so many filmmakers go forward as they make their films like the magical payday myths of the industry still, if ever existed.
Most distribution deals and all of Hollywood have created an accounting system where only they get paid and the creative winds up with accolades (hopefully) but empty pockets. Crowdfunding has been a big move forward to help mitigate the ever shrinking traditional access to funds but after a film is made the blue print to a sustainable business model is rarely understood. It is especially hard for women and women filmmakers of color, where financing a film can be a Herculean event – as well as finding access to, and building an audience large enough to not only pay cast, crew, and themselves but make enough to distribute it and then do it all over again.
The industry has changed even for Hollywood. This change began decades ago but was solidified when the markets crashed in 2008, and demystified with access unprecedented with digital cameras, the internet, and streaming platforms. This is a new and ever more inclusive frontier yet so many indie filmmakers still structure their business model like it’s the 1970’s – still believing in the big payoff yet never realizing that filmmakers getting paid on the net receipts has been an inside myth perpetuated by industry media to entertain the public and string along hopeful filmmakers since time began.
The power of the industry is shifting but the new paradigm must be created by the independent filmmakers themselves. Big business has always had too much of a say and taken all of the profits. We, as creatives, are the reason they have built fortunes, mostly because we have wanted others to take care of the business while we concentrate on the creative. The other truth of many creatives is we haven’t developed the emotional and mental stamina for the business side of our filmmaking and have often blindly handed the responsibility over to others. This is a wake up call to build that muscle and take full control of our careers and creations. Owning our IP and figuring out how to distribute in a way that puts the rewards back into our own business is key to growing and maintaining a healthy and striving independent film ecosystem for all of us.
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