By Janine McGoldrick
In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, NYWIFT Talks recently brought together a vibrant panel of award-winning women filmmakers and activists dedicated to fighting systemic racism to discuss their work and the social justice revolution of today.
Curated and moderated by NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez, the panel included Dawn Porter, the award-winning documentary filmmaker of Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper and the upcoming John Lewis: Good Trouble, whose work has appeared on HBO, PBS, Discovery, and Netflix among others; Shola Lynch, an American filmmaker best known for the feature documentary Free Angela & All Political Prisoners and the Peabody Award-winning documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed; Tami Gold, a professor at Hunter College and a filmmaker, visual artist and activist who has produced many critically acclaimed documentaries, including Every Mother’s Son (about victims of police brutality), that have consistently been at the forefront of social issues; and Yoruba Richen, a documentary filmmaker whose work explores issues of race, space and power and whose recent The New Black won best documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and a GLAAD Media Award.
The panel discussed many issues faced by people of color, noting that the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, has thrown a spotlight not only on the literal chokeholds used by police, but on all the types of systemic chokeholds imbedded in the healthcare, education, and employment systems across the country.
Everyone recognized that a significant culture shift is happening and offered concrete, actionable items can be enacted immediately by all members of the entertainment industry.
It starts with the gatekeepers. There needs to be more diversity among studio executives, film producers, grant foundations and the like. This doesn’t mean hiring down, it means expanding the search pool and hiring more than just one person of color.
There needs to be a greater focus on correcting miseducation on race and history. Black voices are there in the archives, Black history exists. Once we educate, we can break the type of culture that lives within organizations like police departments.
We need to examine how our developmental pipeline works and understand the barriers people of color face in getting the training and education needed to enter the industry. Production assistants and interns, for example, need to be paid so those positions don’t continue to be about class and privilege. We need to seed our field with people who are ready to be hired.
Members of the industry need to need to be held accountable for a dreadful history of racism in hiring. #OscarsSoWhite began a movement that had to come from the people. It is about money. We can give voice by how and where we choose to spend our dollars.
It is important to recognize that diversity is more than just hiring a few people of color as background extras. Look around your organization and if you can’t make full-time hires, then bring in consultants. For example, there are documentarians who have spent years becoming experts on their topics and they should be valued and brought into the narrative fold when making films like Green Book.
There seems to be no deterrent for the blatant attacks against journalists and filmmakers, so news organizations need to take a stronger stand.
Funding independent films is challenging and especially hard for documentary projects that rely heavily on archival footage, which can be very costly because it is basically held hostage by corporate interests. Making archives more accessible is extremely important.
The filmmaking community needs to engage more with the philanthropic foundations to push and change them from within. Filmmakers need to advocate for themselves and educate grant makers on which of their policies help and hurt their endeavors.
Funding and support needs to extend beyond production and continue through the rollout and distribution of the films so audiences of all type have access to view.
NYWIFT is committed to helping make these changes happen and has partnered with our sister chapters in Los Angeles and Atlanta to develop the “Hire Her Back” initiative to ensure diversity continues as the industry begins to reopen. You can learn more about it here.
View the entire panel discussion below:
The next NYWIFT Talks focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement will take place Friday, June 26th at 12:30 PM with a focus on Visionary New York Media Arts Organizations. Learn more and register.
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