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Op-ed

Encouraging films by women about women | GUEST COMMENTARY

I was working on a movie not too long ago. We were in post-production, and we needed a voice-over. One of the executives of the film was adamant that the voice needed to be male. A male voice, he said, would add “gravitas” and “grandeur.” There was no discussion, no alternative. The guy wanted a male voice, and that was it.

I’m not the first to say it, but Hollywood still has a diversity problem. And I have come to realize that if these problems are going to be solved, we are all going to have to become active players in solving them.

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I am the director of the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund at Johns Hopkins University, and, as such, I am charged with funding, nurturing, cajoling and assisting young, diverse filmmakers in Baltimore. It may not change the nature of the Hollywood beast, but it’s a step. We are telling stories that deserve an audience and are helping underrepresented filmmakers familiarize themselves with the language of film, the structure of film production and the grind of filmmaking. The goal is to build the platform from which these young filmmakers rise and so, to transform the industry.

According to the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report, women accounted for 16% of directors working in the top 100 films. While these numbers have experienced growth over 2018 and 2019, still about 80% of top film projects lack female leadership of any kind behind the camera or in the executive suite.

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Hollywood film production is an expensive proposition. The largest barrier to diverse voices in the industry is a lack of opportunity. The industry tends to do variations of the same thing. That’s because it’s safer to remake or make a sequel to something that has a known, paying audience. But this leads to a stale, arid film landscape.

What’s left out is the richness of diverse voices. Diverse perspectives lead to better business decisions. It’s as simple as that. I’ve been a business owner and a filmmaker in this industry for over 15 years. I know that a broader range of voices will create a greater industry. Diverse perspectives lead to a wider range of storytelling and stop the same story from being made over and over again. Diverse voices are a vehicle for creative variation.

Women have been knocking on Hollywood’s door for a long time, with few results for the effort. But there have been glorious breakthroughs, if you look for them. “Mama Gloria” is a documentary about a transgender icon trailblazing for the trans community in 1960s Chicago. It’s an example of what narratives can be celebrated when you give women like Luchina Fisher the wheel. It’s a film that displays the raw underbelly of what it truly means to be a woman. My bet is that there is a large audience for pictures from women about women.

The question is not what it will take to change the way things are in the industry, but it’s “who” it will take. It will take people. It will take the white cisgender male standard of the industry to demand change and equality. It will take people saying, “I’m not going to take this project if my female counterparts aren’t being paid equally,” and saying, “this set needs more diversity.” It will take transparency, and it will take individuals at the top of the ladder investing in the female and BIPOC perspective enough to say, “there is a seat for you at the table.”

Simply put, it means giving money and opportunity to these filmmakers. It also means we need mentors to teach and inspire emerging filmmakers that there is a place for them behind the camera, not just in front of it.

There is no shortage of diverse talent seeking opportunities in this industry, as I have found when recruiting film fellows for the Innovation Fund. When we actively sought out more women for the program, we found them. We now have more women in the program than men. If you seek them out and provide opportunities, they will come. And you will see new perspectives and enjoy the sensation and thrill of great stories you never thought possible.

That executive was partly right. A male voice can have gravitas and grandeur. What’s also right is that a woman’s voice can have equal gravitas and grandeur. You just have to open your ears to hear it and your eyes to see it.

Annette Porter (annette@nylonfilms.co.uk) is a producer, director, writer and Baltimore native.


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