Celebrating Diversity in Filmmaking

We could write a book about all the sentences that we have been told: “Nobody wants to see this film. Nobody will pay to see this film. Nobody worldwide will pay to go see this film.” Well, one of my favorite stories is from Berlin when we had more than 2,000 kids there at a screening. And I had a moment [watching the audience] when that sentence ran through me, “Nobody wants to see this movie.” There was this girl that kept watching me and staring at me and following me after the screening. So I said to her, “Are you OK?” And she stares at me right in the eye and says, “How did you know?” And I said, “Excuse me?” And she says, “How did you know all that about me?” And we just stood there, and I hugged her. She believed with all her being that I had followed her and that my film had told her story. This is something that no number counter or pencil pusher in Hollywood can ever understand.  –Victoria Mahoney, Filmmaker (Yelling to the Sky) in The Daily Beast

The 1990’s was a cultural moment for Black filmmakers. Robert Townsend, Kasi Lemmons, John Singleton, Albert and Allen Hughes, Antoine Fuqua, Gina Prince-Bythewood, F. Gary Gray, Malcolm D. Lee, and Reginald Hudlin, a few of the creatives behind many of that decade’s classics. Success at film festivals and attempting to work within the confines of major studios helped to build careers for Black artists who wanted to tell their stories.

Black people controlling Black narratives with significant funding has been a challenge for many Black filmmakers.  From Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, to Ava Duvernay’s 13th and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Black filmmakers have discovered ways to tell authentic Black stories that do not place a White gaze at the center and support trite and limiting narratives. Black independent film is not new, but with greater access to technology, tools, skills, and non-traditional distribution channels, more Black filmmakers are sharing their insights with a larger audience.

An event that provided all of these critical elements needed for success was the Columbus Black International Film Festival (CBIFF). On August 4th and 5th 2017, CBIFF showcased African diasporic stories through a variety of genres including sci-fi, documentary, drama, experimental shorts and comedy. Held at The Wexner Center for the Arts, The Drexel Theater, and Columbus College of Art and Design, the festival also provided opportunities for filmmakers to learn about the film industry and to enhance their skills. Educational panels, movies addressing marginalized social topics, and community partnerships made CBIFF an inclusive event displaying both novice and veteran creatives. CBIFF told us (if only implicitly) that we must support Black filmmakers by making the production, creation, and distribution of their work sustainable.

We must leverage our dollars. When it comes to access to financial resources and celebrity talent, Black independent films and Black Hollywood films are different. The distinction is important, thus we must find ways to encourage new works. Visit the Columbus Black International Film Festival website for more information on their work in supporting Black independent filmmaking. Look for interesting films and creative projects for sale, discover emerging filmmakers and how to support their next projects.

Whether it’s stories about a Black experience or stories about a universal human experience by Black creatives, we must use the creative economy to make room for portrayals of Black people that don’t rely on systems of power that reinforce negative stereotypes. We, as the collective arts community have the ability to highlight stories at the margins, spread distributions, and increase revenue for narratives outside of narrow depictions of Blackness.

We must celebrate and support diverse stories. The leaders of the Columbus Black International Film Festival along with their partners worked to ensure those stories had an audience. Columbus is for creatives. Let’s continue to finance, view, and share the art we want to see in the world.  

–Melissa Crum

Dr. Melissa Crum is an artist, author, researcher, and owner of Mosaic Education Network, LLC. Mosaic Education Network is a consulting company that helps educators and non-profit leaders build stronger relationships with the diverse communities they serve by infusing the arts, story-telling, and critical thinking into professional development, community building and curriculum development. The goal is for participants have alternative ways to conceptualize themselves, their future and a diverse world.

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