Ebert Symposium Keynote Speaker Dr. Stacy Smith predicts major increase of female filmmakers for 2020

The Second Annual Chaz and Roger Ebert Symposium took place on Friday, Sept. 27, where panelists discussed important issues and solutions for diversity in film, including Keynote Speaker Dr. Stacy Smith who gave a presentation on extensive film analysis research. Founder & Director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AII), Dr. Smith’s  research showed that, by 2020, we will see an increase of 12-14 percent in female filmmakers being hired in Hollywood. “We have never seen a 300 percent increase behind the camera before,” she said. 

Dr. Smith stressed that most roles and opportunities are given to the white male, followed by the white female. She said that Hollywood sees leadership as being white male and in order for anything to change, they have to change their perception of what a leader is – to a point that makes them uncomfortable. She stressed that if Hollywood hires more female directors, there will be more women on screen and more racial and ethnic inclusion. 

Out of 1,335 directors in the last 12 years, only four percent were women – nine women of color, five of which are black, three are Asian, and one Latina. Dr. Smith says that “Hollywood needs to be held accountable.” Continue reading her interview with FF2 Media below.

FF2: Can you elaborate on the research you did on female filmmakers?

Dr. Smith: Less than one third of the speaking characters are women, a number that has not changed in 12 years. Only four percent of women are directors. We are really seeing a lack of equality in storytelling. In 2018, we saw an increase for the first time, the number of black directors was up. That’s a significant shift. Next year we anticipate female directors will jump to 12-14 percent. That’s a sign of progress. 

FF2 Media: The four percent challenge was a great start for female filmmakers. What can others do to help with this movement?

Dr. Smith: There is a real simple formula to create change – whether big films or indie films or film critics. It is coming up with realistic targets and setting a strategy to reach them and evaluate the strength and weaknesses and communicating that information back publically. Those are things that anyone can do. 

FF2 Media: Do you think the female audience is key in making a change by selecting what movies to go see?

Dr. Smith: Absolutely! They need to support but Hollywood has a selective memory problem. Even though it makes the money, they go back to the old ways. Warner Bros. put a report on their internal metrics. That’s exactly what needs to happen. That’s another sign of a major progress. Studios have never put out numbers of gender and race before so, yes, audiences can support and make a huge difference but it doesn’t hold them accountable on who gets hired. That’s why having a plan really matters. 

FF2 Media: There is a difference in pay between white male and underrepresented females. How can we change that mindset?

Dr: Smith: The Warner Bros. report is the first step. They took a look and made changes. Our approach is we need to get people in positions and then you can pressure on issues with pay equality in the way forward. I think conversations will heat up like the one with Michelle Williams at this year’s Emmys. Companies need to change and be transparent and set norms. 

FF2 Media: What is your opinion about nominating more female directors for awards? 

Dr. Smith: We have an issue that few are getting visibility on big films. I am hopeful that these year there are strong female directors but we need to change the perception of leadership, which is a white male. The news media plays a role in making sure that when people think director they don’t think white male but a broad group of storytellers than can bring to light an authentic new story. When leadership perception changes everything starts to fall into place. 

FF2 Media: Do you think there should be a best female and a best male director category rather than one for best director?

Dr. Smith: I think that question is great but I would ask the female directors do they feel that is a strategy because you hear pros and cons on that all the time. I personally think they are the one to make that decision. 

FF2 Media: Where do you get your research from, how long does it take you to do it and what is the process?

Dr. Smith: Every film is watched by at least three people and it is quality checked by a fourth person. That’s before it gets into a final spreadsheet to analyze it. The process takes a good nine months. We just did a big study on animation and that took almost a year as well. There is an appetite for this information. We are in a new era.

Stacy Smith speaks at TEDWomen 2016 – It’s About Time, October 26-28, 2016, Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, San Francisco, California. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

FF2 Media: Some independent female filmmakers are fed up with the way men treat them and they start their own companies. What is your message to those who are making a change and fighting the system? 

Dr. Smith: It is not easy. When you are a filmmaker, you need funds to make a story. The great thing is by using technology, now people can get their stories in visible ways that they couldn’t before. Always try engaging with local communities. You want to make sure that people who give get it in the hands of female filmmakers who need it the most. Sundance does a really good job to work hard to connect philanthropist to female filmmakers that other groups should be doing as well.

FF2 Media: What would you like to say to those female filmmakers who don’t have a voice and are not strong enough to fight the system?

Dr. Smith: It is tough, but that’s where being engaged with others in the community who are fighting the same fight is important. This is what I love about Time’s Up. You have all these women coming together for the first time. We need communities for female filmmakers so that people don’t feel alone. Looking at these numbers I can’t imagine the pain and suffering that people go through simply to do what they love to do. It’s not fair. Its discriminatory. It’s wrong. Don’t give up, things are starting to change. Now is a great time to stay the course and ask for more.

© Nikoleta Morales (9/29/19) FF2 Media

Photo credits: Warner Bros. & TED

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