By Sikivu Hutchinson
Back in the day, before digital video and the Internet, independent filmmaking was regarded as a “mystical realm” dominated by charmed white boy wunderkinds and the “odd” man of color “maverick”. As independent film has exploded, so has the market for film festivals, such that there is one to fit every niche and predilection. Unfortunately, many of these ventures run on the same old cronyism, Eurocentrism, and hetero-norms that continue to tokenize and ghettoize women of color filmmakers. Case in point is the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction and Supernatural festival, a platform that boasts a standalone category entitled (direct quote), “Best African American, Latino and other Person of Color Science Fiction Movie”. Giving the huddled masses of the “other person of color” community a nice pat on the head, Dick’s programmers swaggeringly note that “we are the first US festival that offers this long-awaited category.”
The film industry is rife with great white savior proclamations like these, which is why Media Done Responsibly’s (MDR) new virtual film fest is a timely antidote. Founded by Shaunelle Curry, MDR’s CEO, the festival kicks off this weekend to mark Women’s History month, focusing on emerging independent BIPOC, immigrant, disabled, and LGBTQIA+ filmmakers. According to Curry, “The goal is to center the voices of diverse storytellers by amplifying their complex humanity from their perspectives, in their words and through their lens”. The event is a signal opportunity to boost the voices and visions of artists who are often “invisibilized” in a film world where Black women still comprise fewer than 1% of major studio film directors. As per the 2019 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the dearth of Black women directors is compounded by the underrepresentation of women of color editors, production designers, composers, cinematographers, producers and critics in the multi-billion dollar film industry.
By challenging the gatekeeping white folks’ regime, festivals like MDR’s can play a critical role in advancing Black women as drivers of production and film innovation. The festival slate includes works that examine state violence against Black folks (Man Down, January 14th), adultification/criminalization of Black girls (Pushout), LGBTQIA acceptance in families (Parental Guidance Suggested, Proud Dad), mental health care (Mickey Hardaway), suicide (Baby Steps) and unhoused African American women and girls (Defining Ourselves). I am honored to have two short films that were chosen as Official Selections at the festival — White Nights, Black Paradise, and my sci fi webseries Narcolepsy, Inc, which both feature older women of color actresses as protagonists; a demographic that is all but invisible in mainstream film. I am also a producer on teen filmmaker Zorrie Petrus’ Official Selection student documentary, “Defining Ourselves, For Ourselves”.
The festival will feature panels with filmmakers and community organizations, as well as sessions focusing on the work of acclaimed documentarian Byron Hurt (creator of the landmark social justice film, Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes), and young entertainment and arts activists. The MDR festival runs from March 4th-11th.
Tickets and info @ https://mdrff21.eventive.org/welcome