AFFRM: THE STRENGTH AND POWER OF COLLECTIVISM
By Nijla Mu’min
In late April, I attended a film financing conference for women filmmakers, organized by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles. The day-long intensive covered the essentials of film financing, providing case studies of successfully-funded indie films, a panel with film financiers, and even an empowerment talk. But, the most affecting, and sobering part of the intensive came in the unveiling of a research study conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC, that showed female filmmakers face barriers to getting their films distributed, and in obtaining jobs to direct larger, big-budget films, due partly to a perception that female directors make films for a subset/or less significant portion of the marketplace, and have a lack of ambition to take on directing jobs.
Seated alongside me were female filmmakers of all different backgrounds and races, with an array of distinct stories to tell. These were filmmakers who directed feature films, had won awards, and were recognized for their artistry. I looked up to many of them, had watched their films, and I was surprised and honored to be sitting beside them. I was also saddened that this amount of skill and talent could be so easily passed up or denied due to an unchecked gendered workforce, and norms that women are somehow unqualified to direct and create certain kinds of films.
We are approaching a moment where these norms can no longer govern the stories we want to tell. As more and more women and people of color create content, there’s a need for people and organizations to stand up and proclaim a space for these stories to be seen and appreciated. AFFRM emerges as the vehicle for bringing stories of the African Diaspora into the light, providing them with a foundation and an audience through theatrical and multi-platform distribution.
Recently, AFFRM founder Ava DuVernay conducted an informal survey on Twitter, asking followers to name films with "black, brown, native or Asian women leads, which were also directed by women.” There were many responses, often citing films that featured women of color leads but weren’t directed by a woman: The Color Purple, The Help, and even Selena. Though many of these films were critically acclaimed, they weren’t created from a woman’s perspective, and the question remains: how would these narratives have been different if they were? What would the entertainment world look like with women named as directors on comic-book spin-offs and action-thrillers, or if we gave the same value to a coming-of-age story about young black girls as we do to one about a white male? How much richer could the storytelling, and cultural landscape be if we truly embraced the diversity that is so often written and debated about?
Filmmaker Dee ReesAs a result of DuVernay’s twitter call, a running list of films directed by women and featuring women of color leads, was generated. It includes many gems, like Pariah, directed by Dee Rees, Mississippi Masala, directed by Mira Nair and Mosquita Y Mari, directed by Aurora Guererro.
As AFFRM’s membership drive culminates this week, I am reminded of my time sitting with all of those women filmmakers at the financing intensive, and the strength and power of collectivism. Those filmmakers who were determined to make their films, and to make their way though the barriers were high. Even with the recent news that ACLU will investigate the sexism and discrimination against women in the film industry, there’s still a lot of work to do before a total reform occurs. And the struggles for women of color filmmakers- for Latina filmmakers, Asian-Pacific Islander Filmmaker Aurora Guererro with actresses Fenessa Pineda and Venecia Troncosowomen filmmakers, and black women filmmakers don’t always fit nicely under the “women” banner. For now, it is up to us to embrace and champion our own stories. AFFRM is one platform for that cause.
Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. She was the winner of Best Screenplay at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival for her script, NOOR.