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OPEN DOORS - Connecting New Storytellers: Collaborations Helps Reframe A 90-Year Narrative

Posted By Yvonne Russo & Rachel Watanabe-Batton, Monday, April 16, 2018

PGA Diversity has been busy. Over the past couple of years, our team has represented the PGA on the Inter-guild Diversity Coalition, meeting quarterly with our sister guilds, galvanizing collectively to respond to industry-wide concerns like sexual harassment. Along with PGA Women’s Impact Network (WIN), we’ve recently spearheaded “Reel Women of New York” interguild mixers. The events have connected and encouraged collaboration between an incredible array of female producers, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers and editors.

We’ve also initiated symbiotic partnerships with such New York stakeholders as SVA’s Social Documentary Film program to host screenings and discussions, and NYU Production Labs to curate conversations like “Changemakers: Taking the Helm,” which spotlighted producers who have taken active steps to embrace diversity and inclusion.

In a similar spirit, as part of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the United Nations Department of Public Information and the PGA East’s WIN, Diversity and Documentary Committees co-hosted “The Story of Women’s Empowerment Through Media: The Role of Producers,” to highlight the role of producers as agents of progressive change.

Developing projects with a creative nucleus of global and local artists and craftspeople does more than just build a professional network—it creates a space for storytellers to reframe and question stale narratives which embrace myths, colonialism and genocide. Even today, these myths persist; their roots are deep. It takes dedicated work and collaboration to question and challenge the core of our inherited narrative. At the Produced By Conference last year, Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay discussed how to create a culture of inclusion by “going the extra mile to diversify the crew,” when they addressed hiring women of color in above-the-line positions. This year’s Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand proposed that inclusion riders be added to new contracts. These are steps in the right direction. Each day new stories are being told by unmuffled voices from places seldom explored or imagined as anything but exotic by traditional Hollywood.

It took the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 90 years to offer a Native American actor the opportunity to present a solo tribute at the Oscars, but Cherokee actor Wes Studi, who starred in last year’s Hostiles, made history at the 2018 awards ceremony. Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison had an epoch-making moment, becoming the first female Oscar nominee for cinematography. The film’s writer/director Dee Rees became the first black woman ever nominated for an Oscar in the adapted screenplay category. And audiences have voted at the box office: Black Panther has become, at press time, the fifth highest-grossing film in U.S. history, proving that Afro-diasporic stories can and do reach massive global audiences.

The PGA and its members can be part of a critical mass of institutions striving to create opportunities for these new voices. It’s time to take greater strides in telling inclusive stories from the past, present and future that reflect our collective dignity, despair, courage and perseverance.


*Photograph by Will Mena

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