Making a platform for marginalized voices

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • February 18, 2016

At issue: Sundance program elevates opportunities for women.

Our take: Other departments should also create realistic goals.

There’s been a series of attempts by various academic departments within Emerson College to spearhead a greater effort toward inclusion and diversity. While these motions are certainly a step in the right direction, we’ve found that many are trying to tackle huge issues with broad, generalized solutions. Perhaps it’s a bit too soon to tell, but so far these efforts have been mostly underwhelming. But there’s promise. One notable exception is Anna Feder’s trip to the Sundance Film Festival with a select group of female students. The notoriety of the excursion provides heartening expectations for what might be expected in the future. Other departments should follow Feder’s lead and create diversification programs that affect real change within oppressed student communities.   

Last year, Feder piloted a trip to take Emerson students to the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. When the program only received applications from interested female students, Feder decided to make the trip exclusive to women. The festival, co-founded by Robert Redford, is an incredible networking opportunity for aspiring industry chieftains and changemakers. To spend 10 days around some of the film industry’s most important and innovative producers, directors, writers, and talent can jumpstart a career.

Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and San Diego State University, conducted research tracking the top 700 domestic grossing films of 2014. Her findings were that 85 percent of all 2014 films had no female directors, 80 percent had no female writers, and 92 percent had no female cinematographers. 

The industry’s gender bias isn’t news, and it’s recently come under a microscope, prompting a shift in the way Hollywood hires. Actress Jennifer Lawrence penned an essay in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter about gender pay inequality after the Sony hack revealed she earned less money than her male American Hustle costars. In October 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched an investigation on request of the American Civil Liberties Union into Hollywood’s sexist hiring and pay practices. The director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, wrote in an article for the New York Times, “There’s a belonging problem in Hollywood. Who dictates who belongs? The very body who dictates that looks all one way.” But this inequality bleeds into our media’s coverage of films, too. The New York Film Critics Circle website currently lists only six women as members and 25 men. 

When asked about increasing diversity in existing college curriculums, many professors and department heads have spoken in broad strokes — journalism chair Paul Niwa said he’d encourage students to seek diverse voices; marketing chair Brenda Wrigley said she wants students to understand how to present messages to diverse communities. These positions are positive, but they’re more talking points than action plans. These are goals that speak to the largely homogenous Emerson community as it is, without taking into account how to elevate opportunities for students from backgrounds underrepresented in their industry.

This women-only Sundance trip adds action to vague promises of teaching diversity. All departments have agreed that diversity is important, but have fumbled in ways to actually make this actionable. Providing an opportunity for women only shows a dedication not just to learning about diversity, but to increasing it. With this program, the visual and media arts department has shown its receipts.

Feder’s efforts with the Sundance expedition should not just be emulated, but deliberately followed. There can be no more lip-service or talk of encouraging and urging diversity. Just as this invaluable chance at attending Sundance was made with the intention of bolstering women in a field where they are underappreciated, similar events can do the same for different departments.

Asking people to consider equality is different than asking people to implement concrete activities that create specific pathways for oppressed and slighted groups to have a fair chance at showcasing their talent. Create contests, workshops, field-trips, in-service events, guest-lectures, symposiums, networking events, and internship opportunities specifically for the deserving members of our community who too often do not get what they deserve.