It’s hard out here for black woman directors

Sanaa HamriThere is an incredibly revealing article over at The Root by Nsenga Burton about the struggle black women filmmakers face when trying to get films funded and made. Burton really hits the nail on the head when she connects the struggle of directors to how that impacts the films about black women that are made:

Arlene Gibbs, screenwriter and producer of the upcoming Jumping the Broom, starring Paula Patton and Angela Bassett, says, “Black women writers and filmmakers are frustrated because we want to tell good stories. We don’t always want to write about black women, but often we are boxed into that category, so often that’s all there is. If we can’t tell other people’s stories or our own, then what’s left for us?”

Gibbs’ comments reflect the complex issues that black women filmmakers face when trying to get films about black women made. In this economic climate, Hollywood isn’t taking very many creative risks. Stories about black women are thought of as risks because they do not “guarantee” success — that is, make money overseas. (Meanwhile, Will Smith is the biggest international box office draw.) While other filmmakers, like Michael Mann and Kathryn Bigelow, get to make films that perform extremely well and some that do not, most black women do not get that type of leeway or the ability to grow as artists.

On the eve of Montana Fishburne’s pornography video debut, “Montana Exposed,” I see a glaring connection between the adversity faced by black woman directors and how that might impact the real and perceived climate available to black actresses. The one thing that has been clear from the very beginning about Montana Fishburne is what has motivated her to do porn:

“I view making this movie as an important first step in my career,” Montana said in an interview. “I’ve watched how successful Kim Kardashian became, and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape by Vivid. I’m hoping the same magic will work for me. I’m impatient about getting well-known and having more opportunities, and this seemed like a great way to get started on it.”

Regardless of what folks think about her decision to do porn, I think Montana’s circuitous route to an acting career should make us curious about what impact the appallingly low 6 percent of films in Hollywood directed by women — 14 films annually — has on girls with hopes for a career in acting. Burton’s kickass journalism demonstrates over and over how the almighty dollar becomes a significant barrier for black women in Hollywood and these barriers at the director level ultimately trickle down. If we truly want girls of color to have more opportunities in Hollywood that promote a direct route to accomplishing their goals as actresses, part of the solution involves supporting women directors who present the stories of women in complex ways.

So what does this mean for us in a practical sense? Rent and buy movies from women directors, producers and writers who are doing important work. Burton name drops Just Wright and Something New by Sanaa Hamri and crew; she also  mentions Arlene Gibbs, Stephanie Allain, Julie Dash and Nzingha Stewart and Gabrielle Union’s StewU productions. Let’s build on this list. What movies or contributors are you aware of that present the stories of women in complex ways?

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