A big box office haul last weekend is signaling a new milestone in film. Some are calling it a major win for underrepresented voices in the industry who long faced barriers with what’s called the celluloid ceiling. Changes are happening right now for the diversity of names you see on posters directing a film.
Think back to the era of VHS. If you're talking about scary movies from then, it's often the work of great directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven. Fast forward to today, a new name has entered the list of great scary movie directors.
Candyman is a franchise continuation that mixes very real horrors of racial injustice with the old urban legend of summoning a ghost by repeating a name into a mirror. Last weekend, the film earned $22 million, a solid box office in the era of the pandemic. It’s also historic, as director Nia DaCosta becomes the first Black woman to have a number one film at the US box office.
“I just think it’s about time,” said Hazel Joyner-Smith, the founder and CEO of the International Black Film Festival. “The business of filmmaking has such power with it that men stayed in the position but no longer.”
For 20 years, IBFF has been a place where people in the industry, people trying to get into the industry, and people who just love film, can take in the work of underrepresented voices.
Why did it take so long to start seeing the work of Black female filmmakers on your screen of choice?
“Gee, that’s a long journey!” smiled Joyner-Smith. “Remember. Women’s rights just took place in 1920. It’s an evolutionary process for women to step into places where they’re in charge fully.”
While there actually is a history of Black women working in film even around this time, we’d have to return to that VHS era to see doors starting to finally open. It was 1989 when Euzhan Palcy became the first Black woman to have a film produced by a major U.S. studio. It was 1991 when Julie Dash became the first Black woman to have a film get a general theatrical release in the U.S.
So, how have things changed since then? According to the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film, in looking at the top 100 grossing films by year, numbers are moving up with 16% of films directed by women in 2020. Female directors are also becoming more prominently known in recent years like Black female directors, Kasi Lemmons and Ava DuVernay.
“When we overlook people because of their skin color, because of their gender, it’s painful and it’s harmful to the growth of who we are as human beings, right?” said Joyner-Smith.
Because of the pandemic, the International Black Film Festival is virtual this year, beginning on September 30. Joyner-Smith says the mission is the same. Give a platform to underrepresented voices.
“I’m just excited about what is yet on the horizon,” she smiled. “If this is shaking people up, oh my gosh. I can’t wait.”