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At Brown, stepping through screens into unknown worlds

The Festival Circuit
By REZA CLIFTON  |  March 12, 2014

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KEYNOTE SPEAKER Das.

Do you know who you’re watching when you sit in front of a TV or movie screen?

The Representation Project — an organization concerned with gender diversity in the media — has found that women, despite making up 51 percent of the US population, make up only 37 percent of prime-time characters on television. Since 2012, the Women’s Media Center has published an annual study called the “Status of Women in US Media” which in 2014 uncovered, “From January through December, 2013, men accounted for roughly 74 percent of elected officials, candidates and journalists” appearing on weekly political programs on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Out of 250 of the top-grossing films of 2013, according to WMC, women accounted for only 16 percent of directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors, and “fewer women of color have been directing prime-time TV shows” than in previous years.” Earlier this year, researchers at WMC found seven Academy Award categories in which not a single woman had been nominated.

One refrain from industry insiders responding to criticism based on these trends is that there are not enough qualified female filmmakers and media professionals. But this simply is not true, and Brown University’s upcoming Feminist and Women’s Media Festival (FWMF) offers proof.

FWMF is a project spearheaded by a group of graduate students at Brown’s Department of Modern Culture and Media (MCM), where both undergraduate and graduate students look at “modern cultural and social formations” through the study of “photography, sound recording, cinema, video, television and most recently digital media.” The festival is an outgrowth of 2010’s Providence Women’s Film Festival, which was organized by a cohort of then-students in the MCM department. The five students spearheading this year’s festival altered the name of the event and, in addition to scheduling events at the Cable Car Cinema (which hosted the 2010 festival), added Brown’s Martinos Auditorium at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts as a screening site.

Another change this year, say organizers Brandeise Monk-Payton and Rijuta Mehta, is a focus on women of color. The festival’s silent film series (shown Saturday at the Cable Car), for example, will be partly dedicated to the work of Zora Neale Hurston, an African-American woman known for the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. But Neale Hurston was also an anthropologist, and some of the films, says Monk-Payton, will show footage taken by Neale Hurston while she was doing work in the field.

Other notable African-American women highlighted in the festival are Audre Lorde and Issa Rae. Lorde, the late Black feminist, lesbian, poet, and activist, is celebrated in a film that looks at her “contribution to the Afro-German women’s movement” as well as her experiences with “racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, classism, and homophobia in Berlin before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.” Rae is a contemporary filmmaker who has risen to prominence through her online web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

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