Racial diversity in film was the issue that got all the attention during Oscar season, but the movie industry also faces a huge challenge when it comes to gender.
Prestigious Hollywood power couple Will and Jada Smith are famously tuned in to the race problem, since they famously boycotted the Oscars, but they are also very much aware of the dearth of female professionals in the industry. And so their strategy for changing this dichotomy is a simple one: Get them while they're young.
The Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation just awarded a grant to NYU’s Tisch School of the Art's Fusion Film Festival. Funds to the student-run film festival, which is designed to promote the work of women directors, writers, cinematographers and producers, will support up to five women filmmakers whose work has been submitted to the festival. Awards totaling $10,000 will go to Fusion Festival winners.
The lack of female representation in cinema is obvious. While looking at Sundance's efforts to promote gender equality in American cinema, we noted that just 6 percent of the 250 top-grossing films last year were directed by women. (That's 15 films for those keeping track at home.) And so other grantmakers like the Adrienne Shelly Foundation and New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) have made boosting gender equity in American cinema a huge priority.
These grantmakers primarily support experienced filmmakers — the NYWIFT Ravenal Foundation Grant, for example, supports a second-time feature film director who is over 40. But the Smith Family Foundation grant aims to raise awareness around female filmmakers at the college level.
The foundation will also allocate $20,000 to finance two student-created pilots developed through the Tisch Advanced TV Production class. The three-semester class assigns students to create and write original pilots of 30 minutes or less in the spring semester, of which two will be selected to receive grants.
In our funder profile on the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, we noted that their primary funding areas included education, racial equity and black causes, health, and religious outfits. We also mentioned that their brief one-page web site didn't give viewers much insight into their funding priorities. But some simple web sleuthing reveals that they're pretty generous. In 2006, Jada donated $1 million to the Baltimore School for the Arts, which she attended with the rapper Tupac Shakur. The money was earmarked for a $30 million expansion program.
In other words, don't let their minimal web presence or their seemingly paltry $30,000 Tisch gift fool you. This is a couple with a lot of money that's serious about philanthropy, and they have been ramping things up.