George Lucas' recent philanthropy increasingly resembles his filmmaking. Some gifts look to the future, while others evoke the past. Recent news points to an example of the former.
In October of 2015, he made a $10 million endowment from the George Lucas Family Foundation to support the "recruitment of talented USC School of Cinematic Arts students from communities that are underrepresented in the entertainment industry." As we noted at the time, the gift squarely fit with the call for increased diversity in the cinematic arts space.
Funding activity in this areas has since grown markedly, along with attention to Hollywood's diversity problem in the wake of the 2016 Academy Awards, which includes the ongoing struggles of women in the industry. Some new donors have come to the table, like Will and Jada Smith, who earlier this year announced a two-year commitment to support the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Intensive and year-round work with diverse independent filmmakers and artists. In addition, advocates have kept up the heat.
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Meanwhile, George Lucas and his partner, Mellody Hobson, have not lost interest in this critical issue. Recently, their family foundation made another $10 million to fund the student diversity program he helped establish. Michael Renov, vice dean of academy affairs, said the gift will help USC "recruit storytellers whose voices are underrepresented in cinematic media and whose inclusion benefits all of us."
The USC gift is another example of Lucas giving big to both his alma mater—he gave $175 million to its film school in 2006—and the education space, where among other things, he's embraced a progressive approach to K-12 reform.
These gifts stand in subtle contrast to his more "nostalgic" types of gifts. In an October 2016 post looking at his $1.5 million gift to the Stockbridge, MA-based Norman Rockwell Museum, I noted how Lucas' classical influences have infused his cinematic work. Two example include Star Wars, which famously modernized the Flash Gordon comic strip, and American Graffiti, which viewed post-war hot rod adolescence through a contemporary lens.
And yet even his "nostalgic" gifts look towards the future. Lucas' give to the Rockwell Museum will make the work of an American painter born in the 19th century relevant to a new generation of visitors using mature digital technology.
Which brings me back to USC.
"Hispanic and African-American storytellers are underrepresented in the entertainment industry," Lucas said after first establishing the diversity program. And while much progress has been made since its inception, Lucas' new gift suggests there is still more work to be done.