Authors and university professors Samantha N. Sheppard and J.E. Smyth on Monday were named 2021 Academy Film Scholars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The grant, presented annually by the organization, is given to established scholars whose projects are focused on an aspect of filmmaking and the film industry.
The Academy’s Educational Grants Committee will award Sheppard and Smyth $25,000 apiece for their proposals: Sheppard will write A Black W/hole: Phantom Cinemas and the Reimagining of Black Women’s Media Histories, while Smythe will write Maisie: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Most Powerful Woman, the latter a biography of the first female Screen Writers Guild president Mary C. McCall Jr.
They join 14 other Academy Film Scholars who are currently working on projects and 21 other scholars whose works have been published.
“For the third year in a row, we are delighted to support the brilliant research of two women scholars,” said Marcus Hu and Sara Rose, Academy Grants Committee co-chairs. “Sheppard and Smyth’s insightful examinations of their respective topics will be meaningful contributions to the study of film history, filmmaking and the industry as a whole. We look forward to seeing the outcome of their hard work.”
Sheppard, an associate professor at Cornell University and author of Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen, will “address the voids in cinema and media scholarship relating to Black women’s creative practices, histories, traditions, and discourses” in A Black W/hole, the Academy said today. “Through a series of case studies, Sheppard’s book will provide histories and reimaginings of Black women’s impact on American cinema.”
Said Sheppard: “I am thrilled to receive recognition and support from the Academy for this book project, especially as the growing visibility of Black women in front of and behind the camera provides an occasion, if not the imperative, to examine Black women’s cultural production and impact on the past, present, and future media landscape.”
Smyth, a professor at the University of Warwick in the UK, is the author of books including Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood and is a contributing writer at Cineaste. Her book project, Maisie, is about McCall, the first woman elected president of the Screen Writers Guild (in 1942) and who led the Council of Hollywood Guilds and Unions at the end of World War II, while fighting for the rights of women in the industry.
“Today, many people think Golden Age Hollywood was dominated by men. They’ve forgotten Mary C. McCall Jr., the three-time president of the Screen Writers Guild who had the guts to sue Howard Hughes at the height of the blacklist,” said Smyth. “It’s time to remember her, and I’m thrilled and honored that the Academy is supporting her biography.”
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