The Sundance Film Festival is well underway and amidst all the traffic, premieres and snow slushed roads, the talk of inclusion and representation at the festival took center stage at a special panel titled “Making the (In)visible: Radical Transparency in the Data-Driven Age.” Moderated by the Black List’s Franklin Leonard, the panel included Dr. Stacy L. Smith from the Sundance Annenberg Inclusion initiative, filmmaker Angela Robinson (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women), producer Nina Jacobson (Crazy Rich Asians), and Sundance Institute’s Karim Ahmad as they discussed a recent study by the Sundance and the Inclusion Initiative that revealed data about race and gender when it came to film submissions to the festival and how that data is relevant to the industry.
After Dr. Smith shared a mix of good and bad news (you can read the full report here)when it comes to the inclusion of women and people of color and the rate of submissions and acceptances to the Sundance Film Festival, Jacobson and Robinson, who are on the front lines in the industry making change, chimed in with their experiences and what needs to change in the industry.
Jacobson has been making amazing moves to challenge the Hollywood status quo for years which even includes the time when she hired Robinson to direct Herbie Fully Loaded.
“I take a special joy in sticking it to the man,” Jacobson said to a round of applause from the Park City audience. However, she said she doesn’t think about that all the time. When it comes to choosing projects, she said she responds to what she believes in. At the same time, she admits to having an “anti-authoritarian” impulse to “believe the rules” that have been set in Hollywood are wrong.
“I ask, ‘who benefits from these rules’… we know the answer,” Jacobson points out.
In case you don’t know the answer, it’s white, hetero, cis-gender men.
Jacobson is a boss when it comes to leading the charge for people of color and women in the industry. She brought the blockbuster romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians to us after a 25-year drought of Asian American representation in studio films. It also was the top-grossing romantic comedy in 10 years. In addition, she helped bring the groundbreaking, critically-acclaimed, slay-all-day trans-led Pose to FX. She also championed adapting the YA series The Hunger Games when many said no one was interested in a female-led action series. That series has since become one of the most successful movie franchises.
Robinson, who calls Dr. Smith a national treasure, talked about her experiences working in the industry as a bi-racial lesbian. She also recalls working with Jacobson on her first studio film (the aforementioned Herbie Fully Loaded). Jacobson was a fan of Robinson’s film, D.E.B.S., which is part of the reason why she was hired. She called Robinson a “breath of fresh air in many different ways” when they worked with the “unruly Lindsay Lohan”, she said with a laugh.
For the Professor Marston and the Wonder Women director, she admits that Hollywood was segregated then and just as segregated now. She remembers walking on to the lot to work on Herbie Fully Loaded, going through the security gates which were manned by mostly black security guards. She said she felt the support and love from them, but when she went on set with 300 white male teamsters, she said it was as if they “freaked the hell out” at the sight of a twentysomething bi-racial lesbian directing a studio movie. Robinson explained how, at first, she would be mad at this presumption, but understood — even though it wasn’t the proper reception — why they acted that way because they weren’t used to seeing a woman direct a studio film.
“You have to punch above your weight and be prepared — be better,” Robinson said.
When it comes to change and advancement of people of color and women, Robinson points out that “it starts with the leadership and trickles down through the ethos.”
“It’s not like I am trying to find things are not while male-driven — it’s not counterintuitive,” added Jacobson. “It’s difficult to find things that move you.”
She says “we need different stories” and goes on to say that narratives from different perspectives and cultures are the things that have worked in storytelling. She even adds, “If you’re telling a story that’s not your own you have to wait for a partner who can help you.”
After a beat, she says with a smile, “Diversity, inclusion, originality — and Marvel are the only things that work.”
And if you look at Black Panther, it has all four — and it went on to gross over a billion dollars worldwide and get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.