Comm 137 Spr 2016
When comparing and contrasting the meanings of success in the film industry, one might say that success is found in the definition of what films make it to Hollywood. Typically this idealistic view of success stems from how a filmmaker can make a name for themselves if they are recognized for their work within the Hollywood film structure. What I personally define “Hollywood success” as is known as what “popular culture” represents. In other words, I feel that success is not always found within this structure. Many women filmmakers, particularly women of color, are disregarded for their authentic art because somehow their art forms do not “fit” within this Hollywood structure.
For what I define true success as a woman filmmaker, is having to be authentic and being able to show one’s vulnerabilities through film. Such vulnerabilities can stem from the fear and anxieties of wanting to have one’s work validated by masses or what is considered popular culture, or wanting to be accepted by particular audiences. Success is having the ability to not acknowledge labeling and to not react to reactionism. Response to reactionism creates and continues this cycle of reactionism.
By stepping out of and pushing the constraints that the film industry hold against women of color, and overall women in film generally, can help illuminate the true definition of success. This can be done simply by staying true to the self and by doing so, one can reflect this into their art. No one has validation over one’s authentic form of art, especially if it defines who that person is. If anyone, such as the Hollywood film industry, defies your authenticity and the authenticity of your work, then I believe their definitions of success are in itself wrong as well. No one can define what you believe is true to your identity and if your art is reflective of who you are, no one can tell you what is right or wrong about that. As easy as it is to say that these definitions of Hollywood success should not exist, they indeed do exist. However, it is in our power (man, woman or anyone who acknowledges these challenges and wants to create change) to change these definitions of success and further advocate for one’s authenticity. For any individual, deciding what is right for you is true empowerment. Being able to speak your truth means having no influence of outside influences.
Some examples of black women filmmakers that resemble this definition of success are Ava Duvernay, and Gina Prince-Prince-Blythewood. Duvernay is known to be an independent filmmaker and her work as an independent filmmaker is illuminated especially through her short film The Door. Within the film, the main character played by actress Gabrielle Union is the forefront of all change happening around her. The mis-en-scene, such as Union’s change of clothing in context with the different women she comes in contact with at her front door, creates a narrative using no dialogue. In her interview with Rolling Stone, DuVernay explains how the costuming and the overall color scheme set the tone of emotion of the main character presented throughout the film, “…with each friend that comes in, these women are dressing her. So they are using clothes to evoke emotion. They are trying to choose things that are more lively and bring her out of it” (Cruz). DuVernay’s short film is a form of new media that resembles one of the successes for black women filmmakers by creating art authentic to her voice.
Gina Prince-Prince-Blythewood is another black woman filmmaker that illuminates authenticity by rejection of outside influences to dictate her art through her film Love and Basketball. Through this film, Blythwood shows how she is unapologetic and portrays a realm of empowerment by speaking and claiming what she wants to represent within the film. She does this through both main characters Quincy and Monica. When looking at both characters, they share the same passion and goal to make it into the NBA, however Monica is more prone to go through the constructs of gender dichotomies. From the beginning of the film, Monica’s childhood self defies the gender constructs of what it “means” to act and be like a girl. This is seen when she firsts meets Quincy and his neighborhood friends to play their first match of basketball. The boys mistaken her as a male until she removes her hat revealing her long hair indicating she is female. Past this realization, the boys are then struck by surprise when they note her impeccable skill and knowledge for basketball. When Monica proves her knowledge and skill of the sport they then become more motivated to beat her at her own game. This particular scene is an illustration of how Prince-Blythewood portrays femininity as not being constructed to a stereotype in which girls are to always act and perform like a “proper lady”. This theme is carried out in Monica’s narrative as she grows up. Influences to try and make Monica conform to female gendered norms come from her father, mother and coach. One particular instance for Monica to “act like a lady” is when she is given a technical foul at one of her high school basketball games. She is pulled out of the game for acting out of on her anger and not being to control her temper. Later Monica addresses this issue when Quincy calls her out on her temper while driving her back home from a game and let’s her know that she isn’t getting recruited for this reason. In response, Monica compares the double standards of her actions on the court in relation to how a male would, “You jump in some guy’s face, you talk smack and you get a pat on your ass. But because I’m a female, I get told to calm down and act like a lady. I’m a ball player, okay.” This commentary shows how as an audience we are able to focus on her journey through such constructs and comparisons of success in contrast to men in sports and society. Critic Elvis Mitchell makes a similar comment on Prince-Prince-Blythewood’s touch to this overall theme through Monica’s character, “…Monica’s clumsiness in heels and with other aspects of conventional femininity. It’s in the small touches that this movie comes alive, and it’s rare that directors can pull off this kind of thing” (Mitchell).
Getting inside the head of the Prince-Prince-Blythewood about the film and aspects of what made it true to her identity and experiences as a woman of color is discussed in an interview with Simran Hans. First, Prince-Blythewood is asked where the love story component of Love and Basketball came from as Prince-Blythewood explains how it came from an autobiographical perspective, “It just became more and more personal. So it was about loving love stories and wanting to write something that I’d like to see and the truth of it is, especially back then, we rarely saw love stories with people of color in them. And so, it was also that fight to do that as well” (“Love & Basketball Q&A with Gina Prince-Blythewood | BFI”). What is also brought up by Prince-Blythewood in this interview is the change what the Hollywood industry has asked for in terms of accepting and rejecting film dramas and love stories. She reflects on her experience directing Love and Basketball and was fortunate enough to be provided a generous budget from New Line Cinema and the freedom she used to have in comparison to present film endeavours. Unfortunately, she explains how unlucky it is today for filmmakers to be able to direct and produce a film of that nature as easily as she got to when directing Love and Basketball. She notices that what is popular now are mostly sequels for upcoming superhero films. Even though she is up against these type of constructs of what is considered “popular” film titles in Hollywood, Prince-Blythewood explains how she still wants to stay true to her work and genuine interests opposed to what Hollywood wants, “…it’s getting harder and harder to make films in Hollywood especially dramas and love stories, but these are the stories I want to tell so it’s worth the fight” (“Love & Basketball Q&A with Gina Prince-Blythewood | BFI”).
British Film Institute. “Love & Basketball Q&A with Gina Prince-Blythewood | BFI.” Youtube. Youtube, 13 Nov 2015. Web.
Cruz, Araceli. “Q&A: Director Ava Marie DuVernay on Her Glam New Video for Miu Miu”. The Rolling Stone. 8 Feb 2013. Web. 8 June 2016.
Mitchell, Elvis. “FILM REVIEW; United and Divided by the Basketball Hoop.” The New York Times. 21 Apr 2000. Web. 8 June 2016.