Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, Female Filmmakers and The Crowdfunding Phenomenal

Cover Photo Creditby Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Industry shakers, underdogs, creative minded folks who find a way somehow aren’t new in the media industries and time and time again these types of individuals often make the industries take note of them. In the film industry we are treated to amazing stories about the new crops of film makers and creatives that rise from nontraditional backgrounds all the time and, after we see their work, we tend to be thankful that their work exists, that they were able to somehow shine-a one in a million, or a dime a dozen. Yet to combat the still very troubling imbalance of representation of women in the film industry behind the scenes, several women and female led projects have turned to crowdfunding to help accomplish their goals.

The 80’s funky pop hybrid song titled “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by the Britsh pop duo Eurythmics featuring the late and great Aretha Franklin comes to mind when I think of the form of access female creatives have riding this crowdfunding phenomenal. When we look back at the history of the film industry in the U.S. and also of Hollywood’s origins — one might call to mind lots of black and white photos and footage of White men, who pioneered how we shoot and handle film, how we create narratives within film and later who is allowed to do so. That list of men includes D.W. Griffith and his technical sophisticated and highly controversial Birth of A Nation (1915) film which showcased rape fantasies, blackface and reverence of the Ku Klux Klan. That film went on to gain a terrible legacy but one that history remembers regardless: being used as a recruiting tool by the Klan for an revival and also a commercial success becoming what many uphold as Hollywood’s first blockbuster.

Access to technologies of this then more experimental and fledging medium is questioned and left in a very structured system of race and class and wealth — and that divide first implemented before the turn of the century, still affects the world of film making. This divide is seen especially in the Western world, more specifically within Hollywood today. The push for more gender equity is still very much a fight as it was back into the years of Old Hollywood, of the “Golden Age” (1920’s to 1960’s), two decades ago, one decade ago, five years ago, even. The Center from the Study of Women in Television and Film gives us data that demonstrates the disparity.

In 2017, women comprised 18% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films. This represents an increase of 1 percentage point from 17% in 2016 and is virtually even with the number achieved in 1998. In recent years we have seen the pushback from the norm and more chances at diversity to shine and of course the activism that comes with it. The patterns of pushback and progress come and go for media scholars to study, in the meanwhile? There’s work to be done. And some of that work comes in the form of crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding which isn’t new is “ the use of small amounts of capital from a large number of individuals to finance a new business venture” as Investopedia defines. It is used mostly by individuals who lack the means of having the backing of big companies. It is especially a bigger and more accessible phenomenal now in the age of social media everyone can use their networks of people and also crowdfunding websites can boost projects through their platform throughout the internet.

There are a few big name platforms that most people turn when crowdfunding becomes ideal for them and that is Kickstarter which launched in 2009 and Indiegogo which launched in 2007. They are the biggest advocates for the arts, with Indiegogo originally being launched exclusively for indie films. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are more geared to those who pledge money in different tiers and by doing so can receive special prizes and incentives. In the area of film these include having your name in the credits of a film, receiving the script or a prop from the film, social media shout-outs, and even branded merchandise like t-shirts, key chains and the like.

The first verse of “Sisters are doing it for themselves” goes: “Now there was a time when they used to say/That behind every — “great man”/There had to be a — “great woman”/But in these times of change you know/That it’s no longer true”. I’m so grateful to have been able to have access to data on gender and crowdfunding as crowdfunding, itself, is still a fairly new topic for researchers and academia. For the platform known as Kickstarter, it has been found that women made up about “35% of the project leaders and 44% of the investors”. Women are more likely to support other women on the platform: “Only about 23% of projects that men invested in had female project leads. Conversely, more than 40% of projects that women invested in had female project leads”.

Female entrepreneurs may want to take note: women using Kickstarter tend to enjoy higher rates of success in fully funding their projects, passing initial goal amounts. “Women have a higher rate of success (80 %) than do men (76 %)”. There still needs to be further research on biases and taste making discrimination, yet one thing rings true: women are learning how to utilize crowdfunding, Kickstarter especially, and they are fine tuning it to make it work in their favor in several industries, not just film. Raising capital for films projects isn’t an easy job yet women are tasking themselves to do and the research shows that other women are supporting them and investing in them the most. Sisters, are really doing it for themselves, y’all.

Photo Credit

In this new day and age there are more and more people rising up with solutions to help the imbalance in the film industry, one in particular is Kickstart Diversity. It is a program from film making company Big Vision Empty Wallet that seeks to provide access to resources and discounts at every stage of production for projects by creators of marginalized backgrounds. To date several projects involving people of color, women and LGBT filmmakers have seen the day of light thanks to this program. My most recent film project that I pledged to, Racheal Cain Stephens’ ALASKA was one of these projects.

When the creators of Big Vision Empty Wallet, Dani Faith Leonard and Alex Cirillo who helped bring Kickstart Diversity about were interviewed back in 2015, Leonard mentioned that crowd funding isn’t a little known secret. It’s also not an option to scoff at, her example of Spike Lee’s using Kickstarter to get funding for his film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. To that end now that we have some credibility on our hands regarding the subject, I’d ask why not use crowd funding to help make film more diverse off screen and on? Why should women not place it in their tool box to use to help them achieve their goals when attempting to complete their film projects?

Personally I’ve been crowd funding projects for a handful years now with over some one hundred projects on Kickstarter backed alone. Of that number, I’ve been a pledger to over ten film and film related projects in the 2017/2018 season. I’m honored that at least half of them were directed by women and were women led projects. To that end, I’m sincerely happy to have helped several women of color succeed as I know from data and the historical patterns of representation that they have more obstacles to face in the media industries being not just women, but also nonwhite.

The most recent film projects I’ve help crowdfund that have succeeding in getting to their funding goals are: Yoko Okamura’s Lexical Gap — A Musical Short Film. “A wild lady-punk musical short about redefining the meaning of virginity. Purity is a myth!” Funded: Fall 2017 with 112 backers pledged $7,503 to help bring this project to life. Alicia K. Harris’ Pick. “A short drama about a girl who wears her afro to school and must deal with the unexpected consequences”. Funded Spring 2018. 337 backers pledged CA$ 20,841 to help bring this project to life.

Two more of the latest of my crowdfunding adventures for film by women include: Naima-Ramos Chapman”s PIU-PIU. “A psycho-surrealist thriller that explores one woman’s complicated relationship to routinized violence, romance, self and alienation.” Funded: August 2018 with 254 backers pledged $17,772 to help bring this project to life. Racheal Cain Stephens’ ALASKA — Thriller Feature Film About Facing Fears. A Female-driven feature psychological thriller film with practical SFX and themes of mindfulness and facing fears. Funded September 2108 with $63,388 to help bring this project to life pledged by 524 backers.

I think of Dr. Stacy Smith from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative and her Ted Talk titled” The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism”. Social scientist Smith’s argues the point that movies and the representation within the portrayals and what happens behind the scenes to make them and distribute them is a dire problem. She presents lots of hard data on what is still happening in Hollywood (this talk was given in 2016) about the harmful under representation and portrays of women (and in the same token, minorities) does not match up with real life portrayals. The info she presents deems itself a glaring issue Hollywood has yet to fix. What I love most about her talk is towards the end, she presents solutions. One I felt in my spirit was if we want to see and hear about more films by women — we have to support them.

That may translate to going to the independent movie theater chain instead of the multiplex, scrolling down longer when online to find films by women. Another solution that may be a bit more immediate: giving your money to help fund films by women-especially those from underrepresented backgrounds to help diverse stories get the chance to make it. (We need more women in film criticism as well because “gender imbalances matter because they impact the visibility of films with female protagonists and/or women directors” )

Crowdfunding is, at least for now, a great tool that female creatives have been utilizing to do it for themselves and carve out a place for themselves in this male dominated industry where they are not represented well on screen and off. I think back to the lyrics of that song, the chorus rings true: “Sisters are doing it for themselves/ Standing on their own two feet/And ringing on their own bells/Sisters are doing it for themselves”.

Yes, they are.

Yes, they most certainly are and it’s amazing to see sisters doing it for themselves.

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⭐️ Writer, Editor & Media Scholar with an affinity for red lipstick living in California. Writes about literature, art, cinema & amazing women. ⭐️

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