In 2016, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born. As you imagine, the phrase came about due to serious dissatisfaction on social media, and in real life, about the abysmal lack of no actors of colour for two years running in the Academy Awards. Fast forward to 2017, we now have some people saying that the line is redundant due to the fact that films, such as Moonlight, are being nominated. And, have gone on to win. In fact, some have gone so far to say that this means we are starting to reach genuine diversity in the film industry… That this year has changed everything.
This was particularly said of the documentary filmmaking category in which four out of five films are directed by people of colour. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this led some friends to joke that our smartphone filmmaking competition, Eye Want Change, which seeks to promote diversity in film, isn't going be so relevant this year. Naturally, this got me thinking about why awards ceremonies cannot be, and are not, true markers of accessibility or change within an industry.
Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, for example, is a masterpiece; it sends ripples through the spine. It deserves its Oscar for best picture. And, perhaps more importantly, it is film that speaks and celebrates the lives and existence of the black LGBT community. Consequently, it has received emotional outpourings from those whose experiences are ignored by mainstream society. That is what an astounding and profoundly original work of art does. However, most filmmakers will never ever come close to making something so exceptional. With Moonlight, you aren't just seeing good filmmaking instead you are a historic moment for black-made cinema.
To succeed in the media, we shouldn't have to be exceptional to just have our voices recognised.
This is especially true for the young. The majority of us aren't born brilliant; we need space to develop and get things wrong. Similarly, many children from mixed race backgrounds are told to work twice as hard for the same recognition as their white counterparts. And women, from a young age, know that they will have to significantly outperform men to get the same recognition. However, this pressure to excel doesn't leave much room for experimentation or the journey to find your voice. So, Eye Want Change wants to be a platform for that. We want to allow for experimentation, learning and telling your story without needing fancy equipment or a big budget to do so. For judges Usayd and Cassie, the directors of Generation Revolution, this was one of the appeals of the competition. As they mention, "the barriers to entry for film showcases can be very high; whether it the requirement of a financial contribution just to submit your work or the expectation of an expensive production. Eye Want Change does away with these barriers, allowing for any young person to focus on the story and message at the centre of their work."
Despite this, we still value and privilege these films like any other film competition would. This means we seek out some of the top creative minds to view the films as well as prizes. This range from cash, work experience in video production in i-D and a screening event at a top London institution. Liv Little, founder and editor of gal-dem, mentioned how "from that, comes opportunities which is what we need when TV is traditionally such as white and middle class institution." This point was also echoed by Charlie Craggs, another of our judges, trans activist and founder of Nail Transphobia, who told us that " worked in film before moving to activism so I know what it is like to be a working class, council estate kid trying to compete with kids with less talent getting ahead on daddy's money and contacts. By Eye Want Change championing talent over money, or formal education, it gives people like me a chance. Working class people don't lack ideas or ambition, they lack opportunity and Eye Want Change creates that'."
However, Eye Want Change is hardly unique in its aim. It feels as if there is an outpouring that happens on social media as people battle to get their stories out and their voices heard. Great examples of this is the Art Hoe collective and the new Black Fly zine examining sexual health for people of colour. One of the founders live in Mexico City and the other in London yet due to the internet they can get their ideas out. Due to the prevalence of digital media, it feels as if there is a surge of people making the use of this space to challenge shallow representations. From the perspective of Eloise King, i-D's Global Executive Producer and another one of Eye Want Change's judges, this makes "the landscape more democratic and therefore diverse than anything we've ever experienced before in visual cultures - those who have the drive to share their truths reach beyond the margins to find larger audiences'." And, as society grows to feel increasingly polarised, we need to use new technologies to connect with similar stories and struggles from around the world. But, equally, we need to keep creating supportive platforms that nurture in order to embolden people to speak up globally and recognise the power of their voice.
Eye Want Change is a smartphone filmmaking competition that seeks to promote genuine diversity in the filmmaking industry. The competition is open until the 25th March and a screening will take place later in the year at a top London institution. This year, the competition is being judged by Charlie Craggs, trans activist and founder of Nail Transphobia. Marc Silver, director of 3 and a half minutes 10 bullets which won a Special Jury Award at Sundance Festival. Eloise King, founder of Women On Docs & Global Executive Producer at i-D and Executive Producer at VICE UK. Liv Little, founder of gal-dem and the directors of Generation Revolution, Cassie and Usayd. eyewantchange.co.uk
Text Jade Jackman