Lincoln (Neb.) - March 20, 1998 - The struggles of black and Asian female filmmakers pushing to bring their projects to an audience are examined in the most recent book by Gwendolyn Foster, assistant professor of English at the University of Nebraska.
"Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity" is the first book- length study of black and Asian women directors, a limited group virtually ignored by mainstream cinema.
In the book, published last fall by Southern Illinois University Press, Foster explores the work of six successful African-American and Indian female directors. It is an offshoot of her earlier work on a 1991 documentary called "Women Who Made the Movies" and an encyclopedia of women directors in 1995.
While researching those projects, Foster discovered that women filmmakers of color dealt with issues unique to them. Such women, she found, had exceptional trouble funding their films and getting them to an audience. Because of these obstacles, talented and potentially powerful voices are being overlooked in the cinematic arts.
"It's important that stories that haven't been told, get told," Foster said. "And that they get told by the people who know them best, who are closest to them."
Many of these stories, Foster noted, focus on exploring African-American roots and reviving forgotten histories.
"There's an interest in maintaining ties to history and finding that which is lost," she said. "There's also a tendency to look at things that are repressed by mainstream society, things that are not talked about, things that are taboo," such as interracial marriage and interracial sexuality.
Despite critical acclaim and success at prestigious film festivals, none of Foster's subjects have become household names. For many complex reasons - racism and sexism chief among them - these women haven't had the breaks of their male counterparts, she said.
Both Spike Lee and Jon Singleton, for example, made one movie that got the attention of Hollywood producers. Name recognition and multipicture deals soon followed. Despite the critical acclaim that women such as Julie Dash have received, such good fortune has not befallen black women directors, Foster said. But there is some hope on the horizon.
While not behind the camera, black and Asian female directors are working behind the scenes, making small inroads as producers, executive producers and distributors. And they're pushing to make films that appeal to a female audience, especially women of color, she said.
"The thing that encourages me most is that women are moving into the executive production positions (in Hollywood)," she said. "If you have women in place there, whether they're of color or not, it really changes what gets the OK (for financing), what gets a chance for distribution, what gets a chance at the film festivals, and ultimately what stories get to be told."
In her two years of researching for the book, Foster said she was amazed by her subjects' determination to bring their cinematic visions to the screen. Undaunted by continual setbacks, these women forged past racism and sexism in the industry to tell their stories and complete their projects.
"You have to be utterly driven as a director, but insanely driven as a woman of color," she explained. "To hang in there and get the money to make your film and then to get it distributed is an extraordinarily difficult process."
Foster is "thrilled" by the success of "Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity." Now in its second reprinting, the book has been nominated for a Theater Library Association Book Award, and feedback from from critics, academics and the subjects has been "appreciative and excited," she said.
Foster's next project will be a study of American cinema's
preoccupation with whiteness. "By not looking at whiteness," she
said, "we've missed opportunities to look at race and racism in
By Amy Cyphers
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