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Get to Know Women of Cinematic Arts
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On Thursday March 23, Women of Cinema Arts (WCA), hosted a screening of Pioneers in Skirts, School of Cinematic Arts alumna Ashley Maria’s documentary about the dire state of gender equity in Entertainment, Tech and other industries.
WCA President Nicole Wisdom reminded the audience of the stark facts of the film industry, including that out of more than 400 Academy Award nominations for best director, only eight have been for a film led by a woman; and only three have won (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Chloe Zhao for Nomadland and Jane Campion (who was nominated twice) for The Power of the Dog).
Following the screening, director Ashley Maria moderated a panel comprised of SCA alumni HIKARI, Iram Parveen Bilal and Martina Lee, joined by filmmaker Brea Grant who worked on Pioneers with Maria. They spoke about their personal journeys to getting projects made, and overcoming the disappointment of stalled projects, intermittent unemployment, and rejection. The event was emblematic of the kinds of work WCA does to promote and progress the work of women filmmakers, particularly those who graduated from SCA.
We asked Women of Cinematic Arts Vice-President Erika Davis-Marsh to update us on the organization’s goals and undertakings.
Please give us some background about WCA’s founding and what the organization has been up to in the intervening years.
Davis-Marsh: Women of Cinematic Arts (WCA) was founded in 2005 by students, faculty, and alums who felt that the entertainment industry grossly underrepresented female filmmakers. This was before the current media spotlight on inequality in Hollywood, so efforts to make a change were less visible. Our founders felt that real change would have to come from the root — college. If women could find and make connections in college, they thought they would be more likely to have a network upon graduation. Women were well-represented in my graduating class when I earned my MFA in 2018. Yet, current industry statistics do not represent that same inclusion. Being a part of WCA continues the friendships, networking, and community fostered at SCA. We want to bridge the gap between school and career and support women and gender non-conforming graduates for the entirety of their careers. In other words, we are here from graduation to retirement.
SCA alums run WCA and hold regular events such as workshops, networking meetups, screenings, and guest speakers. One of our more popular programs is our Writer’s Workshop, where WCA members are assigned teams to help polish their next film or TV pilot. We have had amazing guests come to speak, including Britney Segal (Head of TV, Gloria Sanchez Productions), Erin Reynolds (Founder of Gaming Studio, Flying Mollusk), Nami Melumad (Co-Composer, Thor: Love and Thunder), and Alice Brooks (DP, In the Heights). Globally, we aim to support diverse voices and create a feminist community of filmmakers.
So is WCA just for SCA alumni? And how do you support each other?
Davis-Marsh: Yes. WCA is for the women and gender non-conforming graduates of the School of Cinematic Arts; BFA, or MFA. This also includes anyone who graduated with an SCA minor or any degree in collaboration with the School of Cinematic Arts, including the Marshall Business of Cinematic Arts (BCA), USC Thornton Screen Scoring Program and selected Annenberg and Dornsife programs. If you took classes at SCA, you can check with us about your eligibility.
Our current goals are to increase networking and mentorship from within the alumni of SCA. Many of our programs focus on creating supportive communities to increase creative collaboration within our membership. We are also actively seeking men and women in the industry to mentor and hopefully sponsor our members in their careers. I want to talk briefly about sponsorship; that’s where someone actively vouches or advocates for someone, using some of their capital to help their mentee’s career. It’s been proven that a higher burden of proof is needed to advance a women’s career–more shorts, more shadowing, and more accolades. Hopefully, it won’t be that way for much longer. In the meantime, we are actively working with alumni of SCA and others in the industry to create meetings and, hopefully, pathways to sponsorship.
Why is it important for an organization like this to exist; one that is focused on helping women find ways to work together to succeed?
Davis-Marsh: Such a great question and one our founders knew from the start: women are great collaborators and can be part of the solution. The female students from any of the School of Cinematic Arts’ core programs have graduated from the number one film school in the U.S., which puts us in an elite group of highly educated and prepared professionals. The entertainment industry must know where to find these talented and seasoned creatives. WCA can be that industry resource. We also know that we must create many of our own opportunities in this fast-moving creative industry. This is why our internal networking programs are the key to creating a sisterhood of creators who actively generate opportunities for themselves and their colleagues.
It’s been well documented that people with a strong network of friends and colleagues have better careers, a better life/work balance, and feel happier. Many times in a career, you might feel isolated or unsure of the correct next step: right after graduation, after a long absence (perhaps due to having children), or maybe because your current position lacks growth opportunities. WCA aims to unite women as a community to support each other through all life and career milestones. We want to be those friends you can always count on, even if it’s been years since we spoke.
Anything coming down the pike that you’d like to share?
Davis-Marsh: We just kicked off the Spring Writer’s Workshop, so expect some fantastic scripts to reach completion in about 12 weeks. Applications for the next session usually open in late summer. We are about to kick off our Coffee and Co-working initiative, where women can join supportive working groups and meet other WCA women in their neighborhoods. The always popular Groups.io is an excellent resource for jobs, referrals, and general questions. We have had great success in our peer-to-peer mentorships, and there will be similar programs later this spring. And the entire Discord community space should be open later this year for easy networking and collaboration.
So for SCA woman students about to graduate, I’m going tell them to join WCA stat! How can they do that? Do they show up at an event? Is there a membership fee?
Davis-Marsh: We are an all-volunteer organization with a small but dedicated group of board members. Everyone also works full-time as a career professional in the entertainment field. Volunteering to help with events or becoming a board member is the fastest way to friendship and deep community bonds. We aim to have every female or gender non-conforming graduate of SCA be a member. We have members that graduated in 1975 to the most recent class.
It’s free to join the organization. Our membership applications are found on our website, www.womenofcinematicarts.org. Just complete a quick application, and we will do the rest. Please wait until after graduation to avoid delays in validating your application. If you aren’t sure if you qualify for membership, contact us at email@example.com.
And, of course, you can follow us on social media IG/Facebook: @womenofcinematicarts. That is where you can learn about our upcoming events, watch clips and engage with our community. Once you are a member, you can access our private Discord, Facebook, and Groups.io communities. Many of our events are open to the public, and we hope you join us. And if you are an entertainment industry professional and want to work with us, please reach out. We would love to collaborate.
Students can join our sister organization, the student WCA, a campus club. They host the amazing Feminist Media Festival, and we try to collaborate on projects with them throughout the year. Student WCA IG: @uscwca.
To learn more and watch the film Pioneers in Skirts, visit www.pioneersinskirts.com.
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From L-R: Directors HIKARI, Ashley Maria, Iram Parveen Bilal, Martina Lee and Brea Grant
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