Supporting, celebrating and championing all women and their stories
In the words of the great American writer Joan Didion who passed this past December, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
For more than a century, movies have been one of the most powerful mechanisms for storytelling. They make us laugh, cry, escape, show us places and people we might never experience on our own and can shape our thoughts and views. Movies can change the way we see the world and even how we see ourselves in the world.
Remarkably prolific, Didion wrote articles, essays, books and ultimately screenplays for over 50 years. Among her many works, Didion and husband John Dunne wrote the screenplay for A Star is Born, which premiered in 1976 and starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The third re-make of the film depicts the tense and conflicted relationship between an aging rocker (Kristofferson) and his up-and-coming superstar wife (Streisand). I was an impressionable girl when I first saw it and it felt unfair that a strong woman who achieved her dream had to choose between stardom and love. While the film ends tragically, the female protagonist ultimately emerges stronger and more resilient.
From Norma Rae to Lady Bird to RGB, I’m hopeful and inspired when I see strong female protagonists being fearless and successfully breaking new ground. Marion Wright Edelman nailed it when she famously said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
According to the Celluloid Ceiling report from San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, in 2021 women comprised only 25 percent of directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 grossing films. This was up slightly from 23 percent in 2020. The report goes on to say that the gender of the person behind the camera is critical to delivering equality on screen. Indeed, according to their analysis, when a movie has at least one female director or writer, women are more likely to be cast for key roles. When women are directing, almost 60 percent of protagonists in a film are female, as opposed to fewer than a third when men are directing.
Under the leadership of Sundance Film Festival director Tabitha Jackson, this year’s Festival has a record 52 percent of films directed by women, up from the previous record of 46 percent in 2021, an encouraging sign.
Among this year’s most powerful films are Call Jane, directed by Phyllis Nagy, a fictionalized account about a suburban housewife who turns to — and later joins — The Jane Collective, a group of women in Chicago that facilitated safe abortions in the time before Roe vs. Wade. The Janes, a documentary directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes about the Jane Collective, is also being featured. Directed by Isabel Castro, Mija is a stunning documentary that tells the story of a young Mexican American woman struggling to balance her success as a music manager with her identity being a first-generation citizen and in a Mexican immigrant family.
While so many important female-driven films were selected to be shown at this year’s Festival, only 28 percent of the total films that were submitted were directed by women, a sign that the gender gap is still too wide.
At Adobe, we are committed to providing the spectrum of underrepresented creators — from women to Black to Hispanic to AAPI to LGBTQ+ — with the platform, resources and community needed to share their stories with the world. As part of that commitment, we are proud to partner with organizations like the Sundance Institute to create greater opportunities for female filmmakers.
As the Festival enters its second week, I want to spotlight some of the female filmmakers we are working with, supporting, and celebrating this year.
In partnership with IndieWire, we are sharing stories from successful and emerging storytellers about the importance of increasing representation in filmmaking. One of the 2022 Festival’s most talked about documentaries is La Guerra Civil, the story of the legendary and tumultuous 1996 boxing match between Mexican champion Julio César Chávez and his young challenger Mexican American Oscar De La Hoya. Director, Eva Longoria, felt strongly that women and Latinos needed to be strongly represented both in front of and behind the camera.
"Anytime I am in a position of hiring, I always do it consciously with Latino and female first. I think we have to continue to do that anytime when we are in a position of power – consciously hire people who are totally capable. We just don't have that pipeline of talent. We need to build the pipeline of talent,” Longoria Bastón said.
Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship Program
Since 2015, the Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship Program, has empowered a new generation of filmmakers from all backgrounds and provided the necessary tools, mentorship and community they need to tell their stories.
On January 24, we will host a filmmakers panel featuring some of the 2022 program participants, and you can also learn more about the amazing female fellows here: Karina Dandashi, Dylan Gee, Dubheasa Lanipekun, Lindiwe Makgalemele, Maliyamungu Gift Muhande, Natalie Murao, Marilyn Oliva, Juanita Umana.
Women at Sundance | Adobe Fellowship
In 2020, we partnered with Sundance on the Women at Sundance Adobe Fellowship. The fellowship is designed to support female artists creating bold new work in film, with a priority on filmmakers from historically underrepresented communities. The fellowship includes a cash grant, skill-building workshops, and year-round mentorship from Sundance Institute staff and Adobe executives. 2021 Women at Sundance Adobe Fellows are: McKenzie Chinn, Melody Cooper, Deborah Esquenazi, Cris Gris, Meryam Joobeur, Rajal Pitroda, Shaandiin Tome and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.
While there are encouraging signs, there is still so much work to be done to increase female-driven stories and the number of women making films today. We’re doing our small part here at Adobe, but it will take the entire film ecosystem to make real headway. For the moment, let’s celebrate the extraordinary female filmmakers at Sundance as we strive to create more diversity and equality in the stories the world sees.