What makes a great filmmaker? Who gets to decide? What are the criteria?
There are no empirical answers, yet we somehow manage to come up with a canonical list which is dominated by white males, usually of a certain age. No one would deny the right of, for example, David Lean, Martin Scorsese, or John Ford – to name a few – to be on that canon but it should not be an exclusive right.
The potentially negative impact of the canon is succinctly summed up in the recently published RCS Anti-Racism Action Plan:
Canon is inherently problematic since it also sustains the supremacy of a set of works (usually White, Male, European) over others (including those composed, written or produced/performed by ethnic minority artists). Works are ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the canon. This clearly presents a hierarchical system which privileges White works over ‘other’ works. This can no longer be sustainable.
A new project, ‘D is for…(Diversity)’ aims to redress the balance and offer a more diverse look at cinema through the prism of an alternative canon. This is not an attempt at reconstructing the canon, rather it is an attempt to offer a canon. It does not intend to be definitive. The aim is that you will take this list and hopefully be encouraged to construct your own.
I have compiled an A-Z list which contains 27 names – 8 of them identify as male, 19 as female and the list includes 13 who are POC or Asian.
This is not an obscure trawl through the archives of unexplored cinema, most of the names are mainstream but they are perhaps not all as well known to the world outside cinema as they should be. Every fortnight on Whittaker Live we will feature a brief essay on each of these names outlining their career, their contribution, and their legacy, along with key resources from the Library and further reading. The first posting will be on Friday, January 8.
This project sits at the intersection of two hashtags – #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. The entirely justified attention being given to both these movements asks us questions about things we take for granted. D is for…(Diversity) aims to provoke some of those questions and encourage you to find answers.
Dr Andy Dougan
Film Studies lecturer
You can read the entire D is for Diversity series here.