It’s hard to replicate a sense of inspiration and energy over a Zoom call — a 30-minute one at that — but the Tribeca x Chanel “Through Her Lens” program managed to do just that with a virtual kickoff tea on Tuesday afternoon.
Gathered into one very chic gallery view Zoom call were the likes of Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Angela Bassett, Emilia Clarke, Yara Shahidi, Lucy Boynton and more, in honor of the annual program that recognizes women in the filmmaking arts.
“It is a grand and great opportunity for our humanity, our needs, our differences to be reflected on screen,” Bassett said of being a woman in the film industry today. “Women are so vastly different and complex that I enjoy seeing different representations of us. Women who are like myself, women who are…maybe they’re strong and forceful, or they’re mild and get things done, but we’re such different stratas of races and society, so I enjoy seeing stories that reflect our differences.”
Bassett reflected on her early days in Hollywood, when she had just moved out to L.A. in order to be on deck should she get called for a part — though the parts, she said, were far down in the priority ranking past parts for white and male actors.
“Thankfully, things change, and we go through all these cycles, and there was a period where there were a lot of biopics being done about historical figures, and ‘I’m Every Woman,’ and I had that opportunity to not have to wait and be down on the totem pole. So things began to shift in that early Nineties, as opposed to late Eighties, when I was thinking about just where I want to be so that I can work as an actress, not in what roles,” she continued. “[At that time] you’re not even thinking about the art, you’re thinking about sexual dynamics and the gender dynamics that are within the piece. And you just want to work as an artist and you don’t want to become cynical. You don’t want to lose your joy, it’s always about holding onto that, maintaining that as an individual, especially as the first female.”
Shahidi and her mother, Keri, launched their own production company a year ago, called 7th Sun Productions.
“There is so much that is happening in our company -— we initially waited to announce because we felt it important that we get shows off the ground and sold and developed, so even within the next couple of months we’re looking forward to giving people a better sneak peak into what we’ve been able to create,” Yara said.
The mother-daughter duo said they are using this current moment in society to recommit themselves to the kind of film they set out to make when launching their own company.
“This year hasn’t shifted the ways we’ve thought of the importance of media and what we want to do, but only further reaffirmed the importance of our mission of not only insuring that we’re pushing stories that are inclusive and intersectional on screen, but making sure that the infrastructures that we build for every show and every film match,” Yara said.
“I believe that we are seeing the changes and I want to access what my grandmother always told me, which is that patience is a virtue, but it is not something to rest on,” Keri added. “We are all a part of the changes that are happening in terms of being represented within the executive structure in the studio systems, being the point people behind the camera, and so that’s exciting to see. I think Yara and I, along with many of our peers that reside in intersections and that are creating representative media, are also pushing that agenda forward.”
“I think there’s a growing understanding that stories centering on brown people, as much as they may be about the same communities, same age range, none of them are duplicitous,” Yara said. “And so we are getting to a space in which just like we have seen in the freedom of white media to push certain stories, certain genres forward, wanting that same reciprocity and saying that my story featuring this one character is in no way like a story next to it. And they both deserve space on screen.”
Mira Nair spoke of her 1991 film “Mississippi Masala” starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury, and how in the 30 years since she left New Delhi to be a filmmaker, she continues to be surprised by how people resonate with her film depicting interracial love.
“I say this, really to help everyone remember the art of perseverance. The art that if you follow your instinct, and if you follow what makes you distinct, there will be an audience like there was an audience 30 years ago when I went to England to open ‘Mississippi Masala,’” she said. “It was lines around the block of people, interracial couples, people from everywhere who had united themselves, but wanted to see an anthem of people like themselves on screen. Because there is nothing more powerful than one’s own struggle, one’s own skin color, one’s own poetry, one’s own language, one’s music, one’s dreams on our screens. And today, despite the three decades, it continues to speak the truth, I think, and hold that mirror to the world today. And that is what I comfort myself with in this time.”