Spotlight | Black Girl Film School founder Jayda Imanlihen

Black Girl Film School is a collection of media experts, filmmakers, screenwriters, cinematographers, producers, directors, teachers, instructional designers, and below the line crew – all with one common goal of increasing the number of Black women working in the industry above and below the line.

AUGUST 10, 2020

Having worked in narrative film production and online higher ed for over 10 years, what are the best things about working in these areas?

The best thing about working in these areas is that I get the opportunity to re-imagine what a learning experience looks and feels like. I’ve discovered that online education is ripe for storytelling and delivering education online is a new frontier that can be used to amplify more voices of minority women that lead in filmmaking and other higher ed areas that traditionally lack representation (like Black women teaching filmmaking).

Talk us through how you came to start up Black Girl Film School

In 2018 it was reported that Black women represent just 3% of all faculty at US colleges. That number is probably halved when you consider Black female professors teaching film or film production in an MFA program. Personally, I’ve only ever had one Black female professor teach me film. That one professor wrote my recommendation letter for Columbia University Graduate MFA Film program. I was just a girl from Chicago who had never picked up a camera before nor been on a set, and the one woman who I learned film from, who looked like me, changed the trajectory of my life and I was off to New York City to study film with the industry’s leading experts. If she could impact my life by introducing me to the multitude of roles in film production that girls where I’m from might not be familiar with, or introduced to young enough to make it a college major or career path, I thought what if more girls could learn filmmaking by placing the Black woman at the center of the experience or exchange, and then going from there? Maybe real change could start to happen across the pipeline from education to employment. To start the pipeline with education, I founded Black Girl Film School and we became a 501c3 non-profit education foundation last year.

If you could wave a wand to ensure that companies in the film industry did one thing, what would that be?

Make an intentional effort to train Black females in departments that they are super under-represented in for film production. In my experience, I have heard producers say “they have difficulty finding good people” for below-the line roles. If film industry companies design intentional learning opportunities for Black females to apprentice and support areas (like the camera department) so that they are in the room AND are gaining the experience to get hired while learning, that would be the real magic. That’s why we focus two of our program pillars on training DITs and 2nd A.Cs

BGFS has partnered with the likes of Michelle Obama School of Technology and the Arts and the Chicago Public School District. Where are you setting your sights on next?

We are working to expand into more schools in the Chicago area. Specifically, we are looking to partner with art universities in the area such as Columbia College, University of Illinois, Northwestern University, University of Chicago and DePaul University. Additionally, we continue to partner with surrounding school districts to empower our education to employment pipeline. Locally, in Los Angeles County, we are aiming to partner with the CUSD -Compton Unified School District and middle schools serving students in Inglewood, Altadena and Long Beach, California.

How has the recent global uprising in support of the Black Lives Matter movement this year impacted Black Girl Film School?

The global uprising in support of BLM has impacted BGFS by raising awareness and helping film industry stakeholders connect the dots between the lack of Black female voices when it comes to media decisions and how that deficiency in Black women’s voices in world media contributes to systemic racism or implicit bias. The absence of minority voices is created and reinforced by American media hiring practices. It’s no coincidence that Black women represent less than 1.6% of Hollywood Producers or 0.6% of DPs in the film industry. There’s a pipeline issue holding Black women back from leadership opportunities and that needs to change. BLM and the global response has amplified the efforts to change this across sectors of our industry and BGFS hopes it can be part of the major catalyst that will bring about real change.

How does the reality of Black Girl Film School compare to the vision you had for it when starting out?

When I first started out I was still working to get people over the hump of believing that you can teach a quality film school program online. Even pre-pandemic, we knew we could serve more girls with a quality online and mobile curriculum and teaching methodology. Now that people have been forced to rethink how we learn and deliver instruction post pandemic, BGFS’s vision has expanded. This is just the beginning for BGFS in terms of how we can serve learners. We are in the lab thinking about experiences we can give learners online that they can’t get in person or in face-to-face classrooms and it’s exciting to forge a new path to educate this generation of leaders in digital literacy.

Talk us through the process for selecting learners at Black Girl Film School

While we pride ourselves on keeping our programs 100% free for the learner, there is a competitive application process because we have designed a high quality film school program for 8th grade girls. BGFS is designed to be rigorous to help put learners on a path toward a STEAM college major. We seek referrals from teachers, counselors, mentors, parents and librarians for 8th grade girls who have a passion for storytelling, a record for excellence in academics, is a trusted colleague amongst her peers and has the potential to contribute to re-imagining the legacy of our images through filmmaking.

Applications are open for all interested learners. If you know an 8th grader interested in applying you can find our application for our BGFS Foundations I course here. Applications require a letter of support and a video sample of work responding to a prompt.

Are there any dates in the diary we should be looking out for in the near future with BGFS?

We are so excited to launch our BGFS foundational curriculum introducing learners to the four core pillars of film production. Our Black Girl Film School Foundations I course kicks off this fall and like all of our curriculum offerings, we are delivering this course completely online. For this fall, we will select a cohort of 8th grade females from Los Angeles and Chicago. Each week features a syllabus of learning activities and customized multimedia. We are scheduled to get started for September 5th 2020.