Cate Blanchett, USC partner to support female, trans, nonbinary directors

Cate Blanchett Proof of Concept USC Program

Cate Blanchett, center, Stacy L. Smith, left, and Coco Francini, have taken action against the long-standing lack of representation in the film and television industry. Proof of Concept will provide funding and mentorship to filmmakers whose stories promote the perspectives of women, trans, and nonbinary people. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images for Stacy Smith, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Cate Blanchett wants to see diversity on film and television sets move at a faster pace. 

Just 6% of the 1,600 top-grossing movies between 2007 and 2022 were directed by women, according to a recent report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Less than one-third of all speaking characters in those movies were women, trans, or nonbinary. In 2022, less than half of the top 100 films had a woman as a lead or co-lead.

Blanchett has put her money where her mouth is to help make it happen.

The actress has partnered with USC to create the Proof of Concept Accelerator Program, which aims to support women, transgender, and nonbinary filmmakers by removing industry barriers, including exposure, mentorship, and money.

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Blanchett, who runs the independent film company Dirty Films with her husband Andrew Upton and co-founder Coco Francini, created the program with Francini and USC Media Diversity Director Stacy L. Smith. Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity is a supporter of the project.

“Providing tangible financial and career support for filmmakers who often get overlooked will not only give them a fantastic launchpad to success, it will also expand the future of film and television,” Cate Blanchett said in a press release. “Dirty Films is thrilled to be a leading partner for Proof of Concept, a groundbreaking program inspired by the profound work of Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in leveling the playing field.”

Blanchett added that the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity gives “genuine cause for hope in establishing this pipeline to discover and nourish the creativity and success of new voices with compelling stories.”

Proof of Concept will give eight filmmakers one-on-one mentorship from industry leaders and $50,000 to create a short film that can be used as a “proof of concept” for a feature film or television series. Applications will open in January.

“When it comes to frequently marginalized voices, people feel that they don’t know how to advocate for themselves financially. This program (will help) people realize through making a short film what their feature could be like so when they take it to a studio or a streaming service or whoever, they are able to budget it, and they know what to ask for and who to ask for that money,” Blanchett told People.

“We want to arm them with the tools to say: ‘This is not a risk. This is going to add value to you as a company and to audiences who haven’t seen something like this before’,” she said. “We’re missing an enormous creative opportunity by not diversifying. We deplore creative laziness. We deplore financial laziness, and so we should therefore deplore a lack of inclusivity.”

In the press release, Francini said, “Proof of Concept was designed to solve a very simple problem: audiences want to see large-scale work from filmmakers with daring and diverse perspectives, but there is not yet enough support to nurture these voices at earlier stages of their career.

“Despite the success of films like ‘Barbie,’ ‘The Farewell,’ or ‘Past Lives,’ it is as challenging as ever to launch audaciously authored work from new creators, particularly those who tell stories from the perspective of marginalized gender identities,” she said. “Proof of Concept is an actionable step to create meaningful and sustainable opportunities for these filmmakers.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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