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Columbia University School of the Arts announces Diversity Casting Initiative

September 6, 2018

The Columbia University School of the Arts Film Program is launching a new initiative, with funding from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to strengthen diversity in filmmaking and help graduate students think more critically about inclusivity in the course of writing and casting.


The initiative, funded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will support a new co-curricular casting program encouraging MFA Film students to promote diversity in their work.


Beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year, the Film Program will offer a two-part Diversity Casting Initiative. The first component will include two daylong workshops, one led by experts in color conscious/diverse casting and another featuring writers who have been recognized for fostering diversity in their creative work.


Both workshops, which will focus on the real-world experiences in the professional life of writers, showrunners and casting directors, will be held at the Lenfest Center for the Arts in fall 2018, and will be open to all MFA Film students. The discussions will also include screenings of guest speakers’ work, as well as breakout sessions and a Q&A.


A select group of students will engage in one-on-one mentoring with a guest casting director. The opportunity will be open to students who are seeking diverse casts for thesis films that will eventually screen at the Columbia University Film Festival, the annual showcase for student projects. Those interested can apply to a faculty committee in January 2019, describing their films and their reasons for requesting a casting coach. Five students will be chosen for intensive individual advising sessions that will last over a period of 10 months during the spring and summer of 2019.


“We are thrilled that the MFA Film program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts has received this grant from the prestigious AMPAS Foundation,” said Maureen Ryan, Associate Professor of Film. “The grant will fund an expanded diversity educational initiative – we will offer Diversity Casting workshops and Diversity Screenwriting panel discussions to empower our students to open up their vision for their script and casts. This program will allow us to bring in top industry casting directors, screenwriters and producers to work directly with our students over the next two years and will make a profound difference.”


The Film Program will reach out to groups such as Columbia Women in Film and Filmmakers of Color United in Spirit to raise awareness of the new commitment to expand diversity in casting. The film experts hired for this initiative will aim to connect Columbia students to diverse pools of acting talent, and encourage participation in casting events.


Leaders of the Film Program say that all students at Columbia will benefit from this initiative by becoming exposed to more layered, nuanced ways of thinking about character, casting, and storytelling in general. They added that it will also help to reduce stereotyping and using outdated tropes, and promote opportunities for people who belong to traditionally underrepresented groups.


"This grant from the AMPAS Foundation will have an exponential impact by initiating relationships between the Film Program and professionals who specialize in blind and diversity casting, connecting student filmmakers to a wider talent pool that is reflective of the society we live in, and supporting the work of underrepresented acting talent seeking to break into the profession,” said Sara Mason, Director of Academic Administration, Film Program.