Jodie Turner-Smith is emphasizing the importance of inclusive hiring — and not just directors and actors. Per Variety, the “Queen & Slim” star called on the industry to provide better support to women and people of color, and to employ them in all filmmaking roles, above and below the line at Cannes’ Women in Motion event yesterday. She also spoke about her desire to help underrepresented artists navigate the business.
“I want to make my life about not only working with incredible directors, but working with women, working with women of color, using the opportunities that I have to give opportunities to people where the industry is being gate-kept to them or [who] are not being given the level of respect they deserve when they are extremely talented,” Turner-Smith said.
In addition, she debunked one of the most persistent and sexist myths in show biz: that there just aren’t any women directors to hire. The real problem, of course, is that women filmmakers aren’t given the same chances as their male counterparts. “People use the excuse, ‘Well, there aren’t that many female directors,’” Turner-Smith observed. “The reality is there are very many talented female directors but, again, when you don’t have the opportunity and you’re not given the opportunity, then that door isn’t opened for you and so then it’s like, suddenly, ‘Oh where are they?’ But they haven’t been allowed in.”
Turner-Smith, who counts “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” and “Nightflyers” among her credits, talked about how real inclusion goes beyond simply checking boxes. Bringing on a lead of color isn’t enough — you also have to make sure you’re doing right by the performer visually and narratively. “When you make casting choices and you hire actors of color in something, you have to hire people who know how to do their make-up, who know how to do their hair, who know how to light them properly,” Turner-Smith explained. “All of these things also have to feed it. You have to hire producers who understand their needs and who understand what kinds of stories we’re trying to tell and how to honor those stories so that you don’t end up with things that feel like tokenism or strange stereotyping or just leaving out people and excluding them. So many times, it’s like, we are going to tell a story that involves Black people, but there are no Black people in the writers’ room, there are no women in the writers’ room. There’s so many different elements of it. And all of those things mean money [to hire] the people that are necessary.”
Turner-Smith knows something about thoughtful inclusivity: she recently played the titular character in the U.K. miniseries “Anne Boleyn.” “I definitely anticipated that there were going to be people that felt a certain way about it,” she said, referring to how she, as a Black woman, was hired to play a white historical figure. “I think we’ve seen for years and years that in theater we have characters being played by people of all different ethnicities, but I think definitely in a medium like television or film it’s something we see much less. But I thought it was so interesting that the producers wanted to do something where they did this sort of identity-conscious casting instead of casting somebody based on what color their skin is.”
You can see Turner-Smith now in “Jett,” a crime drama now streaming on HBO Max. Her upcoming projects include sci-fi drama “After Yang” and a film adaptation of Don DeLillo’s “White Noise.” The former recently premiered at Cannes.
Cannes will run through July 17. Only four of the fest’s 24 Competition titles are directed by women.