Cinema Chicago spreads awareness and diversity to for marginalized groups and new filmmakers

by Aero Cavalier / Staff Reporter

And Then We Danced (2019) dir. Levan Akin. Photo courtesy of

This October saw the 55th Chicago International Film Festival. This film festival has been held every fall since 1964, and remains one of the largest international film festivals in the world thanks to organizers such as artistic director Mimi Plauché, managing director Vivian Teng and programmer Sam Flancher. Although the festival itself is only held once a year, the non-for-profit organization Cinema Chicago hosts events all year round. With a strong emphasis on diversity and education, the Chicago International Film Festival is an important part of film culture within Chicago and helps to promote messages of diversity and social justice within the world of cinema. This year in particular, there were a multitude of films produced in regards to both the black and LGBTQ+ communities, and included a lot of international filmmakers and women auteurs. 

On Oct 26, the festival promoted a Gala presentation of 2019’s “Harriet,” a biopic about Harriet Tubman directed by Kasi Lemmons. The festival also featured a competition for the Q Hugo award, an award for excellence in LGBTQ+ filmmaking which has historically awarded pieces such as Georgian filmmaker Levan Akin’s “And Then We Danced,” as well as a documentary titled “Seahorse” directed by Jeanie Finlay. 

In the United States, the movement towards exercising diversity in mainstream cinema has been slow. In recent years, audiences have seen movies such as Jordan Peele’s thriller-horror flick “Get out” and Greg Berlanti’s LGBTQ romcom “Love Simon,” both of which offered stories of marginalized groups that have historically not been represented in mainstream cinema.

Although both of these films received success in box offices worldwide, Hollywood is still built upon a few very successful studios that play a large role in which films and which narratives get wide-spread public releases. The capitalist ideals behind Hollywood prompt studios to make films that will turn a profit, instead of producing pieces that touch on more difficult subjects traditionally seen by producers as “too controversial.” This system often minimalizes new, independent directors and screenwriters in favor of grating big-budget film rights to established Hollywood elites.

Because the Chicago International Film Festival is a not-for-profit organization that relies primarily on donations, they are able to give smaller filmmakers with less mainstream narratives a chance to expose their work to the public.

Historically, film has been a white, male-dominated industry. Because of the lack of diversity within this particular artistic medium, the sphere of cinema has always been somewhat biased, and continues to lack diversity. The Chicago International Film Festival has a key interest in spreading messages of inclusion and diversity, and hopes to create content that is accessible to a diverse array of audiences. In 1997, the organization created a Black Perspectives Committee to showcase the diversity of African American films and filmmakers. They have also been responsible for promoting black creators such as Maya Angelou and Viola Davis.

In 2003, an International Connections Committee was created in order to promote representation of the multiple ethnic communities throughout Chicago. Currently, one of the organization’s mainstays is the annual International Screenings Program, a series of international films that are free to the public and shown at the Chicago Cultural Center. This program allows the message of diversity and accessibility to art to spread farther. If larger audiences continue to be exposed to diversity through small-scale films, we will perhaps see much more progress in diversifying mainstream cinema.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment


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