Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is paying it forward with the help of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Netflix.

The actress is co-founding a Proof of Concept initiative to grant eight female, trans, or non-binary filmmakers $50,000 each to complete short films as “proof of concepts” for features or TV series. Blanchett’s Dirty Films producing partner, Emmy Award nominee Coco Francini, and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder and director Dr. Stacy L Smith are behind the program.

Supported by Netflix, the program’s goal is to identify the next generation of filmmaking talent whose stories promote the perspectives of women, trans, and non-binary people. According to the latest annual report from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, six percent of directors across 1,600 top-grossing movies were women and less than one-third of all speaking characters on screen in those movies were girls, women, trans or non-binary people.

“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,” Blanchett said. “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. Giving genuine cause for hope is the commitment of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity for their help in establishing this pipeline to discover and nourish the creativity and success of new voices with compelling stories.”

Proof of Concept provides funding, mentorship, and exposure for up to eight filmmakers who will be selected for the program’s inaugural cohort. Each of these filmmakers will receive $50,000 in funding to create a short film that can serve as “proof of concept” for a feature film or television series. Throughout the process, they will receive one-on-one mentorship and guidance from industry leaders, culminating in a project showcase to spotlight their work. Participants will exit the program ready to enter the marketplace with their project and accelerate their path to larger scale filmmaking.

“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,” Dirty Films cofounder Francini said. “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. Proof of Concept is an actionable step to create meaningful and sustainable opportunities for these filmmakers.”

Dr. Smith, Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, added, “I could not be more thrilled to be working with marquee storytellers Cate Blanchett and Coco Francini to launch this program with the generous support of Netflix. I have long wanted to see the numbers move and this accelerator will help us to find and support the next Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay, Chloe Zhao, Melina Matsoukas, or Lulu Wang. Led by the creative excellence of the team behind Dirty Films, I have no doubt that the Proof of Concept Accelerator is a key solution in the push toward greater inclusion in film.”

Netflix Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria said, “We’re pleased to see Dr. Stacy Smith’s years of research being put into action alongside brilliant storytellers Cate Blanchett and Coco Francini. We remain committed to creating opportunities like these around the world through the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, and look forward to seeing the stories that are brought to life by this terrific team.”

Applications will open in January 2024. Proof of Concept is supported by Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, a dedicated effort to help train creatives for job opportunities on Netflix productions and set talent up for success in entertainment. Since its launch in 2021, Netflix has partnered with over 80 organizations in more than 35 countries.

Blanchett and Francini’s Dirty Films have produced Apple TV+ film “Fingernails,” Sundance selection “Shayda,” and Cannes selected “The New Boy,” in which Blanchett starred. Upcoming projects include Jenny Suen’s English language debut “Peaches” and Ben Stiller’s “The Champions.”

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