The room in the Martire Center began to fill as people made their way to hear the stories of accomplished women in the film industry. On March 22, Sacred Heart University’s Film and Television Master’s Program (FTMA) hosted a panel entitled “Women’s Journeys in Film and Television” in which they invited four women to speak on their experiences within the industry.
“I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge the work of outstanding bipoc women like our panelists in the film and television industries,” said Dr. Sally Ross, moderator and Director of FTMA. “We want to celebrate their achievements and also encourage aspiring filmmakers who may have had a hard time envisioning a path for themselves in the industry.”
The first of these women is French native Ingrid Jean-Baptiste, a journalist, actor and the Founder/Director of the Chelsea Film Festival in New York. The Chelsea Film Festival was created in 2013 to promote the work of emerging filmmakers and engaging diverse audiences, according to Jean-Baptiste.
Each woman touched upon their own unique routes to get to their current state within the industry, including the challenges they faced and the communities they found along the way. As women of color, they expressed race being one obstacle often needed to be overcome.
Shetal Shah described one incident when auditioning where she was told she was too Indian while another said she wasn’t Indian enough. Shah, according to her biography, is an Emmy-award-winning filmmaker, award-winning actor and performance poet.
Her most recent short film, “OFF DUTY”, is now distributed internationally after having had a terrific run in the US and international festival circuits and can be seen on Alaska Airlines as part of their in-flight entertainment.
Sharbari Ahmed felt as though she was missing a sense of community for a long time and constantly felt the need to explain her own ethnicity as a Bangladeshi Muslim woman. She keeps reminding herself to fight for what she deserves because without screenwriters such as herself, Hollywood has no stories.
According to her biography, Ahmed was on the writing team for Season One of the TV series “Quantico” on ABC, writing two episodes and contributing to the rest. She is currently one of the head writers of the “Kriya Karam” to be released on Voot (Viacom/Paramount) in India in 2024 and on Sling in the US.
Ahmed is also an adjunct professor within FTMA, teaching screenwriting and television development. Both Ebony Washington and Sharbari Ahmed highlighted finding community within the FTMA Program.
“FTMA was where my community started because we were all helping each other with making short films and being each other’s crew members,” said Washington.
Washington is an alumnus of the FTMA program and current writer’s assistant for “Grey’s Anatomy,” a job she desired when entering graduate school.
“Teaching keeps me grounded, I learn things from my students, and they remind me again and again why I love film,” said Ahmed.
The panelists finished the talk with advice to aspiring filmmakers by saying how everyone’s journey is different and that they must be their own advocates. They also noted the importance of rejection not being a sign that a person’s creations are not of good quality.
“I thought that what the panelists said was really good advice for women in the film industry, especially surrounding rejection and how it is alright to be told no which is something that sticks with me because the future can be so unknown,” said FTMA graduate student Ashley Gerckens.