Courtney Jines is an activist, actress, feminist, filmmaker…the list goes on. But this Sundance Ignite Fellow is refusing to fit into the boundaries Hollywood set for her.
I started making movies when I was very young. As soon as I got my hands on my parents’ video camera, I was pointing it at my family. Forcing them to star in fake musicals, fake commercials, and news programs – the original fake news, if you will. I was before my time.
And I was always the director.
At a certain point, somewhere around 14, it stopped being fun. My brother and my friends lost patience for it. They started calling me bossy and mean, and halfway through a day’s shoot, they would mutiny.
When I went to film school, this was the origin story I told. I didn’t tell anybody that I had also been a moderately successful actor as a kid. People would look at me differently when they inevitably found out.
They always do.
People tend to have a difficult time accepting others with complex identities. We would rather be able to put our finger on exactly who and what someone is. Especially women. Women are not allowed to be good at different things at the same time. We are not expected to exist in certain places, let alone hold power in multiple places.
Not long after I began film school, I wrote and produced a short film that made its way to the Big Bear International film festival. A small festival in the mountains just outside of LA. I will always remember the conversation I had with a young director there, who I had just met.
He told me women were too emotional to be directors. They make terrible films, and they’d better stick to producing. I remember how frustrated I felt that I couldn’t come up with enough great female directors off the top of my head to make him change his mind.
My grandpa, who is lovely and supportive, told me a couple years ago that I couldn’t be a director. Not because I was a young woman, but because, you know, the odds are stacked against me.
Well the odds are stacked against me. Because I am a woman.
Last year, 85 percent of films had no female directors, 80 percent had no female writers, and one-third lacked any female producers.
It’s not surprising that the male-dominated Hollywood culture manifests itself with a lack of three-dimensional female characters on screen. So it’s also unsurprising that we’re bad at accepting the existence of three, or even two-dimensional females in society.
But who would we be if we allowed that to stop us? Last year I found myself deeply called to join the revolution. Political and cultural. I left home and followed my feet to rallies, meetings, campaign offices, and progressive conferences. I felt like an immense force was growing, and I needed to be a part of it. I spent the year on the road non-stop. I ended up coordinating non-violent civil disobedience trainings nationwide. Everywhere from Miami, Florida to Flint, Michigan.
Since last summer I’ve shot, directed, and edited 11 videos.
But I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Especially as an artist. My friends were making serious films, and I was making campaign videos. I didn’t know what to call myself.
Activist? Filmmaker? Performer? Writer? Woman? Chronically anxious husk of a human?
I’m still learning how to feel ok with being all of the above.
As I get older, I’m trying to figure out how to combine the things that are important to me creatively. I was recently invited to attend the UN Commission on The Status of Women in New York with Project 1324, where I spoke to women about the necessary advancements they are making in their given fields.
Right now, the role of all young storytellers is simply to make sure the stories that need to be told are told.
Stories that will plant seeds of rebellion, contemplation, joy. Stories that make people feel less alone, and illuminate the many reasons for which life is worth living when it feels futile.
My advice to you – comrades with cameras – is this:
We are living in a revolutionary time. You know it. I know it. You better be creating honest art. Art that pours out of you without your permission, or art that appears quietly in a dream.
There are easier ways to spend a life, but possibly none quite as important.
Because when all is said and done, when we are gone, it is our stories that will remain. And our stories that will have helped us along the way.
Our stories are an extraordinary gift.
But they do not define us.
It’s easy for any artist to get fooled into believing that ultimately our worth lies in the content we create, in the stories we tell, in our productivity.
It does not.
Our worth lies in ourselves. Our lives are valuable. We are worth more than our stories.
Please remember this.
Watch Courtney’s film In The Future