Frank F. Islam
At the closing ceremony of DCSAFF 2018
Thank you, Sanjay, for your kind introduction. Thanks to Manoj and Geeta for inviting me back to speak again this evening. This is the fourth year in a row that I have had the privilege of addressing the closing ceremony of DCSAFF.
Each time I spoke was special for me. Speaking tonight is extra special because of the film festival’s focus this year on the empowerment of women – a topic that is near and dear to my heart and to my wife Debbie as well.
I will share my thoughts on the critical importance of that focus later in my comments. Let me begin, however, by saying a few words about the festival.
In 2014, the first time I participated in the festival, I mentioned that DCSAFF had become one of the finest film festivals in the Washington, DC, area. This evening, as I look around this room, I am convinced that — and I am quite confident that you will agree with me on this — DCSAFF is now one of the best South Asian film festivals in the country — not just this region. The way Manoj and Geeta have scaled DCSAFF over the years has been amazing. What started as a modest experiment has now become an institution of great repute. I want to congratulate both of them for taking the festival to the next level.
Let’s give a huge round of applause to Geeta and Manoj.
I also want to recognize Geeta and Manoj’s key partners in putting together the festival for 2018: Montgomery College, one of the finest community educational institutions in this nation, and the Women in Films and Television’s India Chapter. Dr. Sanjay Rai, a dear friend, is here representing the College and Petrina D’Rozaro who launched and is President of Women in Film and Television’s India chapter is here as well. Let’s put our hands together for them and their organizations.
I want to say few words on Sridevi. She burst into the world of cinema in 1967 at the age of 4. Her versatile acting skills, unbelievable poise and grace, and sensational screen presence enabled Sridevi to enter India’s consciousness at a young age and remain there for 50 years. In a media poll a few years ago, Sridevi was voted “India’s Greatest Actress in 100 Years.” With her death, we lost a talent that will never be replaced.
I also want to congratulate the incomparable Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who won the Meryl Streep Award, named after the American icon. Unfortunately, Aishwarya could not be here tonight. Let me acknowledge, however, the following wonderfully talented women who have been able to join us: Namrata Singh Gujral; Candy Clark, Aamina Sheikh, Swara Bhaskar, and Catherine Hand.
The great American poet Maya Angelou once said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” All of you women of film in this audience tonight have been standing up for women for your entire careers.
You have been in the forefront of women’s empowerment. Being with you this evening is empowering for all of us. We need to ensure that the rays of empowerment that are shining forth here carry back to India and are magnified one thousand-fold.
That magnification must begin with changing the nature of the film industry in India. Bollywood like Hollywood remains a male dominated bastion.
The women’s place has been in front of the camera. In this 21st century, we need to see more – many more – women behind the camera, producing, directing, writing screenplays, designing sets, performing every job that is required to produce a quality film. That must be the starting line though and not the finish line.
The finish line must be stories by, for and about women. That is so because the true power of those in the filmmaking business is in story-telling.
For most of the history of Indian film, there have been few stories told about women. And, the treatment of women in Indian films has normally fallen into the 3-S trap. Those S’s are secondary, superficial, and stereotypical.
- Secondary: There are few primary roles featuring women.
- Superficial: Women are cast in parts because of their beauty or attractiveness
- Stereotypical: Women are portrayed in a manner that reinforces the cultural power structure
This needs to change. It needs to change to enable Indian women to aspire to be whatever they can be. It is important for the future of Indian women and the future of India itself.
PM Modi in November 2017 speaking during Global Entrepreneurship Summit said, “Women empowerment is vital to India’s development. Women first. Prosperity for all”.
As you all know, the status of women in India is not one of equality. Indian women are far less literate than their male counterparts. Their participation in higher education is lower than males. Only 14% of Indian business establishments are run by females.
I could go on with an endless stream of statistics. But, I don’t believe I need to because I am certain you get the point.
Indian women need to have stories told through film that inform, educate, enlighten and inspire. Those stories will liberate them and legitimate their decisions and decision-making whether it is to be a home maker, a skilled employee, or an entrepreneur.
My wife Debbie and I place an emphasis on promoting education and the arts through our foundation because we believe that this combination is empowering both for the individual and the society at large. As I close here, in reflecting on women’s empowerment and the role that you as filmmakers can play in women’s empowerment in India, let me leave you with this final thought:
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. It is the time for women’s empowerment. Tell your stories now so that Indian women can learn from them. Empower those women to write their own stories. Use those stories to write more stories. This ensures that the empowerment cycle will not be broken. It will go on and on and on.
Thank you for listening to me and for all that you do to make India and the world a better place through your artistic endeavors. God bless you all.