Jack Levis and Madison Meadows featured in Poppy Shaw’s most recent film Paper Trails. Photo Courtesy of Poppy Shaw.

“I think Dodge’s film program is the best choice for me personally, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its flaws,” said Poppy Shaw, a junior film production major. “Dodge isn’t diverse and diversity brings life experiences that allow you to tell stories that are the most important” she added.

Although Dodge College of Film and Media Arts is one of the top-ranked film schools in the nation, students and professors agree there are still improvements to be made. The school still lacks exactly what the film industry as a whole is lacking- diversity.

A behind the scenes of Poppy Shaw working cinematography for a student IP. Photo courtesy of Poppy Shaw.

“It’s frustrating for me when people want to tell stories just because they seem interesting. Even if they don’t have a personal connection with it or haven’t done any research about it,” said Shaw, who is an international student.

Films have the ability to tell stories from different perspectives for audiences to relate to. That means more diversity among filmmakers. This is a major topic of discussion among Chapman’s Dodge students. Not just to push for a more diverse group of students, but to see a more diverse curriculum from professors in the classrooms.

Dodge leaders recognize the problem and are determined to do something about it. Much will depend on the new dean, Stephen Galloway, a long-time top editor at the Hollywood Reporter. Galloway took over just a few weeks ago amid the coronavirus pandemic. He has not t been available to comment.

But the Hollywood Reporter has written extensively about diversity issues in the film industry. Chapman students and faculty have high expectations that he will make diversity a top issue.

Chapman’s problems aren’t unique.

“People of color remained underrepresented on every industry employment front in 2019,” states the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report of 2020. 

Industry employment includes positions such as film leads, directors, writers, production workers, and studio executives. 

One thing that may be holding back Dodge: Chapman is notorious for being predominantly white students.

About 50.8 percent of Chapman’s student body is white and the second-largest ethnic profile admitted was 17.7 percent Asian. In contrast, the percentage of African-American students made up just 1.7 percent of the student body, according to Chapman’s New Undergraduate Class of Fall 2019

“It’s made me wary as a person that wants to go into the film industry,” said senior screenwriting major Oba Olaniyi. “I’m wary of the intentions people are making the films with. Sometimes you see films and you think, is this really supposed to be for me?”

Some acknowledge that Dodge does have fewer diversity issues than other departments at Chapman.

“I feel like out of all the schools within Chapman that Dodge is the most diverse in terms of LGBTQ+ representation as well as race representation,” said Sofie Oruene, a senior production major. “I feel very included, and I don’t feel ostracized at all. It’s been a very nice four years of not feeling like I’m different within the school and within Dodge. There are little hiccups along the way, but that’s with anything,” she added.

Flo Singer shooting for a documentary in Costa Rica for a Dodge Documentary 2020 Travel Course. Photo courtesy of Flo Singer.

Even so, there are frustrations that come with some minorities at Dodge. Sophomore Flo Singer, a broadcast journalism major, gives an example:

“A big part of your education is related to your relationship with your professor. I’ve yet to have a professor introduce themselves with their name and their pronouns besides my LGBTQ classes,” Singer said. “Especially in Dodge. It’s little things like having to introduce myself and feeling singled out when I have to say my pronouns are they/them and no one else has done it.”

Instructors in Dodge recognize the disparity in the classroom and at the university as well.

“Unfortunately, the faculty reflects what’s in the industry and that’s not an excuse in any way. For a long time our faculty was mostly white males because it reflected the industry not because it reflected the population” said Michael Kowalski, interim dean of Dodge College.

Dodge is taking steps toward a diverse future by implementing programs such as the Youth Cinema Project. Chapman University has partnered with Santa Ana Unified School District to participate in the Youth Cinema Project. Dodge College provides the school with equipment, stage space, mentorship, and 10 full-ride scholarships to students after graduation if they want to apply to Chapman.

“It’s challenging. You realize that the problem is that we are almost at the end of the process. You are getting the product of segregation that exists in the schools,” Dean Kowalski said.  “The way to fix it is mentoring the students, and that’s the best way to do it, but you have to get people to mentor. It’s not something you can do very easily.” 

Some Chapman students see the difficulty of the problem and the changes needed to be enacted.

“I think Chapman can only change as much as the rest of the world,” said junior public relations and advertising major, Katrina Talavera. “It’s hard when you break it down to that scale because you don’t get the answers you’re looking for.”

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