Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Cate Blancette and Coco Francin sitting together
Taking action against the long-standing lack of representation in the film and television industry, Proof of Concept will provide funding and mentorship to filmmakers whose stories promote the perspectives of women, trans, and non-binary people.
Photo courtesy of USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Cate Blanchett, Coco Francin and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative launch proof of concept accelerator

Academy Award® winner Cate Blanchett and Emmy Award nominee Coco Francini, who are partners in Dirty Films, along with Associate Professor of Communication Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have launched the Proof of Concept Accelerator 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 Smith and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, 6% 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. This lack of inclusion behind the camera and on screen means there are limited career opportunities for women, trans, and non-binary storytellers and those who want to bring their stories to the screen.

Proof of Concept challenges the three most significant barriers these directors face as they navigate the industry: funding, mentorship, and exposure. Up to eight filmmakers 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. 

“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 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,” 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.” 

“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,” Smith said. “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.”

“We’re pleased to see Dr. Stacy Smith's years of research being put into action alongside brilliant storytellers Cate Blanchett and Coco Francini,” said Bela Bajaria, chief content officer at Netflix. “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." 

More details on the program, including eligibility and application details can be found at the Proof of Concept Accelerator site. Applications will open in January 2024.

The program is supported by the Netflix 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.