Made in Her Image Nonprofit Helps Young Women of Color Become Filmmakers

Valentina I. Valentini

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In only its second year, Made in Her Image — a nonprofit, incubator-based workshop that teaches short filmmaking, start to finish, to girls of color ages 8 to 18 — has given more than 200 prospective filmmakers the chance to see themselves in a profession historically reserved for white males. 

“I didn’t look like what a director looked like in the course books,” says Malakai, the founder of MIHI and a self-taught director who recently released the short film “Souls” and directed “Postmarked” for AT&T’s Hello Lab in collaboration with Lena Waithe. 

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Nearly a decade ago, and a few years out of Scottsdale Community College’s School of Film+Theatre, Malakai was working for a post-production house but feeling her potential was being wasted. “This isn’t a sob story,” she says. “It’s just something that I was always told — sometimes it was implied — that I should stick to the post-production track. So I followed that path.” 

But she knew she wanted more. So she started a production company and grew her client list steadily until she was directing shoots for companies like Facebook and Color of Change. During this time, she also taught at a nonprofit organization for filmmaking and media (which she declines to name) and experienced programming that lacked any type of diversity initiative. In order to fill that gap — one she saw throughout the media industry — she started MIHI. 

“It was created out of this need to have women of color see who they can be and what they can do,” says Malakai. “I wanted to make sure that not only did these young women have the opportunity to see themselves, by having mentors within the industry, but also that they would have the opportunity to create images of themselves.” 

One recent participant, 13-year-old Nia Chanel, said of her experience in making the short film “I Am”: “It feels like I’m home. It feels like it’s not weird to like [filmmaking]. There are actually women of color who are doing it in real life, and it’s a reminder that I can do this too.”

Now, with chapters in Phoenix and Los Angeles and partnerships with Sundance Institute, Universal, Panavision, CAA and Disney, as well as support from screenwriter Tina Gordon and actor Regina Hall, MIHI is continuing to gain recognition. The organization has linked up with AT&T to host an incubator in Mesa, Ariz., for ages 10 and over. The group was set to receive a Community Service Award at SXSW in Austin. Though the festival was canceled due to the worsening global coronavirus epidemic, the grant will still be made.

“The work that [MIHI] is doing to leverage young women of color in this space aligns beautifully with South by Southwest’s mission of helping creative people achieve their goals,” says SXSW awards and grants programmer Chloe Quakenbush. “We hope this grant can further assist in inspiring these bright young creatives, and we look forward to showcasing [its] alumni at our event in the future.” 

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