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Academy Names 2021 Academy Film Scholars


Samantha Sheppard
Samantha Sheppard (Photo: Allen Holt)

Samantha N. Sheppard and J.E. Smyth have been named as the 2021 Academy Film Scholars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The annual grant is given to established scholars whose projects are focused on some aspect of filmmaking and the film industry.

J.E. Smyth
J.E. Smyth (Photo: Z Smyth)

Their respective books are titled A Black W/hole: Phantom Cinemas and the Reimagining of Black Women’s Media Histories and Maisie: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Most Powerful Woman.  The Academy’s Educational Grants Committee will award Sheppard and Smyth each $25,000 on the basis of their proposals.

In a statement, Academy Grants Committee co-chairs Marcus Hu and Sara Rose,  said, “For the third year in a row, we are delighted to support the brilliant research of two women scholars. Sheppard and Smyth’s insightful examinations of their respective topics will be meaningful contributions to the study of film history, filmmaking and the industry as a whole.  We look forward to seeing the outcome of their hard work.”

Sheppard is an associate professor at Cornell University, who holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles and a B.A. in Film and Television Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Dartmouth College.  Her book project, A Black W/hole: Phantom Cinemas and the Reimagining of Black Women’s Media Histories, will address the voids in cinema and media scholarship relating to Black women’s creative practices, histories, traditions, and discourses.  Through a series of case studies, Sheppard’s book will provide histories and reimaginings of Black women’s impact on American cinema.  She is the author of Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen and has published essays on Black film and media in Film QuarterlyThe AtlanticFlash Art International, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

On receiving the honor, Sheppard said, “I am thrilled to receive recognition and support from the Academy for this book project, especially as the growing visibility of Black women in front of and behind the camera provides an occasion, if not the imperative, to examine Black women’s cultural production and impact on the past, present, and future media landscape.”

Smyth resides in England where she is a professor at the University of Warwick.  She is the author of several books about the entertainment industry, including Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood, and is a contributing writer at Cineaste.  Her book project, Maisie: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Most Powerful Woman, is the first-ever biography of Mary C. McCall Jr., the first woman to be elected president of the Screen Writers Guild (back in 1942).  McCall guided Hollywood screenwriters through their first contract negotiations and credit disputes and led the Council of Hollywood Guilds and Unions at the end of World War II.  She built a network of feminists who fought for recognition in the American film industry, but ultimately sacrificed her career to defend the last remnants of the Guild’s contract and commitment to freedom of speech during the Hollywood blacklist.  Smyth holds a Ph.D. in Film Studies and American Studies, an M.Phil. in American Studies and an M.A. in History of Art from Yale University, as well as a B.A. in History of Art from Wellesley College.

“Today, many people think Golden Age Hollywood was dominated by men.  They’ve forgotten Mary C. McCall Jr., the three-time president of the Screen Writers Guild who had the guts to sue Howard Hughes at the height of the blacklist,” said Smyth.  “It’s time to remember her, and I’m thrilled and honored that the Academy is supporting her biography.”

Sheppard and Smyth join 16 Academy Film Scholars who are currently working on projects and 21 other scholars whose works have already been published.  Academy film scholars with projects in progress include Charles Musser, Emily Thompson, Stuart Liebman, John Belton, Cari Beauchamp, Dan Streible, Thomas Schatz, Laurence Kardish, Ellen Scott, Donna Kornhaber, Ross Melnick, James Andrew Tweedie, Allyson Nadia Field, Melinda “Mindy” Johnson, Racquel Gates and Rebecca Prime.

Established in 1999, the Academy Film Scholars program is designed to support significant new works of film scholarship.  The Academy’s cultural and educational wing – the Academy Foundation – annually awards grants to film scholars, cultural organizations and film festivals throughout the U.S. and abroad.  Through the Foundation, the Academy also presents a rich assortment of screenings and other public programs each year.

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