The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named Samantha N. Sheppard and J.E. Smyth as the 2021 Academy Film Scholars on Monday.
The annual grant is given to established scholars whose projects are focused on some aspect of filmmaking and the film industry. The Academy’s Educational Grants Committee will award Sheppard and Smyth each $25,000 on the basis of their proposals.
Sheppard is an associate professor at Cornell University. She 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.
“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,” Sheppard said in a statement.
Smyth lives in England where she is a professor at the University of Warwick. She 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. Smyth 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.
“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,” Smyth said. “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 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.