Through Her Lens: Yara Shahidi Is Helping Women Tell Their Stories on Both Sides of the Camera

Illustration for article titled Through Her Lens: Yara Shahidi Is Helping Women Tell Their Stories on Both Sides of the Camera
Screenshot: Tribeca Chanel ‘Through her Lens’ program

There are stories, and then, there is “her-story”—specifically, stories that can truly only be told by, about, and for women. Nevertheless, creating the space, platforms and support for female stories, voices and perspectives remains a challenge for creators, particularly in Hollywood.


In 2015, Tribeca Enterprises and French luxury label Chanel joined forces to increase those odds with the creation of Through Her Lens, a women’s filmmaker program that attempts to achieve create access and mentorship within the industry.

Per a release:

Through Her Lens strikes a balance between industry mentorship and artistic development as well as funding. The combination is critical with all three needed to support emerging [women’s] voices. Since the programs start we have seen the filmmakers go on to producer these short film projects with them playing at major festivals, go on to be acquired by major distributors, and go on to directing features films.

This year, 19-year-old activist and actress Yara Shahidi, who recently delved into directing herself (in addition to being enrolled at Harvard), is serving as the advisor for the fifth annual program. Shahidi joins industry vets Sarah Jessica Parker, Catherine Keener, Julie Dash, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Julie Taymor, Moonlight producer Dede Gardner, writer/director Tina Gordon and more, all of whom are “leading the way as strong supporters for the next generation of female filmmakers.”

Sitting down with Through Her Lens’ cameras for a mini-doc titled What’s Her Story, Shahidi—wearing Chanel, of course—shares part of her own story, including her favorite movie line, dream role and the moment of encouragement she received from Kerry Washington. She also artfully dismantles the elusive concept of femininity, explaining:

“There is no one way to define femininity, and so much of the trap is in thinking that there is a definition. But I’ve truly been convinced that there is no definition of it, and it’s all embodied in different ways.”

To help tell the myriad stories of femininity, the 3-day Through Her Lens program, held Nov. 4-6 in New York City, is designed to provide mentorship, project support and masterclasses for U.S.-based emerging women filmmakers. According to a release, the program will also award $100,000 in grants; funding that could launch a filmmaker’s career.

For the program this year, five pairs of women filmmakers have been selected to receive project support for their short narrative films. They will participate in the three-day immersive program with one-on-one mentorship, master classes around script-to-screen development, casting, music composition, costume design, producing, and directing. Additionally, they will work with mentors to shape and refine their projects and pitches. At the conclusion of the program, each pair will pitch their projects to a jury of industry experts. One team will receive full financing to produce their short film with support from Tribeca Studios. The four other projects will be awarded grant funds to support their films’ development.

“We’re thrilled to enter the fifth year of this important partnership with Tribeca and Chanel,” said Amy Hobby, executive director of Tribeca Film Institute. “This program’s impact is undeniable—many projects supported by Through Her Lens premiere at prominent film festivals around the world, and the creators go on to write, direct and produce award-winning films and series.”

The Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) supports more than 225 filmmakers each year through programs and resources valued at more than $2.25 million. “We do all of this in service of the storyteller in order to break barriers to access, exposure, and sustainability that result from imbalances in representation and power,” says the institute’s release.


It’s access that can be game-changing in bringing more marginalized narratives, voices and talents to the film industry, both on and offscreen.

“To be able to live in our specificity and still tell universal stories is what’s really exciting to me,” says Shahidi, whose mantra is: “Who are we, if not each other?”


For more information about Through Her Lens, visit their website.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?