Milwaukee Film believes that we have much work to do in our organization, as well as in the context of our community and industry, to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

Though Milwaukee Film had already taken important steps in advancing EDI work, we acknowledge that – prior to 2020 – we had not sufficiently elevated the importance or the urgency of this work. The summer of 2020 made it clear that we must do more. Since that time, we have made a strong commitment and significant investment in identifying the key issues we must address to make our organization more equitable and accessible, both for our employees and our audiences.

Milwaukee Film remains a work in progress when it comes to advancing equity, and we are on a path toward creating a more diverse and inclusive structure, from our leadership to our programming. Our goal is to continue to increase our investment and leadership in this space and to begin transformative work in our organization. 

Through this page and other channels, we commit to sharing regular updates with our supporters on this work going forward, including sharing a comprehensive update on our progress twice a year. 

Our history

Our recent efforts follow a number of previous actions intended to advance EDI by our organization. However, it’s important to note that, though Milwaukee Film had already taken important steps on EDI in recent years, we acknowledge that we had not sufficiently elevated the importance or the urgency of this work and that it had not permeated all areas of our organization.

Establishing Black Lens (2014), Cine Sin Fronteras (2015), GenreQueer (2018), and the Black Lens Council membership program (2016)
Through our Black Lens, Cine Sin Fronteras, and GenreQueer programs, we aimed to help our staff and our audience become more reflective of Milwaukee’s population and to elevate diverse voices in all aspects of our programming. These programs were created to be transformative for our community and our organization. However, we now fully understand that these programs were just a first step toward engaging diverse audiences throughout Milwaukee, diversifying our staff, and incorporating equity practices. The launching and administering of these programs exposed organizational deficiencies and challenges that previously we did not work quickly enough to address and solve.

Creating education programs that expand access
Our education department has worked since 2009 to establish a number of programs that seek to remove barriers of access to theater experiences and classroom resources, as well as create inclusive programs to serve all students. For our education screenings, our priority has been to work with schools in the MPS district. In addition, our Reel Talks, Melinda Krei Educator Fellowship, Teen Screen programming committee, and high school filmmaking course have served students and educators from a broad range of schools in the Milwaukee region.

Hosting members of the Public Allies program
Public Allies is a national movement committed to advancing social justice and equity by engaging and activating leadership for young people. From 2017 until the pandemic caused us to reduce our staffing level in 2020, Milwaukee Film consistently hosted a public ally from this program on our staff.

Training opportunities for staff, volunteers
Understanding the need for leadership and staff training in EDI, Milwaukee Film commissioned Ubuntu Consulting to create an EDI learning component for the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival staff orientation and volunteer training program. For 2019, the LGBT Community Center facilitated a workshop on gender diversity during the Festival orientation. Because seasonal staff and volunteers were not part of 2020’s virtual Festival, staff orientation was not required and volunteer trainings were not held.

Diversifying the board of directors
Recognizing that our board of directors would benefit from more diverse perspectives and the experience of EDI professionals, starting in 2019 Milwaukee Film actively sought to elevate additional members of groups that are underrepresented in nonprofit boards to its leadership. These recruitment efforts led to the addition of two EDI professionals to the board in 2020.

Creating the Minority Health Film Festival
Through the combined leadership of our Black Lens program and our partners, Milwaukee Film created a first-of-its kind festival to focus on reducing stigmas and improving wellness of communities traditionally marginalized based on race, culture, gender, orientation, age, or citizenship status. The Festival began in 2019, and the third annual event will be held in September 2021.

Improving accessibility at the Oriental Theatre
As part of our extensive renovations to the historic Oriental Theatre, we have prioritized increasing accessibility for all audiences. Since taking over operations of the theater in 2018, we have added an accessible first-floor women's restroom, established a gender-neutral restroom, added accessible seating, improved lighting, and installed a hearing loop system in the west and main houses. Ongoing renovations will continue to improve accessibility throughout the theater.

Our work in progress

In 2020, our CEO, Jonathan Jackson, asked to be held accountable to this statement: “In the coming days, weeks, months, and years, Milwaukee Film will and must take meaningful action on racial justice and all forms of equity, diversity, and inclusion work in order to not just make our own organization more equitable, but to make Milwaukee, the film industry, and America more just.” 

These are the key EDI investments we made throughout 2020 that we’d like to share with you. 

  • Established our Cultures and Communities department to bring together, strengthen, and grow our established Black Lens, Cine Sin Fronteras, and GenreQueer programs, as well as to expand our work in advancing EDI and engaging new audiences 

  • With assistance from a consultant, conducted a staff survey on our current work practices related to EDI to understand staff competency in EDI and to inform our next actions 

  • Created two new part-time staff positions of EDI co-leads to lead and advise on Milwaukee Film’s next steps in its EDI work; two existing staff members are being paid to take on these additional roles 

  • Formed a staff Equity Group to meet monthly, elevating and discussing EDI issues from a staff perspective 

  • Began a lunch-and-learn series to offer bi-weekly readings and discussion to interested staff, designed by our EDI co-leads 

  • Elevated BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) individuals to leadership positions, including to the staff lead team, the board of directors, and the board executive committee 

  • Created a new board HR committee to oversee and advise on staff HR policies, including our growing investments in EDI programs at all levels of the organization 

  • Created a list of priority areas for EDI work through collaboration of our EDI co-leads, Equity Group, and staff leadership

  • Launched Focus Finder program for filmmakers, an NEA-supported storytelling accelerator designed to build a small cohort of emerging local filmmakers from underrepresented communities and provide them with financial and professional support for two years as they work on a major storytelling project

  • Partnered with the Race, Equity, and Procedural Justice Committee of the Milwaukee Community Justice Council for two events, forming a key link between our work and the movement toward social justice in our community 

Our EDI framework

We’ve identified five main areas as a current framework for setting EDI priorities within our organizational structure. This framework is a key initial step in examining our systems and identifying areas of need for advancing our EDI work, which we have already started developing.

1. HR Policies and Procedures: Creating transparent, equitable HR systems within and around our organization.​ 

2. Events and Programming: Examining the work that Milwaukee Film does to engage audiences, whether through cinema or Festival programming or through our work in the communities with events, conversations, panels, etc. ​ 

3. Community Relations: Similar to Events and Programming, evaluating how we hold ourselves accountable and remain transparent about our mission and goals within the communities we aim to serve.​ 

4. Accountability: Creating transparent systems within and around our organization to hold the leadership team and those involved with Milwaukee Film (staff, board, volunteers, etc.) accountable for the work we claim we are doing.​ 

5. Continuing Learning: Building programs which encourage members of our staff, including our leadership team and EDI co-chairs, to continue to implement and “do the work” throughout the year.

Milwaukee Film staff and volunteers strongly believe that advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion is critical to the success and growth of our organization, our community, and the people we serve. This ongoing work is key to making our community a better place, and we commit to it also because it’s also the right thing to do.