Gabourey Sidibe

NewFronts 2016: Refinery29’s girl-power strategy

The female-focused media co is banking on more than a dozen new originals, backed by some big star power. Oh, and it's trying out VR too.
May 3, 2016

NEW YORK – Gabourey Sidibe is already an Oscar-nominated actress for her star-making role in 2009’s Precious, and she has a long list of impressive film and television credits to her name.

So why mess with a career recipe that is obviously working and make the switch to movie director?

“Funny thing is, everything I do, all the films and TV shows, my image and everything I am, and my talent and eveything that represents me, is at the hands of a man — usually a white man,” Sidibe told a crowd of media buyers, digital stars and industry execs attending the Refinery29 NewFronts presentation May 2 in New York.

“I realized very recently I want to be the one to decide what image I show the public,” she said.

Sidibe, pictured, is taking that opportunity, joining a number of women who will make their directorial debuts through Refinery’s ShatterBox Anthology, a 12-part series of short and original-scripted films by female directors, writers and animators exploring the dynamics of power. Others involved include Kristen Stewart (of Twilight fame) with Water and Chloe Sevigny’s Kitty, which will premiere at Cannes.

Sidibe’s film is called A Tale of Four Women, and will see the actor work with her life-long friend Kia Perry.

The short films are geared at millennial women and fit with Refinery’s ongoing efforts to position itself as the most-influential multi-platform media company for women in the world (and, at the same time, if it’s able to shatter a persistent image of digital streaming as a male-dominated sector, both in front of and behind the cameras, that’s even better).

Amy Emmerich, Refinery’s chief content officer, recalled her own words from the 2015 NewFronts.

“I said I wanted to create a world where my daughter could kick some ass and wear some lipstick while she’s at it,” she said.

That we’re now living in an age where women are twice as likely to click on a headline with the word “power” as opposed to “empowerment” is a sign that “we’re in that world,” said Emmerich.

“This audience is already powerful. They do not need something to give them something they already have…from the boardroom to the bedroom.” 

Refinery had plenty more programming to announce, all in the same vein.  The series Behind the Headlines, for example, explores key social issues that matter to women, and will be executive produced by America Ferrera (Superstore). Ferrera will also EP Only Girl, a docu-series investigating what it means to be a woman in a male dominated field.

The digital media co. is also launching a new YouTube channel, Brawlers, in partnership with Smart Water, starting this month. The channel will launch with five new series, including Game of Life, a series profiling female athletes; Bend it Like Beka, an instructional yoga series; Knock Out, which explores female boxer; and Champions of the Universe, following five-time hula-hooping champion Marawa as she hunts for other record-breakers;

It also announced its new channel Riot, focused on female-first comedy. It will feature both scripted and unscripted videos series tackling topics of sex, politics, mental health and feminism and starring a slate of top female contributors from the likes of Inside Amy Schumer, The Daily Show, and Broad City.

Other new series include Chasing Daylights, which will launch on Facebook and will have stars from around the globe stream an hour of their day to talk about beauty, style and culture; Naked Truths, a weekly YouTube series to tackle beauty norms; #R29StyleStalking, which follows fashion trends across cities; Sex Ed, a four-episode scripted series in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, exploring sex from a what a woman might actually want to know; Short Cuts, another Facebook series, which will tap into Refinery’s talent collective and offer up daily DIY tips and tricks; Sound Off, a docu-series looking at up-and-coming musicians; Strangers, a long-form scripted comedy about a woman trying to navigate her life with a bunch of random guests staying in her spare room; and What We Teach Girls; from executive producers Morgan Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick, with each episode exploring the lives of two girls from vastly different subcultures.

Refinery also announced the launch of VR29 Studio, with the promise that it will produce one VR/360 asset every week for the rest of 2016.

With files from Megan Haynes.  

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