Profile of Barbie Banks: A Feminist and Her Feminist Film Festival

COLUMBIA — In her Movies in America class, Barbie Banks found out that none of the movies screened were directed by women. However, 80 percent of the students in the class were female students.

Confused by the imbalanced proportion, Banks became interested in movies directed by women and movies that represent the voices of women.

Banks, 34, is the executive director of the Citizen Jane Film Festival, which was founded at Stephens College. It aims to change the way women’s voices are heard. Identifying herself as a feminist, Banks said being a feminist does not mean woman wants to have more power. She wants equal power for the genders and the society.

Right now, Banks is preparing for the Citizen Jane Camp in July. The summer camp helps young girls to explore the basics of filmmaking, including screenwriting, directing, cinematography and editing. Banks said she thought the reason why women are underrepresented in Hollywood is that there is no pipeline leading the girls to the top. The camp is trying to make them feel empowered.

Her feminist influences

Banks realized that she was a feminist when she was an undergraduate student. She thinks she has been hugely influenced by her mother, Maryann Banks, who also identifies herself as a feminist.

She said seeing the work that her mother has done made her realize that there is nothing that should hold women back.

Banks’ mother got a college degree and raised four kids. She also works for Banks’ family apple butter business and coaches a recreational softball team.

Being in the sorority also helped Banks to realize the power women have when they are together. The sorority house that Banks lived in, Alpha Chi Omega, aims to support female students working in the arts.

“Now the mission is kind of shifted since it’s already hundreds of years it has been around,” Banks said. “But it’s always been about making sure women’s voices are heard and we are working towards equality around the world.”

Right person for the position

After completing her undergraduate degree in social science education at William Woods University in Fulton in 2005, Banks moved to Columbia and pursued her master’s degree in social work in policy, planning and administration at MU in 2007.

As the executive director of the Citizen Jane Film Festival, Banks said the graduate degree has helped her immensely. She learned how to run a nonprofit business and now her main job is to oversee the entire festival.

The Citizen Jane Film Festival takes place every fall in Columbia. During the four-day festival, Banks is in charge of the public relation work.

“I enjoy every aspect of my work,” said Banks.

People working with her think she is the right person for the position.

“She is dedicated to her job and she loves Citizen Jane so much,” said Gabby Galarza, a senior student at the Stephens College, who works for the film festival. “She is really on top of everything.”

Galarza said Banks is great at listening and that impressed her.

“I heard her said ‘Yes, you are right, and I trust your idea’ a lot of times to those people who gave her suggestions,” said Galarza.

Donna Kozloskie, the features programmer of the Citizen Jane Film Festival, also appreciates the work that Banks has done.

“I am impressed by her willingness to take risks,” said Kozloskie. “She is not afraid to try new things even if they are difficult things.”

Kozloskie said Banks has helped to add new theaters to screen films during the film festival. Two theaters are in downtown and two are on Stephens College. Banks has also introduced a new screenwriting program in Stephens College.

“She is definitely open to suggestions and creative ideas,” said Kozloskie.

In the Stephens college, film major students need to take Citizen Jane classes to learn how to participate in the film festival. Banks has come into this class as a special guest to talk about the festival.

“My undergraduate is in education, so I find it fun to teach,” Banks said. “My role right now is kind of like combining all I have learned and I love that.”

What the future looks like

Before starting to prepare for this year’s film festival, Banks had another important thing to do. She got married with her girlfriend July 7. Banks said being a woman and lesbian has influenced her and her job.

“I think my identity is who I am and the festival is who I am,” said Banks.

Banks has paid much attention to films related to the LGBTQ community.

One of her favorite LGBTQ films is “From This Day Forward,” which is a documentary film about a woman, whose father comes out as a transwoman, and the relationship among her family members.

Although Banks thinks it is important to have LGBTQ films screened in the Citizen Jane, she said she also wants more diverse perspectives in the films.

Banks said she has tried not to introduce too many LGBTQ films to the film festival because she can see herself in almost every LGBTQ film.

After watching the superhero movie “Wonder Woman,” Banks said she was glad to see that there are many discussions about women in Hollywood right now. Directed by Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman” was the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman.

“I like it because there is a strong female character on the screen and behind the camera,” said Banks. “It would be nice to see a little bit more diverse women in it, but I guess we can take what we have right now and move forward.”