A new movie, co-produced by a film maker with ties to the D.C. area, explores the importance of having African American women on corporate boards and how overall board diversity influences the C-suites of major companies.
OnBoard the Film is currently making rounds on the festival circuit and generating buzz as it celebrates the little-known history of black women on corporate boards.
“It’s important to tell this story because I don’t think people actually realize what boards do and why they’re important,” said Shannon Nash, one of the film’s executive producers and CFO of Alphabet, Inc. drone unit, Wing. Alphabet, Inc. is the parent company of Google.
Nash said she learned about C-suite executives while growing up.
“But no one ever talks about … these people that work with the C-suite that run the strategy and hire and fire the CEO. I didn’t learn about it, quite frankly, until I was in college,” said Nash, who is a University of Virginia graduate.
Nash became immersed and gained more knowledge through Black Women on Boards, where two women, Merline Saintil and Robin Washington, decided to host a virtual meeting to help others along the pathway to corporate board membership.
“It was organic. They didn’t come together to start an organization. They came together during the pandemic to help other women that they knew—other Black women who were qualified—that they knew that were absolutely qualified to be on boards, but were not getting opportunities,” Nash said.
The organization exploded, as the founders provided direct one-on-one guidance, including Saintil’s mentorship to Nash and others.
Then, Nash shared her idea of the next step: “To scale this thing, to get the story out there, to really get in front of the next generation, I said, ‘You gotta make a film.'”
Nash already had filmmaking experience from her award-winning documentary about autism called “Colored My Mind.” To help bring her current vision to life, she tapped the expertise of Coffee Bluff Pictures founder Deborah Riley Draper, who was brought on board to write and direct OnBoard the Film.
The group decision to make this documentary solidified during a birthday spa weekend a week before Thanksgiving in 2021. By early February 2022, a group from BWOB was on the way to Nasdaq to ring the opening bell.
Lots of research and work was conducted within that time, including their starting question, “Who was the first African American woman on a corporate board?”
Search results yielded a name, but Nash learned from a mentor that the very first Black woman on a corporate board was actually someone else.
“‘It’s Patricia Roberts Harris, and that I know,'” Nash said her mentor, Barry Williams, told her.
The ringing of the Nasdaq opening bell was in celebration of Patricia Roberts Harris becoming the first African American woman appointed to serve on the board of a public company — IBM in 1971.
“Patricia Roberts Harris is the Hidden Figure in corporate boards,” Merline Saintil, the film’s co-executive producer said during a private screening of the film in Washington, D.C., referencing the movie “Hidden Figures,” which was about the vital work female African American mathematicians performed for NASA and the space program, something not widely known until recent years.
“Any time you can really make sure that history is right, and your art and your craft is helping to make sure that history is there for ever and ever, for my kids and their kids’ generation, you’re on to a worthwhile project to even devote your nights and weekends to make sure it happens,” Nash said.
After ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Feb. 14, the film premiered at the Tribeca Film festival in June, won the jury award at Essence film festival and has screened at a number of renowned festivals with more dates on the way.
Nash says they’re looking for the project to get in front of more people with an eye on the future, which is one reason the film was screened in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 22.
In addition to their goal of finding wider distribution, Nash said she thinks there is an “opportunity to partner with the universities and organizations like that, because we really do want the next generation to see this.”
“I think it’s super important to plant that seed,” Nash said.
To learn more about OnBoard the Film, festivals where it’s screening and how to support or request a private screening click here.