Filmmaker Lesley Chilcott, who produced the award-winning An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman, has set her sights on a new important cause: inspiring young girls to jump into the male-dominated tech world. Her new documentary Codegirl spotlights teams of bright, young women from around the world in a recent Technovation Challenge. Their challenge? Use technology to solve a problem in their community. As Chilcott’s film highlights their journeys, it’s hard not to be inspired. Here, we talk to Chilcott about the project and why it’s so important. And why it’s required viewing for girls… and everyone.
The Codegirl origins…
A few years ago, I was working on a short film project about coding and noticed there wasn’t a large number of high-profile women coders. Around the same time I heard about Technovation and how they held a yearly contest where they challenged teen girls from around the world to design a mobile app in three months. The only direction given was that it must solve a problem in their community. And the team had to be all girls. It was just about the coolest idea I’d ever heard. I knew I had to make a film.
Most inspiring moment from filming…
The way the girls, no matter the country, went about identifying a problem and then trying to find a way to solve it. One of the girls from Massachusetts told me that no one had ever asked her before to identify a problem and then think of a way to address it. This led to so many clever and ingenious ideas. For example, Team Voca in Guadalajara, Mexico, designed an app that was a test to see if you were experiencing violence at home or at school. They surveyed 50 friends and 32 of them were around some sort of violence that they had been led to believe was “normal.” When it wasn’t. This is a huge problem in Latin America and they just took it on.
Also, so many teams did not advance to semi-finals or even finals. And, yet, they were so inspired by designing an app and writing a business plan that many of the girls go on to complete their apps anyway. Of course they wanted to advance, but that didn’t stop them from carrying on. This showed me that the journey for them was more important than the outcome.
Every parent, guardian and teacher should know that…
Boys and girls do not differ significantly in their abilities in science and math, but they do differ in their confidence and interest. Something external happens about the time we’re in elementary school that sets the stage for this difference. Think about it this way: If 51 percent of the population is just avidly using technology and not writing or creating it, what kind of long-term unintended consequences is this going to have?
And some stats to know…
Seven percent of technology company founders are women. And according to the Computer Research Association, 14.7 percent of computer-science graduates were women, 4.1 percent were black and 7.7 percent were Hispanic.
We’ve been spreading the word by…
Codegirl was on YouTube, from November 1st to 5th, for free so as many teens could see it as possible. This is something that’s never been done before. Release your movie first, for free, before it goes to theaters and VOD. We did this through an outreach partnership with Google’s Made with Code who are absolutely fantastic and dedicated to inspiring girls to study computer science and to solve problems using technology. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, showed the teaser from the film at the Grace Hopper conference last month and announced her support. Her tweet about the film got a retweet from, you guessed it, Karlie Kloss, and many others. We’re grateful for many of the high-profile social shout-outs we received, and our experiment really paid off — nearly one million people saw the film during the freemium window. Now that the film is in theaters and available on video on demand we hope the support will continue so more teens can see the film. It’s on Google Play, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Vudu and Steam. We’re also making it a priority to organize educational and community screenings so groups of girls can see the film together.
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