Sarah Elizabeth Jones, a young camera assistant, was killed when she was struck by a train on February 20 while making the film Midnight Rider in South Georgia. A native of South Carolina, she was 27 years old with a promising future ahead of her. Filmmaker Anderson Vilien started a Care2 petition calling for Jones to be included in the In Memoriam at the Academy Awards — and on March 3, at the end of the memorial segment at the Oscars, Jones’s name and photo briefly flashed on the screen.
The Academy hadn’t been planning to include Jones. The time to formally submit names for the In Memoriam had long since gone by. Typically, only those who passed away during the previous calendar year — and only those in the spotlight, rather than crew members – are mentioned.
Less than a week before the Oscars were to air, Anderson Vilien started his petition to ask for Jones to be part of the In Memoriam tribute. As he wrote:
Crew members are the unsung heroes of film and television production who work long hours and sometimes very dangerous conditions for the love of filmmaking. Sarah Elizabeth Jones was one of us.
We ask for Sarah Elizabeth Jones’ love and passion for filmmaking be acknowledged on the grandest stage of all, The Academy Awards.
The initial aim was to get 1,000 signatures. Within a matter of hours, that goal was exceeded. Thousands saw and shared the petition in a growing movement that was reported on by Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times and many other news sites.
Care2 held a virtual memorial for Jones on March 1. Her friends, crewmates and filmmakers around the world congregated on Twitter to share photos and messages:
An Atlanta friend and colleague also set up Slates For Sarah to honor her with photographs of slates bearing her name or picture. More and more people kept signing the petition and, amid a viral movement of support, the Academy responded, giving Jones the honor that she more than merited.
Loss of Jones Sparks a Call For “Safety on the Seat At All Times”
Seven other crew members were injured in the accident, which the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are looking into. Production of Midnight Rider has been completely shut down and Georgia law enforcement officials have been treating the investigation of Jones’s death as a negligent homicide. As Hollywood Reporter comments, the investigations could lead to the “biggest safety-related scandal to rock Hollywood in at least a decade.”
Anderson Vilien took action to support “one of our own.” Jones’s friends have created Pledge to Sarah, not only to remember her but also “in the hopes that no one ever has to lose a friend again due to set safety issues.” Jones is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Camera Operators (SOC). As the SOC’s awards chairman, Dave Frederick, says, the loss of a young woman with so many gifts and promise “will be an inspiration to the production community for safety on the set at all times.”
Photo via Slates For Sarah