The Women’s Media Action Coalition (WeMAC) website is home to the seven action committees charged with immediate and ongoing pursuit of the seven concluding resolutions for gender equity in Hollywood established at the 2017 Women’s Media Summit.
Each of the seven WeMAC committees is chaired by a “Task Force Leader” who will consistently advance the concerns of their committee toward concrete goals based on set timetables. Task force leaders and committee members will meet regularly to assure evolving action.
On March 31 , 1776, First Lady Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams asking him “do not forget the ladies” in writing the United States Constitution. Unfortunately, John and our Founding Fathers did “forget,” leaving American women disadvantaged as citizens and underrepresented as a presence in our nation’s cultural narrative.
Therefore, 241 years later on March 31, 2017, 114 women and men joined together in Provincetown, Massachusetts—the first gathering place of the pilgrims—to make sure Abigail Adams’ words are heard and heeded at last.
The inaugural Women’s Media Summit was a 3-day think-tank forum produced by veteran film producer, Christine Walker. The event was co-chaired by Dr. Caroline Heldman (Occidental professor and principal researcher at the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media), and film director Maria Giese who instigated the 2014 ACLU campaign 2015 EEOC investigation for women directors in Hollywood.
The concept of Summit was based on a core belief that the stories and images that emerge from our media help define our national ethos and contribute to the voice of our civilization. The exclusion of women as contributors to our nation’s cultural narrative is a deeply entrenched problem. Women’s creative expressions and concerns are filtered through a mostly male lens, denying women of freedom and equality.
The intent of the Summit was to remedy this persistent and staggering problem that has been in the media spotlight for nearly two years. That is, since the ACLU called on our federal government to investigate discrimination against women directors in Hollywood in May 2015. Today the EEOC is reportedly in settlement talks with all six major Hollywood studios, but that is no guarantee of success. In order to keep the momentum going and maintain control over our future, we decided to assemble as a group to brainstorm strategies that we ourselves can put into action going forward.
The Summit’s three panels and a legal presentation were designed to ignite dynamic, out of the box thinking for fresh and imaginative solutions. We sought to provide a foundation of knowledge for the whole assembly, and then to encourage exploration beyond our established assumptions, value systems, and methods of getting things done. We were not looking for a single solution, but rather a wide array of remedies that could include grassroots and media campaigns, programs and incentives inside the industry, and state and federal legislative reform.
The ultimate goals of the Summit was the preparation and presentation of a “white paper” that sets forth the key concluding Summit proposals for immediately actionable solutions to the problem, and the establishment of committees charged with the pursuit a successful outcome.
WeMAC is the coalition of committees that make up the Summit action task force designed to forge ahead with the work we started at the 2017 Women’s Media Summit.
One the first day while we gathered together to meet each other, we offered two talks to help inform our participants. Constitutional Law Expert, Dr. David Adler, discussed the landmark and unanimous Supreme Court decision on Reed v. Reed (1971) in which for the first time in American history struck down a statute on grounds that gender discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This ruling opened what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg characterized as the “floodgates” for all of the subsequent decisions that have upheld women’s rights to equal protection under the law.
After that, America’s great experimental feature film director and Cal Arts professor, Nina Menkes, presented “Gender and Power in Shot Design: Traditional Cinema and Beyond.” This was a close analysis of film clips from a variety of highly popular movies showing both obvious and subtle ways that women are disempowered through shot design in popular, mainstream films directed by men. By way of extreme contrast, Menkes also shared and discussed clips from her own work.
In the evening, I introduced Victoria Hochberg, one of “The Original Six” whose activism and research led to the groundbreaking 1983-1985 class action lawsuit against several Hollywood studios filed by the Directors Guild of America on behalf of women and minority directors. That lawsuit moved the percentage of female director hires from ½ of one percent to 16% in just ten years from 1985 to 1995. Hochberg spoke about the struggle women have faced throughout American history and expressed the importance of our continuing battle.
The following morning we began the day with three panels inspired by Obama’s quote: “Show up. Dig in. Stay at it.” The first panel was entitled “Women Storytellers Missing in American Cinema” and was moderated by Dr. David Adler (President, Alturas Institute). Attorney Dr. Kathleen A. Tarr (Stanford) and I served as panelists. We provided an overview of the many barriers that keep women directors shut out of the profession.
These included fatally flawed DGA-studio diversity programs that divert rather than solve the problem, the failure of Title VII enforcement in an industry that blacklists people who speak out, and film schools that bring in female students at parity, but perpetuate gender disparity by teaching a male biased curriculum and provide little follow-through to graduates.
Panel two was entitled “Women Storytellers Missing on the Small Screen” and described the landscape of women in key storytelling positions in TV, commercials, and new media available on TV screens and mobile devices. This panel was moderated by Producer/director Jody Hassett-Sanchez (CCN, ABC) and included panelists Kirsten Schaffer (Women In Media) and Maria Agui Carter (Producer-In- Residence, Emerson College). They discussed how immense new attention on women in Hollywood has resulted in the proliferation of wide-scale efforts to remedy the problem inside the industry. Women In Film has been integral to a multitude of cooperative efforts with many indie and studio programs intent in solving the problem from the inside, including ReFrame. Others, like Dr. Martha Lauzen (Boxed In), suggest external (government) pressure is required.
Panel three focused on “Female Representations on the Screen” and was moderated by Dr. Caroline Heldman (GDIGM & Occidental College) with panelists Cristina Escobar (The Representation Project) and Robin Wright (Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity). The purpose of this panel was to identify why women are persistently under- represented and miss-represented in film, television, and other media domains, despite nearly five decades of research and activism on this problem.
Finally, Gillian Thomas (ACLU Women’s Rights Project) & Kalpana Kotagal (Attorney, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll) gave a presentation to provide a frame for action entitled “Women, the Industry & the Law.” This fascinating overview described prior efforts to address discrimination against women in Hollywood, and the current prospects for reform. The session included a primer on federal and state law, as well as discussion of possible tools for effecting change—including litigation, government tax credits for diverse hiring, media outreach, and other organized action.
Thomas and Kotagal also explained the origins of the ACLU’s 2015 letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calling for a federal investigation into discrimination against women directors, the current status of that effort, and potential outcomes. This presentation set the stage for possible legal remedies for discrimination, and provided a frame for brainstorming the most effective advocacy strategies during the breakout discussions.
The heart of the Summit was the “Working Group Sessions” in which the whole assembly broke out into nine groups of about 12 participants including a facilitator and a scribe. These sessions were held at various Provincetown inns and venues and lasted approximately 3 to 4 hours. Each group was assigned to come up with five or so proposals to create immediately actionable solutions to gender inequity in Hollywood and the proposals could include anything. Massachusetts State Rep. Paul Heroux was on hand for two of the groups, and each group included a lawyer and representatives from a multitude of sectors of society, including law, government, business, tech, non- profit, the arts, news media, entertainment media, and others.
That evening producer Rachel Watanabe-Batton introduced the 25th Anniversary Restoration of Julie Dash’s 1991 masterpiece film, “Daughters of the Dust,” which was the first feature film directed by an African American woman that went into wide release. Later, the renown visual, conceptual and performance artist, Jay Critchley, led “The Summit Singers” in a hilarious rendition of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” with Cinefemme’s Michelle Kantor at the lead as Tina Turner. Only in Provincetown!
Sunday morning brunch was served at our Summit headquarters at Sage Inn & Lounge as each working group took the stage one by one and presented the results of their breakout session. An expert facilitator, Marijean Lauzier, led the entire assembly in a wrapping-up session in which the more than 45 different proposals were pared down to seven resolutions that the Women’s Media Summit will pursue and put into action immediately. The results of all the sessions are to be published in a “white paper” document and presented to the public in June.
As if that wasn’t enough, the crowning event of the entire Summit was a profoundly moving and transformative Keynote Speech by actor Alysia Reiner (“Equity,” “OITNB”). This was introduced by Wendy Haines (iWE) and was followed with a Q&A period. Chief among many other inspiring messages in Reiner’s speech was the lesson that each one of us possesses the ability to create and recreate our own personal narratives. Just as we women as a collective must take possession of our stories that make up our cultural narrative, so can we each do that for ourselves in our own lives on a daily basis.
See you next year at the 2018 Annual Women’s Media Summit in Provincetown, Massachusetts. We won’t give up until the problem is solved!