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Keep The Tides Turning: Notes From The Arclight Inaugural Women In Entertainment Summit

From left to right: Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, CBS Diversity, Tina Exarhos, MTV, Wendy Calhoun, Empire staff writer, Catherine Hardwicke, Filmmaker and Stacey Wilson Hunt, Editor, Vulture and New York Magazine speak on the “Gender and Equality” panel at the Arclight Inaugural Women in Entertainment Summit November 5th, 2015.

By: Marjorie Galas

I was eager to share insights I gathered at the Arclight’s Inaugural Women in Entertainment Summit with some folks in the office.  Variety, who like Variety 411 is operated by PMC, recently presented the seventh annual “Power of Women” event and subsequent print issue.  Power of Women is a celebrated affair that annually highlights the entertainment industry’s most powerful female influencers, from below the line professionals to top tier executives.  While this year’s featured speakers, including Oprah Winfrey and Susan Wojcicki, were encouraged to share their dedication to philanthropic endeavors, they spoke about the hurdles they overcame along their paths of excellence.  Continuing the focus on women in entertainment, the November 10th edition of Weekly Variety featured this cover story: “How Top Actresses Are Finally Fighting Back Against Wage Inequality.”  Despite these efforts from the publication I’m proud to contribute to, my enthusiasm about the Arclight’s Summit fell surprisingly flat.

“Ugh, why is there so much attention to this issue?  It seems like we just keep focusing on it,” said one colleague.  When I told her, as I learned at the Arclight Summit, that there are still great disparages and little advancement has been made, she informed me she’s been working in the business for years and has always made the same pay as her male colleagues.   I couldn’t help thinking about my own experiences – specifically those over the last nine years I’ve spent in the entertainment business.  I’ve been the only full time woman on staff.  Perhaps I am fortunate to work with so many great people but I’ve not felt less valued than any of my male counterparts.  As for the Variety folks, they work under a strong female publisher and two strong female editors-in-chief.  Maybe our view of the world is far rosier than reality.

During the Summit’s panel “Who Runs the World? Girls”, Dana Michelle Cook, Producer of The Empowerment Project posed the question “Did a woman help you get where you are?”   I thought about this, as it relates to my current role.  While many women have enabled me to grow and thrive in my position, it was men who initially saw the potential I had to excel in this career in the first place.   Interestingly, the issue of mentorship was brought up time and time again through the Summit, starting with the first panel of the day, “Gender and Equality.”  The panel highlighted the disconnect that can happen amongst women themselves, specifically between those that rise in position and those that feel left behind.  As the panel’s moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt, Editor for Vulture and New York Magazine, stated, “We can’t get jealous of the women who move ahead.” Many women have come to think of the person that stepped into an elevated role of power as the “one who took their spot.”   Hunt urged the attendees to not think of positions for women as limited to one or two roles – a mentality that supports lack of female growth and development.  She encouraged everyone to maintain support for each other to continue moving women ahead.

“We need to come from a place of abundance,” said filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke.  “We all need to support each other and help each other thrive.”

During a keynote address, actress and activist Geena Davis, who heads the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media offered the most revealing statistics that would cause my colleague pause.   Davis illustrated that the ratio of male to female characters in films hasn’t changed since 1946; a statistic gathered by the researchers who have carefully combed through big studio films and small independents alike.

“To make matters worse, we are told every few years that things are changing.  This happens after every big hit starring females, going back to ‘Thelma and Louise,’” said Davis.  “In G and PG films, there are very few female characters.  Often there will be just one, and generally they will be hyper-sexualized.”

She further illustrated that in background scenes, only 17% of the people featured are women.  While the attendees chuckled at her remark that perhaps filmmakers don’t think women gather, Davis illustrated that for young viewers, what they see shapes their world.

“This is a very negative message,” said Davis.  “And we have all been raised on this ratio.”

The sentiment mirrored an important fact presented by the Summit’s earlier keynote speaker, Cathy Schulman, Head of Production, STX Entertainment and President of Women in Film (a key partner of the day’s event.)    Schulman had presented findings that young girls, from toddlers to pre-teens, feel they can pursue any career they want.  By the time they reach 7th grade, their attitudes shift.  They become less empowered and the scope of their abilities retreat, with a majority of young girls feeling their value is “based on their looks.”

Gretchen McCourt, EVP of Cinema Programming, Pacific Theaters Entertainment Corporation, wrote in the event’s program: “Today’s speakers are activists, artists, entrepreneurs, executives and journalists.  There is so much we can learn from them. “   The various speakers and presenters throughout the day did indeed present a vast array of ideas and course of actions.  From JD Cargill, President, Mid-Century Media who curated a wide assortment of video interviews he conducted with a diverse range of film professionals who spoke of the value women bring to any role on set, to “Pretty Little Liars” costume designer Mandi Line who admitted, “We are all learning words, even right now, to help keep this conversation going,” the days attendees were reminded that they have the power to set a new course of action.   Lest we forget, Geena Davis reminded us, “Change takes a long time.  We are just at the start.”

As the crowd dispersed, Susan Wright, CEO of Criterion Group, left the auditorium with a broad smile.  A sponsor of the day’s event, Wright’s company supplied many artists who helped prep the speakers before they walked on stage.  While she had strong praise for her clients work and efforts, she felt equally enthusiastic for the overall course of the Summit.

“It was truly fantastic to hear the ideas these amazing people shared,” said Wright.  “I feel empowered and inspired.”

To learn more about the Acrlight Presents Women in Entertainment Summit, please visit: