That’s Harassment: Avin and Schwimmer Help Us Figure it Out

Screenshot from a scene in “The Co-Worker,” one of six short films directed by Sigal Avin.

There’s the philanthropy that happens when people invest money to promote social change, and then there’s the philanthropy that happens when people take their money and their talent, and employ them in a way that addresses a social problem. Celebrities, particularly multi-talented and highly educated ones, have a unique capacity to combine their financial capital, talent, and public stature in order to push for needed social change.

That appears to be part of what happened when Israeli-American filmmaker Sigal Avin teamed up with several feature actors including David Schwimmer, Cynthia Nixon and Bobby Cannavale, to film a series of six short films called, “That’s Harassment.”  In each of these three to six minute cinéma verité shorts, the viewer is positioned as a cringing voyeur while scenes of sexual harassment unfold. Since debuting in the spring of 2017, these films have been adapted into 30 second public service announcements that are getting wide visibility.

Schwimmer, along with Milk Studios co-founder Mazdack Rassi, produced the series, and the former “Friends” star has been instrumental in promoting the films and getting them widely seen. The shorts are on Facebook, YouTube, Amazon and other platforms, and excerpts are being showing in New York City cabs, and as public service announcements with links to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). The films are designed to help employers combat harassment, and encourage victims and bystanders to recognize it and speak out. RAINN and the NWLC have partnered with “That’s Harassment” to compile resource and discussion guides, and the list, “10 Ways Your Company Can Help Prevent Harassment in the Workplace.”

In one film, Schwimmer plays a lawyer who forces himself on a recent hire played by Zazie Beetz. It’s clear that he is abusing their power differential and harassing her, and yet he is not a menacing caricature. He is not violent and doesn’t make any threats. Once rebuffed, he is highly invested in maintaining a nice guy persona, asking “Are we good?” and wanting a final hug to demonstrate that everything is okay between him and his victim. The Schwimmer character tries to pressure an employee into sexual favors, but wants to be reassured that his behavior is acceptable, and that he won’t suffer any consequences for it.

The other films detail various forms of male-female harassment: a brusque doctor fondles his patient, a bartender verbally and physically harasses a new waitress under the guise of letting her know what pigs men can be, a photographer degrades a young model by asking her to touch herself suggestively as he shoots stills of her, a famous actor exposes himself to a star-struck wardrobe person, and a veteran politician comes onto a younger journalist interviewing him.

“All of the stories are based on real incidents,” says Avin in an interview she and Schwimmer gave to Build Series NYC about the project. When she was a young playwright, Avin says an established actor exposed himself to her backstage during a rehearsal. Schwimmer shares that once the “That’s Harassment” project was underway, his mother revealed that she’d been harassed by a doctor. Schwimmer notes that the majority of the crew working on the shorts were female, “Unsolicited, every single woman came forward and said this reminds me of what happened to me. Everyone had an experience.”

Avin based “That’s Harassment” on a similar series that she’d made in Israel, and called on Schwimmer to help get the U.S. versions made and distributed. She says that her motivation in making the films was that while there was a lot of talk about sexual harassment, “You never got to see it.” Her approach was single-take scenes of several minutes where the viewer is “like a bug on the wall.”

The U.S. versions rolled out in the spring of 2017, but in the wake of the high-profile sexual harassment and abuse scandals that roiled the entertainment and other industries in the fall of 2017, Schwimmer and Avin sought a wider audience for them, and got RAINN and NWLC involved. “That’s Harassment” has also been covered by various mainstream media outlets including Cosmopolitan, Good Morning America and USA Today.

What makes the films so effective is that the perpetrators’ behavior is abusive, yet familiar. The victims don’t dissolve in a puddle of tears, nor do they angrily confront their harassers, all of whom are in positions of power over them. The women appear confused, embarrassed and uncomfortable, deflecting the unwelcome advances and comments, and sometimes laughing or shrugging off the harassing behavior or remarks.

The bartender, actor, and lawyer characters want to be “good guys” who compliment women and do them favors, but what the films show is that the nicest thing they could do would be to respect their female colleagues and let them do their jobs. The doctor, politician and photographer characters don’t play the helpful nice guy card; instead, they emphasize their experience and authority. You can almost see the gears turning in the victims’ heads: what is going on here? Is this normal? How do I get this to end without a scene or future reprisals?

The films are useful in provoking discussion about sexual harassment, and as tools for employers to use. This can be tricky — employers have a legal and moral imperative to combat sexual harassment, yet didactic and heavy-handed training sessions and amateurish videos tend to provoke more eye-rolling than actual change. For this reason, having a professional like Avin script and direct the films, and use working Hollywood actors, goes a long way in making the scenarios believable, and something that should be taken seriously.

In the current climate surrounding harassment, many men wonder what their role should be. Most would prefer not to talk about it all. It’s easier not to get involved, rationalizing that if one is not a perpetrator, then it’s best to keep one’s head down. There are costs—including threats to one’s livelihood and social ostracization—for speaking up when harassment takes place. Moreover, some men fear that their involvement might be unwanted, or seen as patronizing by women. Finally, many men, and women, are still grappling with what constitutes sexual harassment. The films do not solve these thorny questions, but they certainly start the conversation, and can lead to some concrete and specific ways to stop harassment in the workplace, as indicated by RAINN and NWLC.

Schwimmer and co-producer Mazdack Rassi’s contribution to the project, supporting Avin in getting the films made (and seen), is a good model for other men to follow in terms of being allies to women in the fight for gender equality.

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Confidence is Key: Female Filmmakers Discuss How to Get Financing

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Confidence is Key: Female Filmmakers Discuss How to Get Financing

The Sundance Institute and Women in Film hosted a special intensive summit on film financing for women recently. Funders for Women at Sundance include The Harnisch Foundation and the Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation.

What will it take for women to  achieve gender equality in the film industry? This question, particularly as it pertains to film financing, was on the minds and lips of some of the newest award-winning female filmmakers in the industry recently.

On Monday, April 9th, the Sundance Institute and Women In Film (WIF) co-hosted a panel entitled Demystifying Film Financing: Two Case Studies. The panel’s objective was to address the obstacles faced by female filmmakers, especially those of financing. The panel was split into two halves, the first focusing on Unrest, an award-winning documentary directed by Jennifer Brea, and the second on Mudbound, an Academy Award-nominated historical drama directed by Dee Rees. Sundance Film Festival senior programmer Caroline Libresco and WIF president Cathy Schulman moderated the discussion.

The Sundance Institute, founded by Pratt Institute graduate Robert Redford, has made incredible strides in supporting female filmmakers.  Through its Women of Sundance program, the Sundance Institute has been able to partially overcome the huge gender gap that women in the film industry face. Over the past ten years, 4.2% of top grossing directors in the United States have been female, while 25% of Sundance Film Festival directors have been female. This group is striving to bring this number up to 50%, and hoping to impact Hollywood statistics as well.

As part of Women at Sundance’s efforts to get more women into film, it offers a year-long fellowship including mentorship and professional coaching.  The Harnisch Foundation, in partnership with Renee Freedman & Co, provides grant funding for fellowship participants to travel to Sundance Film Festival and participate in all the activities. Prior Women at Sundance Fellows have included Ava Duvernay, Jennifer Phang, Lyric Cabral, Cristina Ibarra and Jessica Devaney.

Brea’s film Unrest documents the struggles of chronic fatigue syndrome, a disease she lives with. Because of her deep awareness of the difficulties experienced by those with her condition, she found herself with a huge drive to create the film. “I knew this film needed to [exist] and I never faltered in my faith in that,” Brea told the audience. Brea’s commitment to creating allowed her to get the opportunity to bring her vision to life. “It’s about finding people in the world who vibrate for [your] film,” she explained.

Among its many honors and awards, Unrest has also been approved for continuing education credits for medical providers. This speaks to the film’s ability to capture not only popular attention, but also the specialized attention of medical professionals who can use the documentary to help inform and improve their work.

For Mudbound director Dee Rees, creating that film became possible because of the outreach of her producer, Cassian Elwes. Mudbound was the first time Rees had been offered the opportunity to create a film by a producer. Rees’ experience suggests another important lesson for women seeking entry into the film industry:  if you can’t sell your film idea confidently, find a partner who can. Such efforts lead to great achievements in film, as Mudbound‘s Director of Photography Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar Award for Best Cinematography.

Both Brea and Rees emphasized the importance of having unshakeable confidence in the value of your work, so that the powers-that-be see you as an equal competitor. Ultimately, members of the panel also expressed their shared belief in the community value of  women producing art. Female filmmakers are some of the most the most zealous and dedicated creators, and this helps them hang on to their dreams in an industry that stacks the odds against them.  Alysa Nahmias, producer of Unrest, comments, “It’s really important to keep in mind that it’s not personal. The more you experience the rejections and then you get somebody who is interested, you start to see that the project doesn’t depend on any one ask.”

Women at Sundance receives leadership support from The Harnisch Foundation and Refinery29, and additional support from these donors. Women in Film has support from corporate sponsors, foundations, and individual donors listed here. 

Editor’s Note: The Harnisch Foundation and the Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation are lead sponsors for Philanthropy Women. 

References:

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/confidence-is-key-female-indie-filmmakers-says-womens-financing-panel-1101550

https://www.sundance.org/initiatives/womenatsundance#/

https://www.sundance.org/about/us#/our-story

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April 11 at Union Seminary: Helen LaKelly Hunt and Rebecca Walker

With so much going on in women’s philanthropy, we love it when gender equality thought leaders come together to talk about where the movement for women’s rights has been, and where it’s going in the future.

Riffing on the 1970’s anthology edited by Robin Morgan entitled Sisterhood is Powerful, Union Theological Seminary, in partnership with The New York Women’s Foundation and the Feminist Press, are presenting a conversation on April 11th featuring longtime women’s philanthropy pioneer Helen LaKelly Hunt, and one of Third Wave feminism’s leading thinkers, Rebecca Walker. Hunt and Walker will be focusing the discussion on healing some of the divisions within feminism, particularly related to race and class. The goal of this event is to “offer tools to build an affirmative culture that can contain difference and meaningfully address white supremacy.”

Biographical notes on both of the speakers from the event page at Union Seminary:

Rebecca Walker

Rebecca Walker is an American writer, feminist, and activist. Walker has been regarded as a prominent feminist voice since she published an article in 1992 in Ms. magazine in which she proclaimed, “I am the Third Wave.” Walker’s writing, teaching, and speeches focus on race, gender, politics, power, and culture. In her activist work, she co-founded the Third Wave Fund that morphed into the Third Wave Foundation, an organization that supports young women of color, queer, intersex, and trans individuals to find the tools and resources they need to be leaders in their communities through activism and philanthropy.

Helen LaKelly Hunt

Helen LaKelly Hunt is one of a small army of women who helped to seed the women’s funding movement. She co-founded The Dallas Women’s Foundation, The New York Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions. She is the author of Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance and her latest release, And the Spirit Moved Them, shares the radical history of the abolitionist feminists. Her private foundation, The Sister Fund, focuses on faith, feminism and relationship, all three intrinsic to women’s wholeness. Helen was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001. In addition, she has co-authored several books with her partner, Harville Hendrix, on Imago Relationship Therapy. They are now working to disseminate Safe Conversations, a new relational technology, that can help manifest the feminist vision to create a more relational culture.

Philanthropy Women will be there. We hope you will be there, too!  To learn more about the event and register to attend, go here. 

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Welcome to Premium Access: PW’s Exclusive Feminist Philanthropy Content

Philanthropy Women will offer Premium Access for a limited time at $9.95 a month. Starting in May, our rates will go up to $12.95 a month.

I’m thrilled to announce that Philanthropy Women will now offer Premium Access content. We have been building our database for over a year, and are now confident that opening up this new revenue stream will be a benefit to everyone. By providing Premium Access content, we will be able to raise funds to expand our work, hiring more reporters and researchers, and finding new ways to serve the community of gender equality philanthropists and activists.

Not all of our content will be behind the paywall. We take seriously the role of publishers to provide access to educational content, and will continue to offer free access to content that serves a pressing public need.

While some of our content will now be exclusive to Premium Access subscribers, we’ll also continue to be  very public-facing by remaining active on social media, keeping readers updated on events, research, and trends in gender equality giving. To get our daily news on gender equality philanthropy, please subscribe to our Twitter feed and our daily aggregation of news published via Giving for Good.

With more exclusive content on women’s philanthropy and gender equality giving, we will continue building our unique knowledge base for both advocates and donors — helping donors see strategies in the field, and helping those in the field be aware of where money is flowing for new work. This will foster more cohesion, collaboration, and networking in the dynamic world of feminist philanthropy.

Please visit our subscription page to become a Premium Access subscriber. 

Good News: Philanthropy Women is in the Top 40 Philanthropy Blogs!

It’s always nice to be recognized. This morning I  learned that Philanthropy Women made the Feedspot Top 40 list for philanthropy blogs. 

The criteria for being chosen for this list are as follows:

The Best Philanthropy Blogs are chosen from thousands of Philanthropy blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information.

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria:

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Many of my favorite resources for philanthropy are on this list, including CEP Blog, Philanthropy News Digest, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and HistPhil. Also featured are some international, family, and community blogs that I will definitely need to check out.

Yay!

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Chandra Alexandre: How Global Fund for Women is Growing its Reach

Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development

“We focus on women at the grassroots, aligning our grant-making strategies and priorities to fit their needs,” says Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development. The goal is to leverage local knowledge and expertise with donor funds to create system-level change for women in the Global South.

Global Fund for Women is headquartered in San Francisco, but five members of its 41-person staff are in New York, and four more work remotely from various locales. The organization was founded in 1987, and since then has invested in roughly 5,000 grassroots organizations in 175 countries. Its approach encompasses both advocacy and grant-making, with an emphasis on supporting, funding and partnering with women-led groups and movements. According to their website: “Our vision is that every woman and girl is strong, safe, powerful, and heard. No exceptions.”

Chandra Alexandre has been Development VP for over three years, and spoke to me by phone from her office in San Francisco. Alexandre, who is also an Adjunct Professor in the University of San Francisco’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, has a wide-ranging background. Prior to assuming her position at Global Fund for Women, she was the lead fundraiser at Partners in School Innovation, and has worked in the banking sector and in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Alexandre earned an MBA at San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School, which focuses on justice and sustainability, and a Ph.D. in Asian & Comparative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Alexandre’s doctoral research took her to India, and she says that experience is paying dividends in her current work. “My knowledge gained from living, working, and being with women in India has definitely informed my world view and current position,” she says. “It helped me understand women’s issues globally, and women’s lived reality in the Global South.”

Much of Alexandre’s time is spent talking to people, and not just donors. “Sometimes it’s in-house experts, such as our grants-operation team who are in constant contact with our grantees, and sometimes it’s touching base with an activist board member,” she says. Alexandre also reads grantee reports, and on occasion will go right to the source. “After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016, it was me picking up the phone and speaking with one of our grantee partners,” says Alexandre. “It was a statement of solidarity, but also checking on how they were doing. I was trying to see what was happening, and what was most needed.”

Alexandre’s communications with key Global Fund for Women players in the U.S. and overseas enables her to be a conduit of information and perspective about women’s lives in the Global South. “It’s about letting donors know how they can shift the tide in terms of making positive change in women’s lives,” she says.

Global Fund for Women invests in projects of various scales and durations, depending on local needs and conditions on the ground. A major recent initiative was a 2017 partnership focusing on garment workers, undertaken with the NoVo Foundation, C&A Foundation and Gender at Work. The effort is combating gender-based violence and improving working condition for women in major garment-producing countries including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The aim is to activate local women to become agents of change, with garment workers learning about their rights, acting on those rights, and creating systemic change. The initial round of grants to local organizations were awarded last summer.

Not surprisingly, as Development VP, Alexandre spends an important part of her time cultivating donors. She champions Global Fund for Women’s mission, but also listens to donors, seeing where their interests lie and how these match-up with Global Fund for Women’s programs. She says that some donors are interested in a specific region or country, but many are passionate about an issue like gender-based violence or reproductive health and rights. They want to contribute to change, and trust Global Fund for Women’s expertise and ability to forge relationships with partners and advisors abroad working in these areas.

Alexandre handles donations in the six and seven figures coming from individuals, institutions, and private and corporate foundations. She says that 84 percent of funds go directly to fund programs. Global Fund for Women has over 10,000 donors, so in addition to the major sums, there are many smaller one-time and recurring donations. Global Fund for Women also responds to emergencies, such as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015. “We know that when humanitarian organizations respond to crises, the needs of women and girls are often last in line,” she says.

Global Fund for Women’s staff are always in motion, whether on the programming or donor side. “As a public foundation we’re constantly fund-raising.  Unlike a private foundation, we don’t have a regular draw against an endowment to rely on to support the whole of our grant-making and advocacy efforts,” says Alexandre. Global Fund for Women’s operating budget is projected to hit $25 million annually by 2020, and in the 2017 fiscal year it awarded ten million dollars in grants, the most ever in the organization’s thirty-plus year history. Global Fund for Women funds new initiatives, but is also aware that past gains can disappear. “We are placing a real emphasis on resistance,” says Alexandre. “We don’t want to see a rollback on women’s gains in areas such as education or reproductive rights.”

Alexandre notes that Donald Trump’s election has spurred activism in the U.S. around women’s issues. While this is laudable, the downside is that mobilizing against the Trump agenda domestically may cause one to forget about the status of women outside the U.S. “Increasing awareness is key,” say Alexandre, suggesting that not just Global Fund for Women, but the women’s human rights sector overall needs more exposure and funding. “We need to support communities in the U.S.,” says Alexandre, “but we also need to look at global issues and stand in solidarity with our sisters in the Global South.”

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