Minority directors are underrepresented in film at a degree of three to one, while women are underrepresented at a rate of seven to one, according to UCLA’s 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report. There is clearly room for progress here in terms of equality, especially for women who are black or of another minority identity. Rapper, singer, actress, label president, author, real estate developer and entrepreneur Queen Latifah is out to shift the scales; she recently teamed up with Tribeca Studios and Marc Pritchard, Procter and Gamble’s chief brand officer, to launch the Queen Collective (TQC). TQC has a goal of “accelerating gender and racial equality behind the camera.” Two inaugural documentaries backed by TQC premiered in April 2019 at the Tribeca Film Festival, and they are now streaming on HULU.Read More
While women fill most of the shoes in ballet, leadership positions are still dominated by men, especially in choreography and artistic direction roles. A nonprofit called the Dance Data Project (DDP) aims to help more women in dance keep up to date with choreographic opportunities and ascend the ballet leadership ladder. With this goal in mind, in April 2019, DDP released a report on contemporary opportunities in choreography, along with monthly spreadsheets and calendar reminders of global deadlines. Earlier in 2019, it also published research on salary by gender for leaders in ballet, finding notable imbalances in favor of men, especially in artistic direction.Read More
Last evening, I had the pleasure of being a panelist on Take the Lead Virtual Happy Hour, hosted by Gloria Feldt. The topic for discussion was The Many Faces of Love: How Women & Philanthropy Can Change the World. Here are my responses:
- What are the challenges for you in philanthropy?
Like everyone, my challenges are fundraising. I knew when I launched Philanthropy Women, I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed key stakeholders, so reached out for support from women who I knew who wanted to grow the sector of media attention for gender equality philanthropy.
For my own personal philanthropy, like many couples, I work in a team with my husband. Our giving has tended to center on the Episcopal church and related social justice initiatives, music education, and independent journalism. Now we also give to The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and also to the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence. My husband and I also support organizations doing global gender equality work, and we have funded local arts initiatives for women and girls through a giving circle I formed, which I hope to do more with in the future.
- How can a woman get started? And is there a way for her to align her job and a philanthropic cause she believes in?
My advice is to start small and celebrate new breakthroughs in the progress for your business development. In any business, it takes several years to get traction, to build your skills, your identity, and your reputation.
Also, be flexible with yourself. Change course if needed. I’ve seen friends decide to end their startup and go back to working full time, and sometimes that’s what needs to happen. Give yourself what you need.
For me, being a social worker naturally aligned me to pursue writing about social justice, and my interest in women’s studies goes back to both my undergraduate education at Hunter, and my graduate education at Smith. The internet is helpful for aligning your job and your philanthropy, since it helps connect you to a wider population and find the people who share your particular interest.
- How can women make their contributions count?
The beauty of working in online media is that all of your efforts are documented. I encourage women to build their reputations online, whatever they do, as it is a powerful tool, and by default, your contributions are counted. It becomes easier over time to find the paper trail that leads to you, and the more you do online, the more that paper trail can show.
- What have you learned from the women you’ve worked with?
From the women I have helped treat in my private practice, I have learned about the amazing resilience of the human spirit. The #Metoo stories coming out today help me realize how much women have suffered in silence through the years of my lifetime. Many important #MeToo stories are surfacing, and every woman has to choose for herself whether to make her story public and consider the potential legal ramifications. We all have to figure out how to navigate forward at our own pace.
From leaders in women’s philanthropy, I’ve learned to keep challenging myself. I do this by staying in touch with many remarkable women leaders in philanthropy, who inspire me with their attention to social issues, particularly the needs and rights of vulnerable communities.
- What are the passions driving women in philanthropy?
I can only speak about gender equality givers, since that is the sector that I focus on. The passions driving gender equality women givers are outlined well by WPI’s recent report on high net-worth women. These women are driven by deeply ingrained values that often come from a religious upbringing. They’re very research-driven and yet empathetic. They’re risk-takers. They see the added value of philanthropy directed at women and girls. They are focused on systemic and structural change. All of these things make gender equality givers, in my opinion, the best givers. That’s why I study them and practice gender equality giving myself.
- Is philanthropy a gender-neutral field? Are there parity issues here as in other industries?
Philanthropy is absolutely not a gender neutral field! Philanthropy exists within the patriarchy, and is borne of a capitalist economic system that, sadly, leaves many people locked out. As the stories are now surfacing about sexual harassment and abuse in the nonprofit sector, hopefully the sector will begin to recognize that there is much work to be done internally.
- How has the philanthropic world changed—what issues have driven that change?
Philanthropy is starting to pay more attention to the pivotal role that women’s leadership can play within the sector. But more importantly, philanthropy is calling attention to the transformative role women can play in global economies, and within global health and public policy. It’s not a new realization, but there’s renewed emphasis on making gains in seeing the value of women’s leadership because we see under President Trump what can happen when an anti-feminist gets into the highest office in the country.
- Opportunities and challenges women face in philanthropy?
I think what women offer the field is a stronger inclusive vision of the world, and this can be translated into opportunities not just in philanthropy, but in the crossover between socially responsible business and government collaboration. Women can be the bridge builders between the different sectors. They have the ideas and the mentality to change the world, but first they need to rise to critical mass in leadership. That is our big challenge now. To rise to that challenge, we need to ensure that more women are elected. That’s why we are seeing a lot of new investment in philanthropy in preparing women to run for office.
- Advice for women looking to break into this world?
Be kind to yourself and to others. Build your authority over time by your ongoing kindness, as well as your strict attention to the ideals of justice and equality. Value all of your feelings, particularly your anger about injustice. That anger is telling you something important, and when employed strategically, it can fuel social change. That is part of what #MeToo is teaching us — the importance of valuing our own anger.
- Recommendations for women seeking leadership roles. What was your secret to making it?
Persistence through difficulty is key. Not every day is a barrel of laughs. There is drudgery in every profession, and some people need more outside structure to function at their best professionally. But there is also great value in building your career as much on your own terms as possible, so that in the end, you are the sole owner of what you have built. The traditional trajectory to leadership for someone in my profession is to work for several decades in a large agency or in government. Instead, I chose to become an independent provider for my clinical services, and from there realized that I could use the knowledge and experience I gained in my practice to add to the data on vulnerable people. At the same time, I could become a more visible public advocate for gender equality.
I look for opportunities to tie my daily clinical practice work directly into the work we discuss on Philanthropy Women, and because I specialize in treatment for survivors of physical and sexual abuse, there are many opportunities for me to tie my work into my philanthropy. I also specialize in financial social work, helping people pay attention to how their financial lives impact their emotional lives and relationships, so again that ties heavily into gender equality and how women wield their power with money.
Learn more about Take the Lead here.
Learning how to laugh as much as possible can be a key component to sane living, particularly in today’s regressive political and social scene. The Ms. Foundation for Women recently hosted its 22nd Annual comedy night, calling it “Laughter is the Best Resistance,” where Gloria Steinem did stand-up. Meanwhile, women like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are moving into the executive producer role for hit comedies like Grace and Frankie.
Jenny Raymond, Executive Director of the Harnisch Foundation, agreed that it’s a ripe time for women in comedy in a recent conference call with Philanthropy Women. “But Funny Girls isn’t teaching girls to be funny. It’s boosting and bolstering girls’ leadership skills. That being said, Funny Girls is experiencing the power of humor through improv, and paying attention to it.”
Funny Girls teaches leaderships skills through improv comedy to girls in grades 3 to 8. The curriculum focuses on teaching five key leadership skills — collaboration, agility, resiliency, empathy and self-awareness — as outlined by this video. Funny Girls is teaching the value of listening, persisting in difficulty, and collaborating, which will pay off in both healthier living and more women’s leadership over time.
It’s currently being implemented through five partnerships, four in New York City and one in Richmond, Virginia, and hopes to deepen those relationships and add new ones in other geographic areas. The Foundation is staying in close touch with all its partners so they can learn as much as possible about things like cultural variance and program effectiveness.
“I went on a site visit in a primarily South Asian community in Queens, New York and it was so fascinating to see, culturally, how the girls responded to the curriculum in similar but different ways than I saw in the South Bronx the week before,” said Raymond. Offering the curriculum to others remains an important objective for the foundation, which aims to make Funny Girls as widely available as possible.
As part of the program, the Harnisch Foundation is training artists from within organizations and the community to implement the Funny Girls curriculum. One of the Funny Girls partners, DreamYard, is implementing the program in the Bronx. “Several of the organizations we are working with not only offer Funny Girls, but are also focused on social justice issues, and advancing the work that gets at the root of inequality that these girls are facing,” said Jocelyn Ban, Communications Specialist for theHF. “For example, DreamYard is investing in girls not only to be leaders, but also to be a part of the solution to the problems they face in their communities through the arts.”
2018 will mark the 20th anniversary for the Harnisch Foundation, and adding Funny Girls to its portfolio has been a big shift for the organization, which has not traditionally done programmatic work. But it connects the foundation importantly to its own roots — investing early and building out the pipeline for women leaders at every level of society. “This builds on the foundation’s history of investing in the leadership of women. Now we are putting a stake in the ground for supporting girls and investing in their leadership journeys, too,” said Ban.
Editor’s Note: Ruth Ann Harnisch, Co-Founder of the Harnisch Foundation, is a lead sponsor for Philanthropy Women.
An interesting new tool called Storify helps to aggregate a social media conversation into a story. This is the first one I have created, and it was pretty easy!
The Storify helps to see who participated and to review what everyone said. We had some excellent questions and commentary, including participation from PBS To the Contrary, Philanthropists Ruth Ann Harnisch (disclosure: she is a sponsor of Philanthropy Women) and Jacki Zehner, as well as many nonprofits and women’s funds. Check it out!
Dear Faithful Readers of Philanthropy Women,
First, of course, thank you for reading. You are bravely joining me on the sometimes harrowing adventure of learning about gender equality philanthropy. I thank you for joining me on this journey.
Also, thank you to our sponsors, Ruth Ann Harnisch and Emily Nielsen Jones. You have provided an amazing opportunity to advance the knowledge and strategy of progressive women’s philanthropy, and for that you are wholeheartedly thanked.
Thank you, as well, to our writers — Ariel Dougherty, Jill Silos-Rooney, Tim Lehnert, Kathy LeMay, Susan Tacent, Betsy McKinney, and Emily Nielsen Jones. Your work reading, interviewing, thinking, and writing about women’s philanthropy has resulted in my receiving tons of positive correspondence about our content. The internal numbers also validate that we are making an impact.
The numbers show that our audience is primarily female on Google analytics. Our Twitter analytics indicate that our audience is comprised largely of progressive foundations, nonprofits, fundraising professionals, and technology specialists. This information is relevant to the theory that Philanthropy Women is helping high level foundation and philanthropy leaders access needed information. Many philanthropy organizations interact with us on social media in a positive way, amplifying and retweeting important content.
Our data also shows that our spotlight organizations are clearly enjoying more media attention as a result of our efforts. Women Thrive, WDN, and the Global Fund for Women, are all receiving a healthy percentage of click-throughs as a result of our presence.
Finally, in terms of our growing authority online, our work has been cited and linked to by the UCLA School of Law Blog, Philanthropy New York multiple times, and many other high level places such as Maverick Collective, Women for Afghan Women, and Giving Compass. We have a large and growing presence on social media, as indicated by the high number of referrals from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media. In addition, I have received high praise from many foundation staff about our writers and our content.
So, all this is to say that Philanthropy Women is successfully growing, and, I believe, making the conversation on gender equality philanthropy richer and more relevant. But I believe we can do more. I hope you will keep reading as we work to grow our impact. We have ambitious, but, I believe, achievable goals. Best, KierstenRead More
Collectively, state legislatures passed 288 restrictions on women’s reproductive rights between 2010 to 2015. Now, a new film tells the stories of women’s horrific health experiences, and the imprisonments, both actual and threatened, that are a consequence of these laws.
Birthright: A War Story is a new documentary that exposes the radical religious right’s infiltration state legislatures. This movement’s goal is not only to strike down women’s constitutional right to abortion but also to curb women’s access to birth control. Some seek to put the rights of fetuses above those of women.
This is the Real-Life ‘Handmaid’s Tale’
The 1 hour, 40 minute film just completed a highly successful week’s run in New York City before engaged and enthusiastic audiences. This Friday, July 28 it opens in Beverly Hills at the Laemmle Music Hall for another one week run. These two theatrical runs qualify the film for consideration for an Academy Award, a critical step in a documentary’s path to notoriety and success.
Director Civia Tamarkin, a seasoned television investigative journalist, was motivated to produce BIRTHRIGHT after the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Hobby Lobby. “I was shocked not only by the Supreme Court ruling, but by the lack of awareness from young women that their rights were being jeopardized. People were not taking to the streets.”
Unlike most filmmaking, Tamarkin said, “Ironically, it proved easier to raise money than to get people to go on camera.” The director underscored in an interview with Philanthropy Women, “Practitioners were reluctant to come forward. They were worried about repercussions…..especially about repercussions of violence. ”
Lest we forget, the National Abortion Federation keeps records of this violence. Eleven people have died and 26 attempted murders have occurred due to anti-abortion violence. A federal law, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE or the Access Act), passed in 1994 to address such violence. Rewire recently produced an informative short video about the daily harassment that continues to occur at clinics.
Dr. Ruth Shaber, after a twenty five year career as an obstetrician and gynecologist, in 2014 created the Tara Health Foundation. The mission of Tara Health is to “improve the health and well-being of women and girls through the creative use of philanthropic capital.” Tara Health Foundation takes a holistic approach to its grant making as well as its capital management.
Most intriguing to this author was Shaber’s focus on bringing the principles of evidence-based health medicine into philanthropy. She explained,“Evidence-based health is conceived using science. You have an intervention, and then you look at the impact on a desired outcome. In philanthropy, on both the granting-making and the investment side, decisions are more driven by intuition. It is not a sufficient scientific methodology.”
At a national meeting, Shaber heard Dr. David Grimes of the Center for Disease Control speak of the threats to public health that regressive abortion laws are creating. Shaber, as a doctor turned philanthropist, came home from that meeting in November 2015 and realized: “We needed to remind people that abortion and contraception were protecting women’s health.”
Shaber started networking like crazy, on a mission to make a movie akin to An Inconvenient Truth for women’s health. “I knew nothing about filmmaking or media, but I put my name out there and let people know that I was interested in doing this work.”
Those in film know how exceedingly rare it is for a potential backer to be knocking on the door of a film director, but not long after putting out the word, Dr. Shaber heard of Tamarkin’s project and called her up. By this time, Tamarkin had completed development and shot a few interviews, enough to create a fundraising trailer.
The two women realized their goals were aligned. Instead of a grant, they struck up an equity investment agreement. Dr. Shaber recounted, “I wanted to have more of a business relationship with the film, so we had to strike new ground.”
Shaber and Tamarkin found very few in the foundation world who could advise them. But by discussing strategies, the two were able to conceive up a straight-up investment plan. The key selling point of the strategy for investors would be that they would be able to say that profits from the film would be returned to Tara Health Foundation and be deployed for the reproductive rights of women and girls.
The $675,000 equity investment from Tara Health Foundation enabled Tamarkin and her production team to concentrate solely on conducting the interviews, editing and polishing the completed film. Ruth Shaber became an executive producer of the film, in essence leveraging both financial and human capital to produce the film.
In addition to investing in the production, Tara Health Foundation has also provided a $325,000 grant for community outreach for the film. In this writer’s experience, this promotional work is a most vital component of the process, and is rare in the production of independent advocacy films like Birthright. Picture Motion, with a track record in this arena, has been hired to design the national campaign strategy that will maximize the film’s social impact.
Dr. Shaber is optimistic about the outreach screenings. “Each one will have its own character whether it is individuals or organizations, whether they do them as fundraisers or awareness builders.” So far, one outreach screening has occurred in Colorado, a very successful event organized by the American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction with numerous other groups. Birthright’s theatrical distributor, Abramorama, just launched the commercial/art house run of the film, which precedes any community campaign.
Cristina Aguilar, Executive Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), one of the participating organizations in the July 10 community screening, talked about the value of the film in terms of women and maternal health, noting that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. “Women of color are experiencing an increase in pregnancy complications. On top of this tragic and unacceptable public health crisis, the bodies and pregnancies of marginalized communities are a target of unjust and discriminatory laws and policies.”
Kelly Baden saw the film at the partnering organization, Center for Reproductive Rights. Thirteen partnering organizations, listed in the Take Action pulldown, are the initial core outreach network. Baden is now in a brand new position as the first Director of Reproductive Rights of State Innovation Exchange, a national resource and strategy hub for advancing and defending progressive policies at the state level.
In an interview with Philanthropy Women, Baden noted that laws restricting abortion and other reproductive rights are often pushed through hostile state legislatures without input from the very women who will feel their impact most. “Anti-abortion legislators should – at the very least – listen to stories like those featured in Birthright and be forced to grapple with the consequences of using women’s healthcare to score political points.”
State legislatures are not the only problem. A fundraising appeal from Jodi Jacobson, publisher of Rewire , sent out July 19, reminds readers that Teresa Manning, who now runs the Office of Population Affairs at the CDC, does not support evidence-based health contraception. “[She] relies on junk science and falsehoods to advocate for anti-choice policies,” the Rewire appeal states. $286 million is at Manning’s disposal in federal family planning funds to low-income Americans. Decades of health progress for women are at stake.
When asked about how Birthright fit into the long history of women’s health films like After Tiller and Trapped, director, writer, and executive producer Tamarkan was adamant that “Birthright is an overview. The issue is not abortion. It is about women’s bodily integrity.”
Additional theatrical screenings are in the works. Small Star Art House in York, Pennsylvania, is listed, as is Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio. Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY is on the roster, too. None yet have dates. Other potential screenings are in the works in Lincoln, Nebraska: Dallas and Austin, Texas, and Phoenix and Sedona, Arizona.
If you want updates on the screenings, keep checking the Birthright website. If you want a screening in your community, simultaneously contact your local movie theatre and fill out the form on Birthright’s webpage. Make it happen. You’ll be glad you did. Women Make Movies is handling educational distribution for college campus campaigns.
“Fabulously,” was Shaber’s response when asked how the New York opening screenings went. “I think we are really lighting a match under people so they are connecting to an issue that they have not thought about enough.”
(Full disclosure, the author is a co-founder of Women Make Movies, the non-profit, educational feminist film organization.)
Young feminists have been organizing across the globe for decades, but their work, particularly in the media sector, has been woefully underfunded. I know, since I was one of them. In 1969, when I co-founded Women Make Movies, women’s funds didn’t exist.
Over the decades, thousands of young activists have gathered at events like the International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development, the flagship event of AWID (Association of Women’s Rights in Development), and have talked about the need for more funding for young feminists, particularly in media. As the last decade closed, many young activists lamented that no women’s fund specifically addressed their youthful organizing needs. So they decided to start their own, with AWID and Fondo Centralamericano de Mujeres (Central America Women’s Fund) incubating this spark of an idea.
In 2011 FRIDA was born. With the purpose of providing more resources to young women leaders, FRIDA aims to amplify feminist voices and bring attention to feminist work. FRIDA recognizes bravery, creativity and resilience as essential qualities that guide their efforts. A lively timeline of the young funds’ evolution from budding idea to full scale operations – six years out – provide an insightful history of the fund. (See timeline link at bottom of page).
The actual name – FRIDA – spells out five core values: Flexibility; Resources, Inclusivity, Diversity and Action. (That dispels any myths I held about it being an homage to a special artist!) A quick survey of its website shows a vibrant team of some 72 young women who act as advisors, associates, and board members guiding the fledgling fund.
To date, FRIDA has provided $1.3 million in direct grants to over 150 different groups in over 80 different countries. The sheer scale of such an effort is a remarkable feat. The young fund is also a strong model for participatory grantmaking. In its most recent cycle, 450 groups from across the globe participated in voting on grant proposals that would address priorities in their regions.
My own experience with FRIDA came about when the former founding coordinator, Amina Doherty, attended a workshop on Media as a Feminist Activist Tool that I organized at the 2012 Women’s Funding Network conference in Los Angeles. In her blog, Doherty amplified the voice of one of the workshop participants: J. Bob Alotta, Executive Director of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, who said, “If we are committed to different outcomes, we have to invest in them. Period. In order to fight, in order to do more advocacy, we need media and we need to be willing to invest.”
Back then I took a hard look at the first group of FRIDA grant partners, which included such groups as Association of Young Women for the Culture and Development of Haiti and Crested Crane Lighters in Uganda. What impressed me, as I so often find with grassroots activism, is an overt perspective of the incorporation of feminist media as a tool within their work. And if media is not a major focus of the work, it is intuitively incorporated as a means of action. This I saw repeated over and over in the summaries of the groups that FRIDA funded.
Just a month ago FRIDA announced its latest – its fifth – cycle of grants. From an applicant pool of about 1,000, composed in 7 different languages, 106 groups from 73 different countries were selected to receive grants.
“A Space of Affection”
Colectiva Feminista Gordas sin Chaqueta is one of the current grant partners of FRIDA. Based in Colombia. they work with a model called “Artivism” on issues related to gender-based violence. Through various media, documentaries, photos, songs and texts, they seek to “contribute to the cultural transformation of the violence that is exercised on the bodies of women, as well as stereotypes that reproduce inequality in the context of patriarchy.”
Their vision by 2020 is to gain local, national and international recognition “for contributing to transforming stereotypes that reproduce violence in the larger patriarchal system.” As a group, they believe their most significant contribution has been to create a “space of affection” to heal the wounds left by “machismo” (male violence). Lively, creative and determined, the Gordas are working to break down stereotypes that lead to women being abused. They have a Facebook page where readers can follow their work.
A Comic Book of Bad-Ass Women
In Poland, the first teenage NGO is forming, called MamyGlos, which translates loosely as “We’ve Got Voice.” Starting with the most minimum number of three, but with relentless organizing, over 400 girls came to a teen workshop. The girls published coloring books featuring ‘bad-ass women’ and an educational card game. The point of MamyGlos is to help girls stand up for their rights, and feel safe in their communities. These young women are fighting within Poland, where statistics for women’s safety are particularly grim, with one in five women surviving rape. It’s exciting to see young women leaders in Poland stepping up to educate others about the pitfalls of girlhood within the dominant culture.
Journalism is for Social Change
Also funded by FRIDA is Wlaha Wogoh Okhra, an online Egyptian journal of women’s rights, history and cultural analysis. With a strong belief that film and drama can alter mindsets, they have launched an expanded investigation into Egyptian and Arabic movies. In particular, they explore the portrayal of women and craft a feminist analysis of these movies, allowing for a more nuanced feminist perspective among viewers.
The publication has been a leader in tackling numerous contentious issues. It has reported on women living with HIV, the commodification of women in the media and drama, and how Egyptian feminists suffer stereotyping and tracking within the society.
One article especially caught my eye: “Women’s Graffiti in Post-January 25 Egypt. A Feminist Revolution On The Walls”. The highly informative piece is enriched by a broad range of powerful images on street murals. These images depict an evolving sensibility in the country that is beginning to incorporate the voices and images of women.
Wlaha Wogoh Okhra has also tackled Egyptian movie posters in a feminist light. Called the Feminist Cinematic Study, this monthly series explores how women are shown on the posters. The series is highly thought provoking. The group, further, organizes on-line trainings for women journalists and mass communications students on feminist journalism. In addition to their own website and their publication, they’ve accounts at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I am grateful that FRIDA has stepped forward to provide resources for these critical efforts of young activist grassroots groups. Such support is vital in early stages of a group’s growth. Keeping alive these global media efforts by young feminists is vital to changing hearts and minds. They enable the hard organizing work of these young women’s energies and programs to survive. More about the other funded projects in the current cycle can be explored with links to fuller descriptions.
A social media vehicle that bridges the communication gap between AWID’s International Forums is the AwidFeministFutures.tumbler site. There, as well on other parts of AWID webpages, is an empowering Bell Hooks quote: The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.Read More
The telling of more women’s stories is necessary to advancing women’s lives. Regrettably, though, a mere 4.6% of Hollywood features today are directed by women. As a result, women have fewer speaking parts – 34% according to Dr. Martha Lauzen’s 2015 annual report “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World.” And only 22% of the protagonist were women. This leaves a huge gap in one of America’s most popular exports. Is this really the picture people in the United States want to offer around the globe?
For decades, film women have been working to change this picture. Especially since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officially took up a complaint over a year and a half ago, discussions among women in Hollywood and elsewhere have intensified.
Why? In one such discussion with Selma Hayek at Cannes in 2015 she underscored, “The minute they see the money, things will instantly be different…. Show them the money.” Actually data currently shows that films with women protagonist actually do better at the box office. So, while money is a huge factor, simple unadulterated gender bias is actively at work.
Maria Giese, a Director’s Guild member, was the major force behind the EEOC challenge. Earlier this year she joined forces with other women, including film producer and film festival organizer Christine Walker, to lead an inaugural Women’s Media Summit. The three-day think tank, held in Provincetown, MA brought 115 women in various aspects of film together.
In our collective task at the Summit (your humble writer was in attendance), we explored new actions and endeavors to change the dynamic of entrenched Hollywood male domination. An ambitious seven task forces formed. They are just starting to coalesce into working groups. Among the most ambitious is FundHer, with hopes to raise between $25 and $50 million to assist completed films with reaching audiences. This is a critically-needed endeavor, where many films that do get produced sadly languish for lack of adequate promotion money. The Megabator structure also hopes to offer financial incentives “from script to screen,” along with three other services involving education, policy and outreach.
While these projected programs are under development, it is important to see them as part of a long continuum. Over decades, many support services for women filmmakers have emerged.
Film Finishing Fund, June 30 for Submissions
Women In Film (WIF) in Los Angeles, started in 1973. It is the first of over 40 such chapters that have formed across the US and around the globe. Among WIF’s many programs, 32 years ago they initiated a Film Finishing Fund. Specifically they grant awards to women’s films that are 90% shot and have a sample trailer to show. Grants are for both short and long formats in all genres. Deadline for the next cycle is coming up June 30th.
This year additional support for these submissions is coming from Stella Artois, a long time sponsor of independent films through the Independent Spirit Awards. A $100,000 award from the Belgium beer company will provide four $25,000 finishing grants for fiction and documentary films that inspire social change. A special interest of the company is films with a water theme. More details about the program and how to apply are available.
Last year’s cycle funded four narratives and six documentaries. Among the awarded works was SOLACE, directed, written and produced by Tchaiko Omawale. Another project, MUDFLOW, was directed and produced by Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander. See a complete list with descriptions here. Numerous of the awarded films over the years have gone on to win Academy, Emmy, Sundance, Berlin Film Festival and Peabody Awards, among other recognitions.
Accelerator Lab, July 10 Deadline.
Chicken and Egg Pictures is one of the best examples of practitioner- created funding models. Initiated by three women filmmaker-producers – Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettenger and Judith Helfand – they have awarded $5.2 million in grants and thousands of hours of creative mentorship to over 220 films since 2005. Over the past decade they have crafted numerous tiers of support. For first and second-time women directors of nonfiction works they have established the Accelerator Lab. A deadline approaches July 10, 2017. Aimed to support ten feature-length productions, the Accelerator Lab especially assists underrepresented voices. $35,000 will be awarded to each project – in three parts – over the course of a 12-month program. An intensive series of workshops with industry experts are geared for all the awardees to glean the most creative aspects of filmmaking in a peer-to-peer supportive atmosphere.
Specifically a project must be in early production. While the subject matter can be open, Chicken and Egg states: “We’re passionate about films that address the global justice, human rights and environmental issues of our time.” They don’t insist, concluding, “Personal stories are eligible.” Interestingly they do not demand at the time of the application that a project have a US based 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, but need to secure one if accepted. They provide a list of such sponsors.
A number of Chicken and Egg-supported projects have gone on to win major awards. More importantly, though, many of these films have effected measurable change for the issues that they address. (Full Disclosure: Ruth Ann Harnisch, President of the Harnisch Foundation, which funds Chicken and egg, is also a lead sponsor of Philanthropy Women.)
Gamechanger Films, an equity model
In a slightly different vein is Gamechanger Films. Foremost, this five-year old entity is an equity firm. They attract investors who expect to get their money back and to make more money with the films they select. Gamechanger only finances feature dramatic films directed by women. A primary point of the for-profit company is to convince more and more investors that funding women-directed features can be lucrative.
The president of Gamechanger is Mynette Louie, an award-winning movie producer “with nine productions under her belt”. She joined forces with Derek Nguyen, who is director of operations and creative affairs, and Mary Jane Shalski as senior advisor. Together they make up the team, based out of Brooklyn, NY, that has spawn the necessary financing for ten productions. Three years ago at the start of A Revolutionary Moment conference on the early women’s liberation movement, I, by per chance, struck up a conversation with a stranger. She just happened to be an investor in the first project of this equity fund, LAND HO! She was thrilled to report that she was making money on her investment. So, it works.
A recent film in the repertoire is LOVESONG directed by So Yong Kim. Released into theaters last February, the film showcased at Sundance Festival in 2016. It was nominated in February for an Independent Spirit Cassevates Award. Quite an honor! Starring Jena Malone and Riley Keough, the film is in distribution by Strand Releasing. The film can also be viewed via streaming.
Two of the four founders of Gamechanger Films were also founders of Chicken and Egg Pictures – Julie Parker Benello and Wendy Ettenger. They joined forces with Geralyn Dreyfous and Dan Cogan to create this first equity fund focused exclusively to drive finances to women directed feature narratives. The key rationale: “Gender bias in financing is cited as the foremost obstacle to a woman’s career development in film.”
While the number of women directing Hollywood films is pathetic at 4.6%, even in the independent community that Gamechanger Films reaches women directed feature narratives are still miserably low at 18%. Gamechanger does not accept unsolicited works.
In Conclusion – Crowdfunding
Making films for women is hard. Securing the necessary funds for making women’s stories on “celluloid” is even harder. But as the awareness grows about how persistent the bias against women has been, women especially have been designing mechanism to overcome these challenges. Women In Film, Chicken and Egg and Gamechanger are all a part of that complex fabric of bringing vital women’s stories to more audiences. Many more efforts exist.
There is an important role for audiences, too, to play in this dynamic. There’s crowdfunding. Try a search for “women + film” at Kickstarter. On Indiegogo, New York Women In Film has a curated series of productions, identified as a “partner”. Women Make Movies, too, has a partner page. Unfortunately neither has a “live” production currently fundraising. I couldn’t myself easily do a satisfying search via Indiegogo. Too bad.
Here’s a campaign I recommend: VICIOUS WOMEN : The Deep Green Garden of Gordon Avenue. Of course, I’m biased. I mentored the filmmaker, Jennifer Lee, through an earlier project. She has until June 29th to raise the additional $25,909 to reach her goal. In the pacing and timing of such crowd funding efforts, Lee is well on track. Your contribution – large or small – can make all the difference, however, to seeing this lively tale onto the silverscreen.
Finally, women filmmakers: if you’re not totally overwhelmed with possibilities or focused on getting your application in after reading this post, here’s a central listing of many of the funding opportunities for women in film.Read More
Certainly it is worth noting for women in philanthropy when one of the great funders of progressive causes passes on.
More will need to be said on this blog about how David Rockefeller contributed to the evolution of women’s empowerment in philanthropy. For now, we offer prayers and good thoughts for the Rockefeller family as they celebrate his amazing life and navigate this transition.
From The Clinton Foundation:
David Rockefeller was a consummate businessman, a great humanitarian, and a serious scholar. He was a kind, good man to all who met him. Hillary and I are grateful for his friendship and his remarkable life. Throughout his life he used his fame and fortune to do good here and abroad. His many efforts included the establishment of the Council of the Americas five decades ago, which was instrumental in my administration’s efforts to alleviate the financial crisis in Latin America and boost trade in the Americas and the Caribbean. His tremendous support of arts and humanities in America gave millions of people in communities across the country the opportunity to experience our great heritage of painting, dance, music, and so much more. For these efforts and many others, I was proud to present him with our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We celebrate a long life well-lived and send our gratitude and prayers to his family and all who supported him on his remarkable journey.