warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Furthering Gender Equality In The Entertainment Industry At The iWe Summit

Sarah Collins |
September 29, 2014 | 12:22 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Furthering the conversation on the gender imbalance in the Entertainment Industry (iWe Summit)
Furthering the conversation on the gender imbalance in the Entertainment Industry (iWe Summit)

The first annual iWe Summit was held this weekend to further the conversation on gender imbalance in the entertainment industry. Speckled in were a few men with a female majority audience composed of actors, producers, writers and directors. 

The gathering’s main goal was to discuss times in which women felt discriminated against, but, more importantly, to move forward from these instances by offering solutions to the problem. 

The panelists for the event, moderated by Raquel Medina, included Mimi Leder, executive producer and director of HBO’s “The Leftovers,” Nell Scovell, co-author of New York Times Bestseller “Lean In,” Heather Rae, one of Variety’s Ten Producers To Watch, Karyn Kusama, director of “Jennifer’s Body”, Miranda Bailey, producer of The Squid and the Whale, Neal Dodson, one of The Wrap’s “10 Producers That Will Change Hollywood,” Kate Brandt, a board member of Women of Warner and a member of the Geena Davis Institute, Sharon Lawrence, NYPD Blue actress, and Concepcion Lara, one of the launcher of HBO Ole. 

READ MORE: Hollywood Is No Longer An American Business

Several women shared stories of times when they felt discriminated because of their gender: “It wasn’t until I started producing that I saw gender imbalance in the industry…Women characters don’t have value in the market,” said one of iWe’s founders, actress Wendy Haines. She noticed that, while many articles have surfaced addressing the issue of gender imbalance in the industry, none included suggestions on how to alleviate it. “To create change,” said Haines, “we have to get out of our comfort zone, even when our comfort zone is the norm.” 

Moderator Raquel Medina conducts research on gender. “I know how important Hollywood is for impacting social norms,” she said. “How much different would your lives be if the industry was expansive and diverse?” 

Mimi Leder spoke of the time when she was given her first directing job, 25 years ago. She was only a few months away from her big break when the production company said, “We’re releasing you from your contract.” When Leder asked, “On what basis?” she said they responded with “You’re not qualified to direct.”

“I was a young girl and tears shot out of my eyes,” she told the shocked audience. 

While Leder did end up having a successful career and made amends with the company who originally wronged her, the numbers of women in film production are still bleak. According “Gender Bias Without Borders,” a collaborative study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, USC Annenberg School, The Rockefeller Foundation and UN Women, out of a total of 1,452 films analyzed, filmmakers with an identifiable gender were 20.5% were female, outnumbered by a 79.5% male population. Furthermore, women comprised of only 7% of directors, 19.7% of writers, and 22.7% of producers worldwide. 

Statistics show that the film industry is far from gender equality (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)
Statistics show that the film industry is far from gender equality (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)

Producer Heather Rae emphasized these statistics. “When we’re talking about gender imbalance, we’re dealing with something that is so deeply systemic…We’ve created a society in such a way that we don’t value the contributions of everyone and it deeply hurts us.” 

READ MORE: Why We Need More Women Behind The Camera

Then, panelists discussed women in relation to men in the industry. “I happen to think there’s a connection between how boys view girls and how men view women,” said panelist Kate Brandt. “[Gender equality in film] matters because it creates the world of possibility for boys and girls and men and women.” 

Neal Dodson, the sole male panelist, spoke of an instance when a woman made his filmmaking experience particularly impactful. “I hope that more women are directing and that I am able to hire them…In my personal and total experience, [movies] go better [with women].”

“I think there’s this sort of idea that women have to stay on one side of the room and men have to stay on the other. And that’s never going to work,” said Karyn Kusama. She suggested that men and women be given maternity leave, so that it would not be seen as a professional time out for women only, who, she said, are often seen as lazy for taking time off. Other panelists suggested that women more experienced in their professions should mentor less experienced men to break the gender barrier. 

Actress Sharon Lawrence gave her two cents: “We as…actresses have to push harder for how we are to be seen…there’s such a focus on the exterior, and it’s a cultural phenomenon.” The Gender Bias Without Borders study also cited that, out of a total of the 5,799 speaking or named characters that were evaluated, only 30.9% were female, making for a ratio of 2.24 males for every one female. For those relatively few women who did make it to speaking or named parts, they were over two times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing attire, thin, and partially or fully naked. Even more abysmal are the number of women compared to males as roles with professional or specialized careers. 

The summit neared its end by having participants discuss viable solutions to the issue. “Women’s perspective matters…start with words” and “Women need to write; that’s my thought” were some of the suggestions overheard.

Once reconvened, the audience and panelists agreed upon the idea of a blacklist for women in the film industry so that production companies have a shortlist of talented females to hire. They were also encouraged to each share their experiences in whatever way. Nell Scovell spoke a passionate line: “Empower yourself!” 

Reach Staff Reporter Sarah Collins here. Follow her on Twitter here



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.