Did you know that women led the way in the silent film industry? And that it wasn’t until “talkies” started that men got more heavily involved?
I didn’t either. It’s just one thing I learned earlier this month during the Bentonville Film Festival, specifically during the Women In Film Arkansas (WIFA) mixer event, which Jamie’s Notebook also sponsored.
It turns out, that when sound in movies came about, more money was needed from banks to afford the equipment. Banks wouldn’t loan money to women, so the women got pushed out of the industry. We’ve been fighting our way back ever since.
You might be thinking, “doesn’t Jamie know women are in the media/entertainment industry in all areas?” This is obviously true, but the representation is not reflective of our numbers. According to the benchmark study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (benchmarking progress from 2007-2017), male leads outnumber female leads 2 to 1, which means that men’s stories were featured twice as often as women. This is true despite women being roughly half of the film-going population.
We also see a disproportionate number of women behind the scenes including producers and directors.
That’s where organizations such as WIFA come in. According to their website,
“Women in Film Arkansas is an entity of a global networking organization comprised of a consortium of loyal and ethical and edifying women and men of integrity dedicated to advancing professional development, gender parity, and achievement for women working in all areas of film, video, and other screen-based media while mentoring members and advocating female-driven content portraying women on screen in a positive light.”
I have friends who are involved with this organization and decided to become a member when I realized that you don’t have to be an actor, director, producer, or a filmmaker to be a part. Lots of talent, skills, and viewpoints go into making media of all kinds. Skills like mine could help filmmakers spread the word about their projects. Participating in this organization will help me be a voice for women, people with disabilities, and people of faith in a positive, forward-thinking way.
The voices of WIFA
One of the best parts of this process is that it includes so many voices. So many reasons for wanting better, more representation for all. During the mixer, I put on my old journalism hat and interviewed folks from many backgrounds. I wanted to share a bit of what they had to say to the best of my ability (please forgive and report misquotes!)
First, I sat down with my friend Kim Pease, who is a talent agent with Fia Worldwide Entertainment Agency and the EVP of WIFA; Tasha Martin, who is an actress and writer, and also a part of WIFA; and my friend Andrea Cadelli of Heart Fire Stories, who is a public speaker and movie producer.
The first question I asked was “why is this important?” In fact, I asked that of everyone I spoke with. I also asked some people if it’s true what we see on social media: that any efforts to elevate women or any other marginalized group is somehow hating on men or others.
Tasha said that Geena Davis’ “if she can see it she can be it” is a true statement and that what is in media now is mostly roles where women are seen as supporting the development of another character. Now, no one is saying that there is something wrong with supporting roles, but every supporter has his or her own story. Those stories are not being told enough or well enough.
Kim spoke up and said that media/entertainment should reflect real life and that these efforts are accurate representation and not about hating anyone.
“We’re out there doing it (living in a variety of roles),” she said. “It’s just not being represented in film.”
Andrea brought more perspective to the discussion about why she’s involved.
“As a female, I know how hard it is to get out there and tell our stories,” she said. “At my heart, I’m a storyteller.”
Andrea also answered my question about the idea of such groups being “anti-men.”
“It’s not anti-men. It’s about communicating openly about the (needs). We can’t expect people to know it (unless we share our stories).”
I spoke next with McKenzie McCath, who is the WIFA communication and membership coordinator.
She said that WIFA’s purpose is to bring people together of all genders and backgrounds.
“We have a lot of people from various arts backgrounds,” she said. “We are asking people, ‘what’s your talent?’ We will find a place for you (in WIFA).”
I next spoke with Jeff Hahn of 48 Hour Film Project and he said that WIFA has been “needed for a long time” and that one of the most common requests his company gets is for more female filmmakers.
“We have a lot of talented directors but no mentorship programs at all (in the industry),” he said. “We need to stop being an all-boys club (in the industry).”
I asked him about the idea that men feel threatened by groups that are working to elevate women. He said it’s blown out of proportion on social media and that he’s proud that 48 Films does not have that problem.
I then spoke with Buddy Campbell, who is an actor and producer. He was the first member of the WIFA board and has been a strong supporter for women to be involved with film for many years.
“My primary caretakers were women (including his grandmother, mother, and 7 aunts),” he said. “They’ve had immeasurable influence on my life. (I’m involved) because of who they are and how they take care of people. Women filmmakers have fewer opportunities and I know that if they are able to make films like they run their lives, they will make extraordinary movies.”
The next folks I talked to are friends Marsha Lane Foster and Earl Hale. Marsha is a professional fine art photographer and Earl has 30 years of experience in production. They met and fell in love four years ago on a movie set, of all places! They now own Toy Robot Productions.
Marsha agreed that her reason for being interested in the WIFA mission is helping women become better represented in the film industry. Earl added that they are working to redo one of his movies (Riot Act) that was already produced to make it better and to add a “woman’s touch.”
They are also working together on a new project and were hired as a husband and wife team. I think ideas like that are great because when you hire a team that works well together already, and you have more ideas represented, your production can only benefit.
As my time at the event came to the close, I met a man named Ian McMath (yes, McKenzie’s brother!) who had another interesting story. He’s owner of North Capitol Productions Company, which is based out of Bejing, China. There, because actors are from all over the world, they have an organic diversity that you don’t see here in the US. The actors learn their cues and speak their lines in their own language and then the entire movie gets translated into English, he explained.
“In our case, diversity happened out of necessity,” he explained.
Ian is back in the US working on his first feature film, which is based on a stage play he’s been involved with called Lincoln’s Dream.
First of all, if you’ve made it this far, thank you! This blog post was important to me that I capture at least a little bit of what people took the time to share with me. As my tagline says, “giving you a voice with the written word.”
Each person I talked with is well on their way of establishing their own voice and is using their knowledge, influence, and skills to make sure more stories get told.
I look forward to being a part of that.