April 10, 2017

On March 31, 2017, 114 women gathered in Provincetown, Massachusetts for the inaugural Women’s Media Summit, a three-day think-tank forum designed to solve gender inequity in U.S. entertainment media. The event was produced by veteran film producer Christine Walker, and was co-chaired by Dr. Caroline Heldman (Occidental professor and principal researcher at the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media) and myself.

The concept of Summit was based on a core belief that the stories and images that emerge from our media help define our national ethos and contribute to the voice of our civilization. The exclusion of women as contributors to our nation’s cultural narrative is a deeply entrenched problem. Women’s creative expressions and concerns are filtered through a mostly male lens, denying women of freedom and equality.

In May 2015, the ACLU called on our federal government to investigate discrimination against women directors in Hollywood. The intent of the Summit was to remedy this persistent and staggering problem that has been in the media spotlight for nearly two years. Today the EEOC is reportedly in settlement talks with all six major Hollywood studios, but that is no guarantee of success. In order to keep the momentum going and maintain control over our future, we decided to assemble as a group to brainstorm strategies that we ourselves can put into action going forward.

Gillian Thomas (ACLU Women’s Rights Project) and Kalpana Kotagal (Attorney, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll) gave a presentation to provide a framework for action entitled “Women, the Industry & the Law.” This fascinating overview described prior efforts to address discrimination against women in Hollywood, and the current prospects for reform. The session included a primer on federal and state law, as well as discussion of possible tools for effecting change — including litigation, government tax credits for diverse hiring, and media outreach.

Thomas and Kotagal also explained the origins of the ACLU’s 2015 letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calling for a federal investigation into discrimination against women directors, the current status of that effort, and potential outcomes. This presentation set the stage for possible legal remedies for discrimination, and provided a frame for brainstorming the most effective advocacy strategies during the breakout discussions.

The full article can be viewed here.