I piled my sustainable disposable plate up with bougie finger foods in the courtyard of the ARRAY Creative Campus and made my way over to the bar to get a glass of wine. I was enjoying myself. I’ve been to events like this before. Panel events for women in the film industry preceded by a reception with bougie finger foods and wine, but I usually don’t enjoy them quite as much.
Let’s be honest. When an event boasts about being for women in film, what they mean is, white women in film. I’m usually trapped in a venue full of white attendees in one of L.A.’s gentrifying neighborhoods and I’m treated like I’m the one that doesn’t belong there. When I’m lucky, I’m overlooked. When I’m unlucky I’m spoken down to by white women who assume I know nothing about film or want to tell me some social justice documentary about oppressed women in living in slums that my face apparently reminded them of. Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously, their words are a constant reminder that I don’t belong there, that I don’t have a place in this world of film and television.
At best, I’m marginalized, at worst I’m blatantly disrespected. But I’m rarely ever at ease. But today was different. I was at ease. I was socializing, being myself. I once again was at an event in one of L.A. ‘s gentrifying neighborhoods. However, this time, it was full of people from all the colors that are being pushed out of these spaces. Both my presence and my point of view seemed to be welcomed. What a strange and wonderful new feeling.
Exciting News! We’re thrilled to announce that we’re hosting a very special all day event on Saturday: REEBOK + ARRAY Presents A Celebration of Women in Film. The event is free and open to the public! Just visit https://t.co/nAZWnv0h8i for tickets! #ReebokARRAY pic.twitter.com/3goglfA3Ve— ARRAY (@ARRAYNow) February 7, 2020
I was at Reebok and Array’s IT’S A MAN’S WORLD Panel event spotlighting Gender Inequality in Film and Media. It featured MJ Rodriguez (Actor, “Pose”), Nisha Ganatra (Director, “Late Night”), Stella Meghie (Director, “The Photograph”), and Kasi Lemmons (Director, “Harriet”) and was moderated by Teen Vogue’s Dani Kwateng-Clark. Before the panel even started, Ava DuVernay herself opened the event. My heart skipped a beat. I knew it would be a great night.
Any great panel discussion starts with a great moderator. The moderator asks the questions that determine the direction of the discussion . And this discussion had a great moderator. Dani Kwateng-Clark asked the questions I wanted to hear the answers to. Questions related to creating for the white gaze and whether or not it is important to win Oscars. This was the first time I attended a panel of this nature moderated by a woman of color. And make no mistake, it makes a difference.
There were some great takeaways from the panel. Kasi Lemmons made a statement I will always keep with me. She said “All art is resistance art.” She said that we “increase empathy by showing you a life you didn’t know.” She also pointed out that winning Oscars raises your pay rate. When people of color and women are not in the running, it limits the kind of money they are able to make.
Nisha Ganatra made a very interesting point about #Oscarssowhite, explaining that for Academy members to be able to nominate more work made by women and people of color, the industry needs to diversify and allow marginalized people to create more content. New hashtag alert, compliments of Nisha Genatra: #industrysowhite
Stella Meghie shared on the extraordinary hoops she had to jump through in order to hire a black woman editor on her film “The Photograph”. However, if a white male director wants to hire a white male editor, it’s unlikely that he would have to work so hard to prove the white male editor is qualified.
MJ Rodriguez shared how her involvement in Pose made her realize that she can use the power of television to be a voice for transpeople of all races. She reveled in the fact that the show appeals to the younger generation while not being focused on a typically white cis experience.
This is not the kind of panel discussion I would have experienced anywhere else. The information was relevant to me and other filmmakers I really care about. No one gaslit me into thinking I have a fair shot. “Mainstream” events could never do this for me. Most importantly, I was able to witness solidarity amongst women of color in film. I was able to watch, first hand, as new pathways of access and success were being created for people who are so often marginalized by the industry. I walked to my car with a kind of warm feeling inside of me. I was trying to identify what exactly it was that I felt. I realized that the feeling I felt was belonging. I left the event realizing that I do belong here. It may be a hard road, but I have a place in this world of film and television.
Words by Raja Michael. Images by Getty Images.