Geena Davis

The ArcLight Presents Women in Entertainment Summit took place on November 5, 2015 at ArcLight’s Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles.

Designed to initiate dialogue around current and upcoming issues facing women in entertainment, the inaugural event saw a strong presence of (female and male) industry professionals, both moderating and in attendance.

The conversation was not limited to feature film: Coca-Cola AVP of Customer Marketing Katherine Twells spoke alongside movie folk like actress Geena Davis and Miss You Already director Catherine Hardwicke. And there was male representation amongst the ranks of female speakers, with documentary director Tom Donahue (HBO’s Casting By) sharing his experiences with women’s empowerment issues as well.

Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, Brittany Turner, Wendy Calhoun, Catherine Hardwicke, and Stacey Wilson Hunt discuss gender and equality

On the agenda at panels and keynote addresses throughout the day: topics such as gender and equality, social change through storytelling and how to level the entertainment playing field. An oft-repeated adage of the summit was, “You can’t be what you can’t see”—and the idea applies to younger audiences than one might expect. According to research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the dismal ratio of female to male characters prevalent in adult fare is even more noticeable in children’s entertainment. With an abundance of female characters in children’s film and television restricted to stereotypical roles (objects of visual or “sexualized” pleasure), media consumption has an adverse effect on young girls’ self-worth and ambitions.

Even today’s millennials face an imbalance in their encouraged fields of study. Though areas like STEM are no longer considered boys’ fields, young duo Jensie Coonradt and Kaiya Hollister of team Robogals faced disbelief as they represented the U.S. in the World Robot Olympiad this month. Experts believe that media negativity starts to sink in around the seventh grade, causing girls to retreat from less-welcoming arenas.

Another big topic for discussion was motherhood as it relates to professional perception. During a panel entitled “Who Runs the World? Girls,” Pretty Little Liars costume designer Mandi Line relayed a personal anecdote: When she asked to change the scheduling of a business trip, event organizers denied her request because she did not have children. Women in entertainment also face systematic bias in areas such as the festival circuit, where they are being signed to fewer agents than men, who come out of festivals with greater distribution. The catch-22? Agents turn women away because, according to them, fewer studios want women, but when asked why, studios respond by asking why there aren’t more women signed by agents.

In her keynote, Women in Film president Cathy Schulman raised a call to action to the women of the entertainment world: Affecting change and progress requires not only an overarching game plan, she said, but also for a community of women in similar industries to connect and align their missions. Fighting a lack of funding—the second greatest obstacle against female filmmakers (the first being institutional bias)—organizations such as Women in Film are taking concrete steps toward providing women with the finances and resources to pursue their work.

Below Gretchen McCourt, the founder and host of Women in Entertainment as well as ArcLight Cinemas’ EVP of cinema programming, addresses the day’s event and why it must happen again.

Women in Entertainment: Let’s Get in the Same Room and Keep Talking

By Gretchen McCourt

In late 2014 there was an “a-ha” moment for me as I was working on a little project for The Good Lie. I was so impressed to see that Reese Witherspoon had championed this story along with Gone Girl and Wild, all in the fourth quarter of the year. This was also the same time that Ava Duvernay was getting amazing reviews for the emotionally rich Selma and that I was working on an event for Lesley Chilcott and her new documentary, A Small Section of the World. It was through these projects that I knew I had to have a strong focus on female filmmakers and female stories for 2015.

The conversations on wage gap and female representation in entertainment continued to grow stronger, and internally I called on my creative and media partners to help me find a way to do more than play movies. I wanted to offer a place and way to continue the conversation and create a call to action.

Gretchen McCourt, founder and host of the ArcLight Presents Women in Entertainment summit

Something else vital to us is addressing the importance of diversity and how our own experiences help drive us all on our own unique paths. In one of Thursday’s panels, Brittany Turner, the vice president of Adaptive Studios, spoke poignantly of how empowering it was for her in high school to see characters on Grey’s Anatomy that represented her as a black woman, especially having Shonda Rhimes as the showrunner for a hit primetime show. Sharing our experiences like this is inspirational, and gives u insight into how we can all grow, moving forward.

The Women in Entertainment Summit was developed in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender Equality and Women in Film. The speakers were diverse and included Geena Davis, Cathy Schulman, David Ellison, Wendy Calhoun, Tom Donahue, Tish Ciravolo, Stacey Wilson Hunt, Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, Marjan Safinia, Maiah Ocando, Lesley Chilcott, Ellen McGirt, Linda Ong, Lenee Breckenridge, and Kerry Walsh-Jennings. The discussions ranged from documentaries to sports to digital platforms to mentoring the next generation.

We have had an overwhelming response and are already looking at a six-month check and another event next fall. My hope is that everyone attending the summit can find a cause that is meaningful to help, no matter how large or small. We can all make a difference. MM

For more information on Women in Entertainment, go to Photographs by Amy Tierney, courtesy of WIE.