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Women in Film’s Call to Action Bears Fruit

Variety logo Variety 6/13/2017 Thelma Adams
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The dam appears to have burst for Hollywood women: Cannes jury member Jessica Chastain used her platform to speak out about the female images she wants and needs to see on screen; Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” had a $103 million opening weekend; and “The Beguiled” director Sofia Coppola became the second woman to win the directing prize at Cannes.

The awareness of a need for industry-wide gender equality has hit critical mass, but what next? It’s time to “Evolve,” according to Women in Film (WIF), the unifying theme of the org’s annual gala June 13 at the Beverly Hilton.

“This year’s theme is Evolve,” says WIF Los Angeles president Cathy Schulman. “That’s because we’re in [the thick of] it now. This is where the rubber hits the road.”

WIF, founded in 1973, has pursued a multi-year campaign that included accumulating statistics on industry gender parity, and then using those numbers to raise awareness. Earlier this year, the organization collaborated with the Sundance Institute to launch an initiative called ReFrame, which, according to Schulman, “is a delivery system in which high level executives make peer to peer approaches to sign on to the best practices that we’ve been able to identify.”

The producer and president and CEO of Welle Entertainment continues: “And all of this is in an effort to make these changes industry wide sustainable, globally effective and positive from a marketplace perspective.”

“Evolve” is the logical next step from awareness to action, she says. “Our programs are active, along with our communication with studios, networks and financiers. Evolve! I see it as a command. This is basically to say, come on everybody there has to be a way where we can embrace equality. We’ve illuminated all the problems. We’ve given the proof. We, as an organization, are involved in a very deep dive that will actually prove the economic case. Enough is enough. For Women in Film, this is our time to help the industry evolve.”

Adriana Alberghetti is a member of the WIF board of directors and a partner at WME|IMG in the motion picture department. “Change is a big word, like moving the Titanic,” she says “Evolving is about growth. We all want to be there to give everybody the tools to do the right thing. … The idea about ‘Evolve’ is that it’s going to be gradual and not going to be tomorrow. You look at this moment right now with the success of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” [from] Reed Morano, Elisabeth Moss and Alexis Bledel — and everyone’s talking about it. The chatter taps into this moment, a certain political landscape: ‘gee, look what could happen in an extreme version?’ It’s dangerous when films and TV and media do not reflect what the reality is of the world’s demographic.”

Adds Alberghetti: “Frankly the takeaway is as depressing as, ‘Jesus, are we actually still here?’”

And, yet, for the veteran agent, this crisis also signals optimism. “By the same token it’s been an incredible call to arms. We are going to see real change. It’s in the zeitgeist and we just need to keep banging our collective drum. We do have the power to create positive and smart messaging. We can move the needle. We can make a contribution. It’s an exciting time.”

For Stephanie Allain, executive board vice president and accomplished producer (“Dear White People,” on both film and TV), her hope for the future is, on its face, simple: “Parity,” Allain says. “We’re 51% of the population. We want to be behind 50% of the stories, composers, directors and cinematographers. … You see that culturally the shift is happening.”

Concludes Schulman: “We’ve seen some amazing evolution but there’s still a long way to go. Evolve is a demand to make our full transition to a non-gender biased industry.”

Reflecting the organization’s commitment to change, this year’s WIF gala hosted by Jessica Williams, will honor Elizabeth Banks, Tracee Ellis Ross, Zoey Deutch, Mira Nair, Dan Rather, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard.

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