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by Hedgebrook Staff

Actress Patricia Arquette caught the zeitgeist by the tail last month when she capped her Oscar® speech with a clarion call for gender equity: “It’s time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.“

Applause rippled through the audience, erupting as the camera caught Meryl Streep and J-Lo leaping out of their seats. My wife, sister-in-law, nieces and I joined their cheers from our living room.

Backstage, Arquette made an unfortunate gaffe that went viral, calling for, “…all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now.” Her comment rubbed those of us in these communities the wrong way, by implying that LGBTQ people and people of color have achieved equality. We’re not there yet, sister!

When so many people are not being heard in the cultural conversation, drawing lines is divisive, and distracts us from the core issue: there’s an imbalance in the stories we see, read and hear. And because stories shape who we are, this is a problem.

The Women’s Media Center focused a Klieg light on this year’s nominations and exposed the stark truth: only 19% of all non-acting Oscar® nominees were women. No female screenwriters or directors were nominated, including “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who would’ve been the first African-American woman ever nominated for Best Director. (Wrong side of history, Academy.)

Here’s what those stats look like:

The film industry stats are on par with stats in the theatre world (17% of plays produced on American stages each year are by women), and the literary world (the number of books by women reviewed in major media each year hovers between 20%-30%.)

So we know what equal voice doesn’t look like.

But what if we start to envision what it might look like.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I see evidence of the movement toward equality gaining momentum, and cropping up in unexpected places. Here are just a few I’ve noticed recently:

  • Director Ava DuVernay’s enlightened response to being “snubbed” by the Academy: “The question is: Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award? …I mean, why are there not – not just black, brown people? …Asian people, indigenous people, representations that are more than just one voice, just one face, just one gaze? So for me, it’s much less about the awards and the accolades.” (see her full interview here)
  • Hedgebrook was awarded a Humanitas Prize in January, and at the gala awards ceremony, an acceptance speech caught my attention. The Prize in the “60 Minute TV Episode Category” went to a male/female writing team, Alex Gansa and Meredith Stiehm, who co-wrote the season finale of “Homeland.” Gansa stepped up to accept the award, and proceeded to give Stiehm all the credit for capturing the emotional heart of the episode, and making it award-worthy.
  • Writer K.T. Bradford is raising a challenge: to only read work that’s not by white-straight-cis-male authors for one year, and see what you discover.
  • I enjoy DJ Jay Smooth’s take on the Oscars on his blog “The Illipsis” about how even “good people” carry implicit biases, so we need to “learn the craft of being good.”
  • How about this year’s Golden Globes being touted as “the first feminist film awards ceremony” thanks to emcees Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
  • Even Super Bowl commercials had a feminist slant. Washington Post journalist Soraya Nadia McDonald writes: “When feminism comes to the Super Bowl it looks #likeagirl.”
  • Sundance Film Festival is launching a new initiative, “She is a Best Director” featuring female storytellers (such as Jane Fonda, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan and Kristen Wiig) in conversation about their art.

Hedgebrook is also taking initiative, launching a new program in 2015 to support women filmmakers with a residency, mentors and connections in the industry to bring their work to fruition.

I take heart in the fact that this conversation is gaining momentum.

Evolution takes time. We leap forward, then step back, and sometimes we stumble. But the movement itself is so important. It expands our humanity.

In our pursuit of equal voice for everyone, I encourage an abundance mentality. This isn’t about taking space away, it’s about creating space for more stories to rise.

Let’s be patient and empathetic. Let’s push each other to be more inclusive, to watch for and celebrate signs of equality wherever we see it, and to be, like Patricia Arquette, imperfectly bold.


For more on the dangers of “call-out culture” and a more inclusive approach, check out Asam Ahmad’s recent piece in Briar Patch Magazine.


About the Author:

AmyWheelerAmy Wheeler is a playwright and Executive Director of Hedgebrook. Amy’s plays have been produced and developed at theatres and in festivals around the country, and published in Rain City Project’s MANIFESTO series Vols 1 & 2. An alumna of Hedgebrook and Yaddo, Amy holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.







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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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1 Comment

  • Donna B Barnes
    5:13 PM - 6 March, 2015

    Well said Amy. No more blaming, Get busy striving and being position. “Generous of spirit” is what my Dad taught me.
    Thanks jAmy for your thoughts.

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