Monday, November 9, 2015

Looking through the right lens

Image from Melissa Silverstein
How often have you watched a movie, only to walk out disappointed about how the women in the film have been treated? How often have you angrily discussed the rampant objectification of women on the one hand, and the astute lack of substantive representation of women on the other hand, in films? And how many of us have done something about it? Melissa Silverstein chose to question it, and to spark off a dialogue to build towards a culture of change. Here is her story:

Could you start by telling us a little about the work that you do?
I live in New York City and I have been working in the entertainment business for about eight years now. Women and Hollywood now lives on indiewire. I use the platform to report issues on women and gender equality in the entertainment business, while also running advocacy programs, speaking engagements, projects, infographics and the like beyond the website.

What got you into the working on gender advocacy with respect to women in films?
I went to the movies a lot, and as I got older, I saw that movies began to speak to me lesser and lesser I wanted to understand why – and I saw lesser women and lesser women being portrayed with autonomy. I was concerned about it – and when I took it to the blogosphere, I realised that there was very little being spoken and written about women and films, and I threw in the hat to see how I could be part of this. With that, Women and Hollywood began as a blog in 2007, and continues to educate, advocate, and agitate for gender parity across the entertainment industry.  

What were some of the challenges you faced in the work that you do?
The challenge with putting content online is that as more and more content comes up, the older content begins to disappear. Things start getting lost, and come up only as a search engine result, that too if it is searched for appropriately. I realised that I had been talking to these women directors, and I noticed that the larger narrative in Hollywood and the entertainment business has been male. This has significantly made the voice of women obscure. We don’t hear women’s voices, and when we don’t hear women’s voices, we don’t hear women’s thoughts, or women’s perspectives, or women’s ideas. With all these interviews I had of women directors, I decided to self-publish a book, In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing. With work like this, the hugest challenge has been to monetise something like this – because putting content online, in a day and age where information is accessible and available for free, it is quite clear that it may not necessarily pay the bills.

Have you been able to trace any tangible impact or changes as a result of the work you've done?
It is hard to quantify change when you look at work like this, but I’ll say this much – after having created this blog, I find that more women are talking about it, and there is more dialogue now, where there was none. It is interesting to see that more actresses are talking about it now, when there was so much fear surrounding this before. There is a social justice angle to this, where there have been more efforts to demand equal pay for equal work, and fighting for rights. More men tend to gain prominence in the film and entertainment industry. The entertainment industry has centred significantly around money and prestige – and when these two elements enter the conversation, the prominence of the voice of women decreases. It is vital to have women’s stories, their narratives, their experiences and their voices validated in culture – and that cannot happen until you see and hear women. When you don’t hear women, see women, listen to their stories, don’t see them in the forefront or backstage, it is as good as women being invisible, as good as saying that women don’t count. This is not good – women hold up half the sky and it is high time we are heard!

What's happening next? 
Right now, I am looking at doing the second volume of the book, and I want to reach out to students on this work. When people see the numbers on this, they are overwhelmed and outraged. I want more people to vote with their dollars when they go to the movies. 

Read the Women and Hollywood blog here.