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WIF Watches Women’s Movement Ignite

As Women in Film celebrates its 45th anniversary, the industry is finally catching up to the org’s call for gender parity and women’s rights. WIF has set Ignited as the theme for this year’s annual Crystal + Lucy Awards on June 13 at the Beverly Hilton.

ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey, slated to receive the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television, recently demonstrated the importance of women, and women of color, in decision-making roles when she decisively responded to Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet with an immediate cancellation of the comedian’s eponymous No. 1 comedy on May 29. Dungey’s action may be as much a sign of the times as the image of Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs.

Before the Barr incident, the ABC exec talked to Variety about the tipping point. “The #MeToo movement and Time’s Up has really brought the conversation to the forefront across the country and around the world, leading to companies wanting to do the right thing for their employees so they feel safe and protected. It’s exciting but there’s a lot of work to get started.”

“We’re hitting middle age, 45, as an organization at the same time as the issue is maturing itself,” says outgoing WIF chief Cathy Schulman, who will also produce the show. “Everything changed with Jodi Kantor’s New York Times article on Oct. 5 about Weinstein. It was a stop-and-listen moment for the industry and the whole world. What I feel particularly proud of is that we were so historically prepared with all the necessary research and academics and knowledge and know-how to be able to contribute and capitalize on the sudden eyeballs on the long persistent gender issues in Hollywood.”

While there’s been a conflation of sexual-harassment and gender-parity issues, Schulman perceives “harassment as an effect of a discriminatory way of doing business that stinks from the top down. When a group of men excludes diverse voices,” she says, this affects “the content that’s created, within the orgs and within the projects. This lack of women, combined with discriminatory behavior toward women, [creates] an unhealthy breeding ground for discrimination.”

“For us at ABC, this isn’t a new conversation,” Dungey says. “Our brand for the last few years [has included] strong powerful women leading our shows: Ellen Pompeo in ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ Kerry Washington in ‘Scandal’ and Viola Davis in ‘How to Get Away with Murder,’ as well as ‘Agents of SHIELD’ and ‘Once Upon a Time.’ ”

Her ABC team has worked hard to ensure that women filled prominent role behind the scenes, including showrunners J. J. Philbin, Liz Meriwether, Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain and Eva Longoria with “Grand Hotel.” The jewel in ABC’s crown has been Shonda Rhimes, who has led the way for more than a decade. (In 2017, Rhimes signed a $100 million deal with Netflix.) Adds Dungey, “Every female showrunner brings her own unique stamp and what I love about the way that Shonda has done the job is that she’s made a point to promote female department heads, empower female cast members and encourage female directors like Ellen Pompeo.”
There are “a lot of talented women directors and many are still struggling. That is one area where we need to focus,” Dungey says. “Everyone should feel that they have the right and opportunity to be judged on the quality of the work and what they bring to the table with their talent.”

And that’s why the theme of Ignited is so crucial at this cultural tipping point, Schulman says.

“This movement is in flames, ignited. We’re in it,” she says. “We have to be responsible with what it is we show [in media]. It affects the way we choose our leaders, the way we run our communities, houses, schools. If there’s a missing 50% of the population, we are creating an image that’s lopsided to say the least.

“We still have a long way to go to stop speaking to the converted [women speaking to women]. The biggest hurdle is to bring men into the battle. At the end of the day it’s their biased behavior that has to change.”

Last year WIF honored the work of Sony Pictures Classics Tom Bernard and Michael Barker with the Beacon Award, but this year it will be presented to the women of “Black Panther” in conjunction with Lexus. There are no male honorees in 2018.

The org will also fete Brie Larson with the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film; Alexandra Shipp will receive the Max Mara Face of the Future Award; the duo Nova Wav (Denisia “Blu June” Andrews and Brittany “Chi” Coney) will accept the Artistic Excellence Award. Additionally, a segment celebrating the organization’s 45 years of advocacy will be presented by Frances McDormand and recognize outstanding leaders in their pursuit of gender equity.

As the org matures, the gala is both a celebration of achievement and a call to arms, Schulman says. “It’s still our responsibility not to let the issue get brushed aside. The danger is that it surges and goes right back under the rug.”

Dungey concurs: “It takes everyone, not just women. Enlisting men in the conversation [is critical], I want to raise my daughter to believe she has the power to be and do; I want to raise my son to be the kind of man who sees women as equals in every respect.”

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