Just over a year ago, President Obama signed an executive order for equal pay for women. He urged us a nation to work toward ensuring that our daughters have the same chance to pursue their dreams as our sons.
We’ve all seen the statistics: Women only make 77 percent of what men make for doing the same job.
Obama called these statistics “embarrassing.” If 77 percent is embarrassing, then what women in film, media and entertainment endure is horrifying. According to a study done in 2013 by the Women’s Media Center, women’s salaries in the industry are on average $40,000 less than those of white men. Women are only 8 percent of film directors and 21 percent of producers. Those numbers are even smaller for women who are cinematographers, editors, especially if they are women of color or live in other parts of the world.
The inequality doesn’t stop there. In film, women are overrepresented in terms of how they’re portrayed in a sexualized manner. Even girls are likely to be portrayed in a sexualized manner 38 percent of the time compared to boys at only 6.7 percent. Clearly, sexism and media exploitation of females begin at an early age.
Ten years ago, I decided to do something about it. My idea was to bring women together, challenge the way we are depicted in the media and address issues that impact us globally. So I created the Women’s International Film & Arts Festival.
As we prepare to launch the 10th annual event in Miami, I’ve been conflicted. In some ways I’m in awe of what has been accomplished. We’ve hosted Academy Award winner Halle Berry, actress and producer Vivica A. Fox, 2007 Academy Award nominee Adriana Barraza, the wonderful (and Miami native) Jo Marie Peyton, Ally Sheedy, Zoe Saldana, Morris Chestnut, Amy Jo Johnson and our founding honorary chair, the late civil-rights activist and award-winning actress Ruby Dee.
Every year, WIFF has screened up to 100 films made by women from almost every corner of the Earth. Yet like any start up, we’ve had struggles and triumphs. In some ways, I expected support from more local corporations, and thank those here and across the country that did believe in our vision.
As someone said to me recently, sometimes our community appears to be more willing to give to people and events that come from other places rather than those of us who are homegrown. I guess not everyone shares my passion to create change for women.
That said, looking back I really wouldn’t change anything.
I’ve learned so much and met so many wonderful people who’ve shown the festival and me so much love and support. We were invited to present the film festival in Liverpool, England in 2008 and in Medellin, Colombia in 2013. And we’ve twice received the honor of being named Miami’s Best Film Festival by Miami New Times.
Many of our selected films have gone on to win national and international awards. And many of filmmakers continue to make a difference in remarkable ways not only in film but by empowering women as a whole. We’ve tackled every subject from breast cancer to human trafficking to speed dating.
I could never have done this alone and thank all the volunteers who have helped us review up to 400 films during our selection process, endured the up-all-night work sessions to make sure every detail is right, the phone calls soliciting support the festival.
Join us when we kick off the next decade on June 2 on Miami Beach for WIFF’s opening-night film, party and fundraiser for our girls program. We’re also hosting a three-day conference, Breaking Down Barriers, with the cast and executives from BET’s Being Mary Jane, VH1’s Mob Wives and HBO Latin America, among others.
The festival is for anyone who wants to be a part of this industry, film buffs and advocates for women’s equality.
Filmmakers are coming from as far away as New Zealand, the United Kingdom, China and from the Caribbean, Canada and, of course, the United States. Go to womensfilmfest.com to learn more.
The way women are portrayed in the media directly affects how we’re treated in society, so WIFF will continue to grow and we will continue our mission to empower women’s visions, voices and dreams.
Yvonne McCormack-Lyons is the founder of the Women’s International Film Festival.