Melanie Wise is the co-founder of the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival. Since its inception in 2015 the festival has shone its spotlight on empowered, independent, physically strong women, from sci fi action heroines to stuntwomen to real-life World War II airforce pilots and record-breaking basketball players.
Here Melanie writes about society’s power structures, and how supporting ventures led by women can root out discrimination and sexual harassment.
Recent events in the entertainment industry have created a center stage scrutiny of much needed, very long overdue examination of the many issues women of all walks of life face on a daily basis. In percolating the entirety of the situation, I can’t think of a single woman I’ve ever met who’s not been touched by some form of sexual harassment, sexual assault or gender bias/discrimination. Not one.
As I ventured into the world of film, the casting couch wasn’t a rumor or fantasy or remote possibility – it was a given. You knew it was a hard reality that you’d face at some time, and on many occasions. As I consider the idea that expecting half the population, solely because of gender, to be beholden to sex at whim, I can only say “what the f***?!” How can our baseline value and treatment of humanity be reduced to that of property? How is it, simply because I endeavoured to get a role in film, a job on set, and produce a film, that I agreed that sex was part of the negotiation? And yet it is, and the film industry is but the tip of the iceberg regarding issues such as this.
“Men and women shine brighter when they work together. True strength and power never happens at the expense of others – that’s just force”
As a culture and world society we must certainly open very direct conversations that encourage nothing short of a tectonic shift in how we define male and female gender roles. How men and women relate to each other in the vast potential of relationship types, navigating the continuously shifting framework of relationships, and examining and redefining appropriate boundaries. I do think men and women need each other; that we shine brighter when we work together; that our strengths increase exponentially as both sexes are fully unshackled. True strength and power never happens at the expense of others – that’s just force, not power or strength.
I think it was very important for these issues to have blown up in the entertainment industry. Our industry is heavily responsible for influencing our world and culture in uncountable ways. Back to that old adage “with great power comes great responsibility.” It is certainly my hope that the entertainment industry be very proactive in using this influence to rehabilitate the current power structure, gender roles, and how the genders relate and coexist.
One of the reasons I started Artemis was to bring attention to female action and empowerment heroes. When we see inspiring, powerful images of women on screen, men and women have the potential to blow to pieces the boxes that women are “supposed” to live in. It becomes a study in remembering the strength that women have always possessed.
We should all be very proactive on the front of leading this tectonic shift. One very simple, yet fundamental step is steady support of female-powered businesses, ventures, organisations, and even films. We vote every day with our dollars. If we staunchly support women-led endeavors, we cause a greater economic flow of capital to our female population and we directly give all women greater empowerment by literally giving them economic means to do more. You may be asking yourself, “What on earth do harassment and discrimination have to do with business?” It’s about inherent value. As we do more, earn more, become more empowered, our values shift. As values shift, we can more easily tackle deficits in our own lives and in the world. And let’s face it, our history of harassment and discrimination is certainly a deficit. Without more financial equality among the sexes, that deficit will certainly prevail as change does require financial resources.
I firmly believe the only way the entertainment industry will fully “cleanse its sins” of a very long history of sexual and gender no-nos is to unwaveringly support female-powered programmes that cater to women. In doing so, the thing that will become most conspicuous is the value that women add to the projects in which they participate. We’re living in an era where the power, strength, determination and grit of women are their X factor. We’ve yet to fully exploit or encourage this potential. When we commit to supporting female-powered endeavours, we’ll finally have the opportunity to experience the X factor women possess.
The Artemis Women in Action Film Festival runs April 26th at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Los Angeles and from April 27th at the Monica Film Center in Santa Monica