Long before Wonder Woman’s sword was used to stir the pot, women have been fighting off screen for representation and career opportunities — so much so that in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission following a University of Southern California study of women directors in Hollywood.
The report examined variations between female and male directors in the independent versus the mainstream market. Results showed that in 2014, independent women directors are equally employed alongside male directors at 26.9 percent but drop to 1.9 percent for the top 100 films. This not only inhibits women holding directorial positions but women’s opportunities to share their stories.
“When I look across the boardroom or the meeting room it’s dominated by men so the conversation tends to lean toward what they want to see,” said Leslie Frye-Thomas, longtime industry producer and CEO of the Hollywood, Florida-based Reel Stories Creative.
Before starting Reel Stories in 2012, Frye-Thomas spent her years working for other people, including four years for an unnamed North Miami employer in a “boys’ town” environment.
She began her post-college career as a production assistant for Warner Bros. through an outreach program for people of color. She worked her way up, winning an Emmy for her work on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” before her department was outsourced from Los Angeles to Miami in 2009.
“Films by and for lesbian women was a huge process of me coming into myself,” said Ebony Rhodes, a board member for OUTshine Film Festival, organizers of MiFo, the Miami Fort Lauderdale LGBT film festival. “To see that narrative that speaks to something so innate in you is so important.”
Rhodes has worked for OUTshine for the last eight years, first attending the festival with a former girlfriend before volunteering. Since then, she’s worked up to a board position and makes it her mission to ensure OUTshine’s success and continuance so LGBT filmmakers can tell their stories.
To do that, she promotes outreach and networking, organizing events like the upcoming art and film collaboration at the non-traditional Space Mountain gallery in late September. She hopes that it will provide a networking and sharing opportunity for artists and women of all backgrounds to come together and work on projects they might not have found otherwise.
Lori Pratico is a faculty member of Coral Springs Museum of Art, and she’s one of the artists behind Girl Noticed, a nationwide charcoal mural project focusing on the role “the female” plays in society. Pratico says it’s important for women to not only take advantage of opportunities, but to value their work accurately in an effort to close the gender pay gap.
“Stop giving yourself away for free as an artist,” she said. “If you don’t put a value on yourself, on your art, nobody else is going to.”
Pratico says women’s underpayment extends from the devaluation of women and girls, period. She showcases the varying roles women occupy in society by selecting community-nominated girls and women for the murals she paints. So far she’s been able to create installations in 10 states and says her biggest fulfillment from creating the portraits comes from the resonance the pieces have within a community, especially with women.
“At some point they’ve played small and undervalued themselves,” Pratico said.
She plans on continuing the project indefinitely past its initial three-year timeframe because of the support she’s received, but still places significance on local involvement through her art director position at Florida Youth Pride Coalition. Here, Lori is able to “give safe space to kids who are struggling with identity and expression and can be themselves in a positive way.”
Despite the imbalance on and off screen, women and LGBT representation isn’t a lost cause. Frye-Thomas, Pratico, and Rhodes all agree that success comes from hard work and networking, which they believe are make-or-break denominators. In today’s climate, it’s more vital than ever to be making connections.
The key, Rhodes says, is to “remind women that they have to come out and share their own stories otherwise no one is going to continue to make them.”