America Ferrera thinks the future is bright for women filmmakers despite the uphill challenges they face in Hollywood.
Recapturing the magic of her viral monologue in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” film, Ferrera delivered a moving speech as the keynote presenter during the Academy’s annual women’s luncheon presented by Chanel on Thursday that prompted a minutes-long standing ovation. Ferrera’s remarks focused on the importance of fellowship and how the impact of a union of voices can make waves within the industry.
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“Community is not something that we can or should take for granted — and I would like us to consider that growing and strengthening this community might be the key to moving this industry,” she told the crowd.
“By the time I was finding success in my career, I was used to standing on my own. I was the first of my time, the only woman or the only person of color in important meetings, on set. And I was celebrated for this achievement, praised for breaking through, told that my singularity was some sort of badge of honor, a testament to my talents and hard work but, mostly it just felt really lonely and isolated,” Ferrera recalled. “Up until then I had internalized the notion that other women in this business and particularly women of color were my competition, not my collaborators. After all, there was never more than one of us in the room unless, of course, we were competing for the same jobs and opportunity.”
Ferrera continued, sharing how building community helped her to form significant bonds with her peers, shortening the distance she felt from the rest of Hollywood’s filmmakers.
“We began to build a friendship and grow a community of collaborators and mentors still today that fills me with the courage, and the hope, and the sense that we are not alone. This was an entirely new feeling, more than a decade into my career,” she said. “And then in 2017, when the Times Up and #MeToo movements were started, something truly miraculous happened in Hollywood. Women who worked in the same business for decades but had never been in rooms with each other started coming together. And once again, I witnessed and experienced the transformative nature of being together, of community, how it allows us to change our relationships to each other and to expand our understanding of our own experiences. Being in community creates possibilities for what we can imagine what we can do together.”
Citing a list of statistics on the representation of several marginalized groups in media, Ferrera concluded: “This system of dehumanization and erasure is felt in unique ways by our indigenous, API, Black, LGBTQIA and trans sisters, and all marginalized communities. So as we sit here, and as we hope to build a powerful fellowship and community, and to create authentic fellowship, we must center the students in our common understanding and in our goals. We have to be resolute in our commitment to caring for all of us to demand opportunity, access equal pay investment and possibility for every human because what I know today that I didn’t know when I was a kid is that all of us needs to know that together we can grow all of our possibilities and strengthen a global community of women, storytellers, artists and truth tellers that we need today more than ever before.”
Ferrera’s message resonated with the crowd as the girl power was on full display on the rooftop of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. In the audience was Maude Apatow, Annette Bening, Lily-Rose Depp, Gina Gammell, Molly Gordon, H.E.R., Patty Jenkins, Laura Karpman, Riley Keough, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Greta Lee, Carol Littleton, Eva Longoria, Lupita Nyong’o, Leslie Mann, Dylan Meyer, Ashley Park, Gina Prince-Bythewood, AV Rockwell, Michelle Satter, Sadie Sink, Kristen Stewart, Diane Warren, Academy Governor Rita Wilson and Academy President Janet Yang.
Earlier in the program, Bening (who formerly served as Academy Governor), presented the 2023 U.S. Gold Fellowship for Women recipients, Erica Eng and July Jung. Now in its sixth year, the Gold Fellowship for Women is a one-year program that combines direct support, personalized mentorship and access to networking opportunities for emerging women filmmakers to further their pursuits in the field. The Academy currently awards two fellowships annually, one in the U.S. and one internationally each with a prize amount of $35,000.
In addition to the up and coming women taking center focus, the entire room lit up with shouts and celebratory cheers as the actors celebrated the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike, which came to a resolution on Wednesday.
Wilson heaved a sigh of relief while speaking with Variety on the tan carpet, remembering the moment she found out the srike had ended after a historic 118 days. She was more than ready to finally speak about her latest production, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” which hit theaters in September.
“We couldn’t do any press, that was sad,” Wilson said. “You work so hard and you don’t even have a moment of celebrating.”
In light of the keynote speaker, Wilson — who has long been working on her own Barbie film, a documentary on the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler — reflected on the box office success of Gerwig’s “Barbie” and voiced her frustrations about the challenges women filmmakers face.
“Our business is so frustrating sometimes because you can go and pitch 50 women’s movies and they’ll say no to everything. And then they’ll make one and they’ll say, ‘Well, this is a hit. Now we’ve got to find 49 other women’s movies,’ but you’ve just pitched them the 49 other women’s movies. So it’s almost like if they see it, they can go ‘that works,’ and now there’s probably going to be a lot of movies about other brands of other dolls,” Wilson said, joking, “A few years ago they did Bratz so, could they bring back Bratz? I don’t know? But it’s really about the voice.”
More seriously, Wilson hopes Hollywood learns the right lessons from “Barbie’s” success and recognizes not only the value of women’s stories, but the magic that’s made when more women are able work in the space together.
“When you work with people that are like you, but also eager to explore other subject matters, and other people, and other cultures, you feel engaged in a different story. And we can’t just always be making movies about the same things all the time,” Wilson noted. “I remember I did two movies back to back with female directors, screenwriters, producers, DPs and I remember being so happy every at the end of each day. I’m just like, ‘This is the best day ever. Wow, why am I so happy?'”
Then she realized what made the difference. “‘Oh, this is because it’s females.’ This is what men feel like every time they go to work,” she said with a laugh.
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