Women in film share what comes after #MeToo

Jordyn Zitman

A diverse group of women in the entertainment industry gathered today to speak on the panel “#MeToo, Now What? Looking Beyond the Hashtag” at SXSW.

The panel, moderated by Sarah Hernholm, founder and president of Whatever It Takes and Smart City Saturday, covered the social #MeToo movement and its effects. Next was Lauren Clark, Stanford University junior and research fellow, who works with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. Next was Tonya Mantooth, president and executive artistic director at the San Diego International Film Festival. The final panelist was Erika Alexander, an actress and writer who most recently appeared in “GET OUT” and began her own media company, Color Farm Media. The women discussed topics from sexual harassment in the workplace to the movement in the context of American history.

“I felt this huge sense of injustice,” Clark said. “All of these movements, we can never make up for the wrong. What we can do is focus on how to make this industry more equitable, a safer space for women.”

Clark is actively conducting a research project, Catalyzing Courage, researching ways to capitalize on the momentum of the #MeToo movement to enact change. Hernholm said the words that sparked this movement resonate differently with everyone.

“People have taken these words, that hashtag and made it mean something to them,” Hernholm said. “I think that’s a really valid part of this conversation.”

Alexander said she believes that #MeToo truly began with the enslaving of her ancestors. She also commented on the tendency of some black women to protect the reputations of their assailants.

“Black women are great protectors of black men because all our lives we’ve had to think about people who were vulnerable,” Alexander said. “No one tells you to do this, you just protect people who are harming you, and it can be hard to talk about it.”

Mantooth said when she took over the San Diego International Film Festival, submissions from female filmmakers of color was stagnant at about 25 percent. Today, the festival receives nearly half of their submissions from this demographic.

“It has to start from the bottom up, encouraging film students and high school students to take part in finding their voice,” Mantooth said. “It will take a while, and #MeToo is a moment in time, but it’s a generational issue.”

She said festivals like SXSW are great or the movement because it gives a platform and an opportunity to highlight all filmmakers, regardless of race or gender.  

“We live in a very evolutionary time, but that’s where change happens,” Mantooth said. “It’s this time, but it’s also many generations before.”

The panelists fielded questions from the audience, who shared personal stories of sexual assault, being an advocate for another survivor and the need for tangible tools to educate people about bystander intervention.

Mantooth said the movement faces controversy because of the prominence of white voices.

“There’s such a dichotomy between needing the voices, yet the voices are problematic because they’re all the same,” Mantooth said.

Audience members asked why they should exert the effort to continue this movement, when it does not seem that change will come any time soon.

“Look at the Civil Rights Movement and those people,” Alexander said. “They knew they would not see the changes they were fighting for, but they were fighting for a better tomorrow. You can sacrifice yourself to the movement.”

Clark said she believes the media industry should spread messages around diversity and inclusiveness to kids from an early age.

“We consume so much media,” Clark said. “This industry has a responsibility to ensure that it’s diverse and inclusive so on people who are consuming from a very young age, they have a positive impact.”

One of the two men present asked how he, as a filmmaker, can support the movement.

“Surround yourself with women, women of color,” Mantooth said. “You need to bring them into your inner circle to hear what they’re saying. Your co-editors, writers —  surround yourself, and those stories will come. That’s the change from conversation to action.”