At the “The Power of Story: Culture of Shift” panel at the Sundance Film Festival this morning, Octavia Spencer reminded the crowd that the current female empowerment revolution of #MeToo and Time’s Up “can’t be about women versus men.” Rather, she said, we need to make sure “it’s about the people being abused, and that this (movement) is to empower them.”
“We have to allow these voices to be heard,” said Spencer. “We can’t rush to judgement.” But “it’s also about power in numbers”: If a lot of people say something happened, it’s best to believe them.
Spencer was a last minute panel fill-in for Ava DuVernay, who was unable to make it to Park City. The Oscar-winning actress sat with panelists Patrick Gaspard, a former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and president of the Open Society Foundations; Insecure creator and star Issa Rae; Megan Smith, the third U.S. Chief Technology Officer and former assistant to President Barack Obama; and producer and Killer Content co-president Christine Vachon. The group talked about the great movements and setbacks for females and those from diverse backgrounds in entertainment and in the nation at large.
The event took place at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street and pulled in a standing-room only crowd bigger than the festival’s annual opening press conference the day before.
“The wonderful thing that happened with Anita Hill — and then there was a lag — was that human resources departments became educated on sexual harassment,” Spencer said. “But on every movie and every TV show they give you all these forms that talk about sexual harassment and what is allowed and not allowed in the workplace. What we’re finding now in the paradigm shift is that human resources were there to protect the companies, not the worker. This is about holding them accountable so people won’t be suppressed in the workplace.”
While the panel canvassed various topics, Smith put up a slide from Polygraph.com showing how the majority of lines in most motion pictures are given to actors (60%-90% male) versus actresses. Essentially we live in a world where “men speak and women don’t,” said Smith, who also revealed pie charts showing the growth of script lines by women and diverse groups between 1977’s Star Wars (which respectively had 6.3% by Carrie Fisher and none by multicultural actors) to a rise with 2016’s Rogue One (18% lines by women, 20.8% from multicultural actors).
Each of the panelists were asked what piece of art for them had the most impact on progressing women and diversity. Toward the top of the seminar and before the question was even asked, Vachon explained how her first production, Sundance’s 1991 grand jury prize winner Poison from Todd Haynes, moved the needle for the LGBT community. It showed that if made for the right money, niche films could break through to their intended audiences who were underserved with content. Go Fish was another Sundance film as another example, as was Killer Content’s first Oscar winner, 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry.
Gaspard gave a shout-out to Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winner Philadelphia, which opened mainstream audiences’ eyes to the AIDS epidemic. Gaspard said that early 1990s studies showed that most people believed that those with AIDS or HIV should be put in camps, with another 15% saying they should be branded.
“Philadelphia was transformative about funding those who were afflicted, and changed the conversation on health care,: he said. “We saw a loving relationship between Tom Hanks and his partner and that had a demonstrable, quantitative shift on cultural perceptions.”
Smith mentioned Moana in how it brought to light how Hawaiians have been navigating the ocean for several hundred years without instruments and continue to do so.
Spencer cited Roots as well as Oprah Winfrey: “She opened doors for women and culture.”