I am thrilled to announce that filmmaker Leah Meyerhoff has joined the team of “Seeing is Believing: Women Direct” as an Executive Producer!
Some of you have followed me for a long time, so you know my story and how I came out of a pretty wild childhood. For those of you who don’t, you can check out my book, or just give me the benefit of the doubt. But when I tell you I know what it’s like to be pushed down, oppressed, sat on (literally), and told to believe that I am less than I am -consistently from many different people in many different walks of life, I am really not kidding.
On day I realized: I am a magnet for people who like to make others feel bad. Why is this? Do I have a sign on my butt that says, “kick me?” Do I give off “walking wounded?” I don’t think so, and my friends don’t think so. So what’s the deal?
I finally figured it out. I’m an artist, but not just as in the “I paint canvas” or in a “I’m a good actor” kind of way. I’m an artist in that I have a special gift, that I really love people. It gives me joy to help another human being. This is just a fact of who I am. I am also a communicator. I help people far and wide. This is also just a fact or who I am. I can’t be any different.
It gives me joy to help another human being.
There are some folks out there who are just the opposite: they like to smush people. The only way they feel good about themselves is when other people feel bad about themselves. I’m sure you’ve met some along your walk in life. Sure, there can be something appealing about the whole “gossipy/bitchy, I’m better than you are” thing, but deep down you know that’s One Unhappy Person, and that it makes you feel bad to participate in that kind of talk.
My documentary is taking the issue of oppression and bias head on, but men aren’t the only offenders. Women may be the one’s who are suffering from being oppressed but we are also contributors to our oppression and therefore an essential part of liberating ourselves from it.
Women may be the one’s who are suffering from being oppressed but we are also contributors to our oppression and therefore an essential part of liberating ourselves from it.
I’m sure you’re wondering, “WTF? Dude’s be like, frickin’ rude to me sometimes! I don’t deserve that!” And you are right. You don’t deserve it. But what are you doing to stop it?
I am not letting myself off the hook. Here’s an example of when I should have done something and didn’t.
On a soap set, a few of us actors were gathered waiting for a scene to begin. I had recently cut bangs in my hair. One of the men (a pretty famous guy whose job was secured by his many years of work there) said to me, “I’d never f*#k a woman with bangs.”
Yes, he actually said that. And this was one of the “nice guys.”
What did I do? Did I say, “That’s totally inappropriate and an unacceptable way to speak to me.”? No. I did not. I was shocked, but I laughed it off. I didn’t even say, “Well, thank goodness because I wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole.” I said NOTHING.
What did I do? I said NOTHING.
This is me participating in my own oppression. This is one of a thousand times I have heard this kind of talk on set.
I was worried I wouldn’t be seen as cool. I was worried I would lose my job. At that moment, my personal dignity and the respect I should have earned (I had two Emmy’s at the time) was less important than my need to “keep the peace.” But what peace? Who’s peace?
It has taken me a long time to come around to this, but this is what I believe: I believe that because I did not RESIST the oppression, because I did not correct it, I allowed the oppression to continue.
I believe that because I did not RESIST the oppression, because I did not correct it, I allowed the oppression to continue.
I don’t think I am the only woman to whom this has ever happened. In fact, I’m damn sure this happens far more often than women like to talk about because it hurts to talk about it. What can make it harder is that (sometimes) we are shamed for talking about it, or blamed that it exists in the first place. Let’s just call the shaming and blaming for what it is, shall we? JUSTIFICATION by the person oppressing, for behavior that is beneath their own moral standards. AKA a shifty tap-dance of B.S.
So what can we do, as women, to stop getting trash talked? Or worse, hit? Shamed? Blamed? Attacked?
We have to speak up. We have to support one another. We have to take action. We must not give it power by silently allowing it to continue. Because when we do, we become complicit in the oppression. We not only let it fester within ourselves, we allow it to be passed down to our daughters, our sons. We allow it to become a habit. We allow it to become acceptable.
We have to speak up. We have to support one another. We have to take action.
Please know, I don’t blame you. I’ve jumped right into the game as an “equal opportunity offender.” In the vein of the old, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” routine, I thought, “Play the game they play. Be more rude, more wild, tougher than any dude.”
I got so tough in my years in New York City I was literally challenging men to fight me, on the spot. With a loud voice and shaking hands I was 100% ready to get the crap beaten out of me just for the opportunity to fight back and exhibit all the rage I felt from the constant, merciless disrespect. I’m not that person anymore, thank god. I had to let all the rage and hate go. It did not serve me. I had to find another way, a better way. A stronger way. I had to regain my self respect, my dignity, my sense of having something about myself that was worth fighting for. And it all came down to this: I HAD TO SPEAK UP IN THE MOMENT TO SAY NO.
I HAD TO SPEAK UP IN THE MOMENT TO SAY NO.
NO. What a beautiful word. Total and complete in it’s meaning. Start a sentence with it and the rest of the words will come rolling out as they need to. “No, I don’t like being talked to that way. No, I will not let you speak to me like that. No, you cannot pay me less than my colleague.”
You can also stand up for other women. Letting people know that it’s not okay to talk badly about your friend or colleague is not only a show of your strength, but can change the dynamic of an entire group. “Hey, she’s my friend and I think it’s not cool to talk about her like that,” is a lovely thing to say.
However you choose to handle it: RESIST. RESIST. RESIST THE OPPRESSION. The person exhibiting it is like a balloon filled with hot air. They will not last. They will not succeed. Join with like-minded women and good men who support this kind of resistance and the oppression will not last.
They might even realize how wrong they were and change their tune. It’s been known to happen. And you know what’s so awesome about that? It gives us the opportunity to forgive and allow that person to come back home to their true, good self.
It gives us the opportunity to forgive and allow that person to come back home to their true, good self.
Which is one of the most awesome feelings of all.
Today I was watching some of an interview I did with the filmmaker Nicole Conn and I found myself smiling. One of the great pleasures of this documentary has been getting to know women like Nicole: women who are smart, talented, and beautifully unique. Nicole is not categorized as a “mainstream” filmmaker yet, but she is an important one, and in a way she personifies why I am making this doc. She personifies what I value: she is true to herself. She is true to her vision.
She is true to her vision.
She loves old black and white movies. She believes in romance. She is a gay woman. Her calling and talent is filmmaking, so she has made three seminal films about passionate relationships between lovers that happen to be female.
Somehow her films, as wildly successful as they are (and they are WILDLY successful) are still not considered “mainstream.” So I have to ask myself, what is “mainstream”? What is it about one narrative (a narrative that is not inclusive of the reality of a very large percentage of the world’s population, mind you) that continues to have a hold over what we as a society deem “normal”?
Without finger pointing or getting political, I think it is fair to say that it is a mode of storytelling that is on the verge of becoming irrelevant.
Why should lesbian cinema be marginalized? Or “faith based” films, “Black” cinema, “Latin” cinema, “Asian” cinema, “Indian” cinema or “Women’s” cinema for that matter? What IS normal in a world full of variation? Why must we categorize everything and what is “mainstream” when the internet exposes us all to the cultures of the world?
What is “normal” in a world full of variation?
Let’s take a field of wildflowers as a nice metaphor. Is the daisy the predominant flower and therefore the most valuable? It’s a nice daisy, but I think we would all agree: it’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What we appreciate about the field of wildflowers is its variation, it’s limitless, imaginative variation.
The process of making this documentary has exposed me to more kinds of storytelling and people than I ever thought possible. It has been so fulfilling to watch the art films of German filmmaker Diana Cignoni; the transgender series, “HerStory,” directed by Sydney Freeland; and the powerful short film “And Nothing Happened” by Naima Ramos-Chapman that explores the surreal after-life of a rape survivor. I think I’ve become a better person by watching Meera Menon’s powerful “Farah Goes Bang,” and the off-beat martial arts short film action fantasies of Toy Lei. And the documentaries exploring American India life by Anne Makepeace are nothing short of breathtaking. These women are visionaries.
I’m gambling that I’m not alone in this quest to expose more women’s stories to the world.
Watching these films and more have exposed me to worlds I did not know about and gave me insights that broadened my understanding of the world. One thing I learned is that categorizing films into “women’s stories” is a neat and tidy way to keep women from making their stories. Who likes to be limited, judged as “less than,” laughed at? I also learned that being a visionary means holding your ground: not letting the words of others push you away from what you “see” in your mind as worthy.
Being a visionary means holding your ground.
I made this documentary because I want to give women and girls HOPE, ENCOURAGEMENT, and TOOLS. Something they can watch quietly in the middle of the night to hear other women talk about how they work without being judged, talked down to, or lectured at. I want all women who desire to tell a story to feel heard and seen, validated and understood.
Today, Sunday September 25th, I am beginning a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help me finish what has become a five hour documentary. If you feel so compelled, I would be deeply grateful for any small support you can give.
I’m gambling that I’m not alone in this quest to expose more women’s stories to the world.
It’s been an amazing journey. Thank you for joining me every step of the way.
Making anything, even a quiche for goodness sakes, take effort, thought, concentration and caring.
Making a film? Fogettaboutit.
Since I’ve started on this journey I’ve had a handful of breakdown/breakthroughs. I’ve cried wondering why some men in show business can be so thoughtlessly dominating. I’ve cried wondering why some women can be so competitive and cruel. I’ve cried from feeling a lack of support. I’ve cried wondering why I chose such a difficult subject.
I’ve cried the hardest realizing how so much of all of this is really about my mother.
Mom… Truly, the most powerful influence in my life was that nutty, brilliant, madwoman. She who often gave up on herself, but who (despite her harsh words sometimes) never gave up on me.
Her pain at feeling like there wasn’t a place for her voice in the world sunk deep down into my bones. Her fear at putting her work out there echoed into my heart. Her loneliness, her anger at men, her wounds… they have been my encyclopedia of womanhood.
The other day I turned to Jon and said, “My mom at my age was massively overweight, fighting cancer, a heavy drinker, and unemployed. She had all but given up on herself in every way. I could hardly blame her. Life had ostensibly beat the crap out of her from an early age. So when I live a life completely differently, without any other woman who I am holding onto for guidance or support, I am not only breaking the mold of what I was taught being an adult woman is, but I am forming an entirely new one completely on my own. And that, sometimes, is very scary.”
However, for me, there is no option but forward. Because one day not so long ago, I realized I can only go in one of two directions: toward drinking, overeating, giving up on my art and myself and getting sick; or toward health, spirituality, and continuously risking to make the art that calls to me. That’s it. One way or the other. Because it’s the way my DNA is coded, the way the story came down to me.
I can choose: one way or the other.
Sometimes I feel guilty for being a survivor, for not following her path of suffering. Who am I to succeed, to thrive, to be well?
I am my mother’s daughter. And I must believe that despite her pain and loneliness, she would not want for me what she endured.
I am my mother’s daughter. And I must believe that despite her pain and loneliness, she would not want for me what she endured.
So, I hang onto the motto: NEVER GIVE UP. Because by not quitting, by staying on the path, by gluing myself to the task at hand, I know I am evolving myself into what my soul wants me to be. I am the EVOLUTION of my mom, and all the women in my family before her on both sides. I know she, and every one of those women, would want me to be more than a survivor.
They would want me to shine like an exploding sun.
And I, in turn, want that for every one of you. Because we are all capable of great things, and of lifting up this beautiful, troubled world up, together.
We CAN ALL be heroes… one day at a time….
One of the directors I spoke to (Kimberly McCullough) had an interesting insight. She said that making independent film is a lot like starting a business… over and over again. In my experience that is absolutely right. Every project you make is it’s own entity that you hope has a long life of it’s own from inception to distribution. But you are always starting from the beginning, and that’s hard work.
So it’s really important if you think you want to make a documentary or any kind of film to think about the whole journey.
Ask yourself, “Who is this story for, really?”
This will guide you through every step of the decision making, and get ready because there are tons of decisions to be made.
If I’m brutally honest with myself, I started out making this film for me, because I felt really lonely as a director that happened to be female. Every festival I took my short films to was crammed with dudes. In 2015, I didn’t see any women treated like “up and coming visionaries,” only young men were. One time I was given a “producer” tag when I was the producer, writer, AND the director, as well as costume and production design… In short: it was my vision! My film! And someone doing the tags at the film festival basically couldn’t believe it.
(note: the pink sticker, qualifying me as a “producer only.”)
This, as you can imagine, sucked. And then I won an award for “Best Comedy Drama Short!” Ironic to say the least.
I recall looking at the few women who were at these festivals. I can’t say they looked that happy about what they were having to deal with either, which was, if it boils right down to it, a basic lack of imagination.
Men aren’t the only people who can have a vision and execute it. What’s so hard to imagine about that?
Because of these experiences I realized that I couldn’t just make the film for me or even just for women in the field, because the issue isn’t relegated to women directors.
It’s much, much bigger than that.
The issue is one of perception. How we as a culture SEE women.
Sometimes it feels like any time a woman really steps out and stands up for something, like crabs in a barrel, there are thousands of people (men AND women) who are ready to tear her down for her smallest faults or imperfections.
This really needs to stop. We are all so much better than this.
One woman’s success does not mean your failure.
In fact, it means there is a strong possibility that YOU COULD DO THE SAME THING.
Bethany Rooney, a director of over 200 episodes of television, gave me this wonderful quote: “Can you live without comparison?” Think about it. Instead of comparing, how about we get inspired by great women? Instead of thinking, “Oh I’m not good enough,” saying, “What do I need to do in order to be my greatest self?”
Here’s a fantastic video to help you start to see just how powerful and amazing women can be! Yes, someday, YOU could join this amazing list of women who have overcome incredible obstacles.
And how wonderful would that be?
As some of you know, there is a very large movement afoot to make the stories that come out of Hollywoodland more interesting. And by more interesting, I mean less reductive of a woman’s existence. Women in films (and most TV) often end up playing “the wife/the mother/the girlfriend” etc… roles limited to extensions of a man’s existence. Either that, or they are roles described as being “empowering” but really only parts where women are yelling a lot, complaining a lot, naked in an embarrassing way, or doing bad things without consequence.
Here’s a terrific example: real casting descriptions of women’s roles, as read for the first time by women. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQNLs94_grk
Now a new film by Terrance Malik is coming out, called “Knight of Cups” and although the trailer is stunning and I’m sure the movie has much to offer, the description of it is just begging for an SNL spoof. I found it in a recent blog on IndieWire that called it “a reminder of all that is wrong in Hollywood.”
“‘Knight of Cups; follows writer Rick (Christian Bale, The Fighter, ‘American Hustle’) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a search for love and self. Even as he moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Rick grapples over complicated relationships with his brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy). His quest to break the spell of his disenchantment takes him on a series of adventures with six alluring women: rebellious Della (Imogen Poots); his physician ex-wife, Nancy (Cate Blanchett); a serene model Helen (Freida Pinto); a woman he wronged in the past Elizabeth (Natalie Portman); a spirited, playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer); and an innocent Isabel (Isabel Lucas), who helps him see a way forward.”
Kind of the same old thing, right? I thought it would be fun to take the exact same writing and do a female version, by changing nothing but the pronoun “he” to “she” and the men’s roles to women’s roles. I did not change the descriptions or the grammar. Check it out:
“‘Queen of Cups; follows writer Sarah (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Black Swan, ‘Leon the Professional’) on an odyssey through the playgrounds of Los Angeles and Las Vegas as she undertakes a search for love and self. Even as she moves through a desire-laden landscape of mansions, resorts, beaches and clubs, Sarah grapples over complicated relationships with her sister (Mila Kunis) and her mother (Deborah Messing). Her quest to break the spell of her disenchantment takes her on a series of adventures with six alluring men: rebellious Bill (Liam Hemsworth); her physician ex-husband, Charles (James Franco), a serene model Harry (Robert Pattinson), a man she wronged in the past Anthony (Shia LaBeouf), a spirited, playful stripper Carl (Taylor Lautner), and an innocent Jonathan (Michael Sera), who helps her see a way forward.”
What do you think? Would you go see a film about this woman? I think I would. In fact, I would LOVE to see it. It could be even more interesting with a gay woman or a trans woman in the lead, but even a story about a hetero woman and her quest to be awakened by love would be a big step in a more interesting direction. I am aware that not every film must be a political statement, but we’ve been seeing this story in the film by Malik over and over again, just with a different director. “Successful ‘man versus himself’ tale finds our hero in a big city, detached from caring via over-indulgence. The women he meets are a continued distraction, except for one who acts as his road to reattachment of his Self through love.”
Let’s flip that script, yeah?
So many people have an idea for what would make a good doc, but not that many people act on it. If you are one of those people considering getting into the field of documentary films, here’s some advice from the frontline!
First, you need to have an idea that inspires you so much, you are willing to spend a full year or more of your life on it. That’s really important. You are going to eat, sleep, and dream about your subject. Even worse, your wife or husband and all your friends are going to hear about it ad nasuem because it’s pretty much going to become an obsession. So choose wisely what subject you are going to spend endless amounts of time with.
For me it was women directors, partly because I am one and was feeling like an endangered species. Women directors have been up until recently practically invisible. Now, in part because of the EEOC’s investigation into charges of discrimination against women filmmakers in Hollywood, there is a lot more media attention on the subject.
Although there are some important changes starting to happen, it is the larger, overall understanding of what women are capable of that is still stuck in the past. For example, just the other day I was talking to a very nice fellow, telling him about my project.
He said, “Oh, I didn’t know women directed movies. How cool!”
I reminded him that a woman won the Oscar for directing a few years ago, thinking he must’ve recalled that historic moment.
He said, “Oh right. What was her name? She’s the only one that directs movies, right?”
I am positive he is not the only person who thinks this.
I think it’s fair to say that most people have no idea how many women are out there fighting for respect and a place in creative leadership positions. Positions not only in the film and television industry, but in finance, tech, the sciences, and academia. Women worldwide are still dealing with a pervasive idea that we are limited in our capabilities based on our gender.
This is the perception that I, and many others, are trying to change. People like directors Lesli Linka Glatter, Leah Meyerhoff, and Sarah Gavron all care about making sure other women in the directing field have opportunities they they themselves have had to fight tirelessly to achieve. I’ve had the privilege to interview them and can tell you, they really are doing everything they can to help change the landscape of bias and transform it into opportunity for women.
When I think about the years of time these women (and women like them) have spent working to make it in their field, women who could just focus on themselves and their careers but who still do everything they can to help others, it inspires me.
I know I can spend at least a year or more of my life on a documentary about these women. I know that my film, no matter it’s level of success, will ultimately be an effort full of integrity and passion, meant to help uplift all people, but especially those of the female gender. For me, that feels like something worthy of my time here on the planet.
What do YOU feel passionate about changing in this world? Think about it. Are you willing to spend a year of your life thinking about it? Then I bet it would make a really interesting documentary.
Next up: figuring out HOW TO TELL YOUR STORY.
Rarely am I shocked when a public figure dies. They seem to go often these days, and I think of myself as kind of immune to it. But when I saw the news that David Bowie died yesterday morning I was in a cab on my way to JFK to catch a flight to London.
“Oh my God, David Bowie died!” I exclaimed out loud to the taxi driver.
See, I had a strange encounter with David Bowie when I went to see him in concert in Battery Park in NYC in 2002. It was something I never forgot.
Before the concert began, I had the fortune to go “behind the scenes” to the back area where refreshments and such were being offered. (The friend who took me had access to these kinds of things.)
Anyway, I was waiting around for him to come back with a beer, just standing there looking at the trees, when I turned to see my friend rushing towards me.
“Cady!” he said, “David Bowie was asking about you!”
“Yes! He wanted to know who the girl with the green hat was!”
I was wearing a little green hat, some kind of sweater, jeans, and platform boots. I had long blonde hair almost down to my waist at the time. I probably looked like some kind of character out of 1960’s London.
“What did you tell him?”
I think I was relegated to “some actress.” I wished he’d said I was a poet. Actors always get the bad rap. Still, I was pretty thrilled. David Bowie noticed me. I instantly turned into a groupie.
Just before the show started, we all gathered around David’s trailer. By this point I was ready to do whatever was necessary to make David happy, and I mean anything. He had noticed me! What else did a girl need? (Insert older Cady eye rolls here).
When he emerged from his trailer I noticed he was actually quite small. This was something that had never occurred to me before. That such a big star would be so petite.
As he came down the steps I was determined to make sure he knew that I was there. (Groupie mentality in full gear, as I mentioned. Who was I to get in the way of what Mr. Bowie wanted?) I waited until he was just about two feet away from me, right in my path, and I stepped in front of him.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” he said.
Then something quick passed between us, or rather from him to me, that felt like this: “In another time, another place, I might ask you to wait for me after the show. But I’m a different man now. A married man, and I don’t do that anymore. So thank you, I’m flattered, but I have to pass.”
I felt all of that in just a moment. It was both gracious and clear. So I stepped aside and let him pass. I honestly don’t know where I got the nerve to get in his way in the first place, really. What cheek!
During the show my friend and I got to be in the orchestra section with all the “Very Famous People” and we acted like the big, stupid David Bowie fans that we both were: singing along with the songs, sitting on the wall between us and the crowd, waving our hands up in the air. I even noticed David glancing over at us once or twice as if he were wondering, “Are those two going to be a problem?” until he realized that we just loved the music so much. When he saw that, and I believe that he did and understood what we were really there for, I think it lifted him a little bit. Because I saw a tinge of the young Bowie come out. A “spark” that was clearly a part of his younger art and self. It was dazzling.
Where he’s looking and gesturing was right where we were sitting, up high on a wall. I know, I know… I sound like a crazy fan…. but we WERE!
This was just before he had heart surgery in 2004, so there’s a good chance his calmer demeanor was a reflection of the health issues he was dealing with, it’s possible is all I’m saying.
Of course it’s possible this was all in my mind, total projection, and I was just a fan and he was just a superstar. Of course, if he hadn’t ASKED about me, that’d be what it was. But he had asked. So it felt like a little something more.
But as someone who has walked around naked in my apartment to Bowie music blasting from cheap speakers, I like to think he appreciated the rock and roll gesture.
Meanwhile, I share with you one of the most gorgeous fan tribute videos ever made. It made me weep, it is so perfect and beautiful. What’s amazing is that it was made BEFORE Bowie died, so he got to see it, and called it:
“Perhaps the most poignant version of the song ever created.” ~ David Bowie.
Clearly, I’m not the only one who was touched by the man and his music.
Now I shift my younger instincts into something else, my work. I hope that I can be as risk-taking and redefining of my Self as he was: willing to let everything that once worked GO in order to experiment with the next thing that feels RIGHT.
Because we aren’t here forever, that’s a fact.
Safe travels, Spaceman. Hope I get to see you again somewhere.
Shana is an amazing woman. She’s the very first director I called to talk to about this documentary and she was immediately supportive. As you might recall from an earlier post, we got on Skype immediately (the “I look like shit,” “That’s ok I look like shit, too” convo) and started brainstorming about what this project could look like.
I flew to New Orleans, where she’s currently living and scouting for her latest film, to interview her. Here’s a little taste of what she had to say. I think this is good advice for any woman looking to go into fields of work that are currently dominated by men. Until the issue of gender bias is resolved and our minds are able to think in a new way about where leadership and creativity come from, we have to learn to be stronger without losing our kindness and compassion for others.