The Academy Celebrates Women's History Month
As part of our celebration of Women's History Month, we assembled a roundtable of alumnae from The Actors Society to discuss their experiences as women and artists in the entertainment industry. They shared thoughts on equality, the importance of voice in all facets of storytelling, and reflected on those women who inspired their own journeys as actors.
This discussion, curated by fellow alumna Yasmin Le Comte (Class of 2019), is excerpted below. Thank you to all of our contributors:
Saida Fakher - Class of 2017 (Bad Vibrations, Swipe, You Weren't There)
Jessica Pimentel - Class of 1999 (Orange is the New Black, Person of Interest, Law & Order)
Anne Fizzard - Class of 1987 (Cartoonist and Writer for numerous projects and publications, including The New Yorker)
Alejandra Mercado - Class of 2020 (Founder of AMA Casa de Teatro, a theater company dedicated to uplifting the stories of women)
Joyce Bulifant - Class of 1958 (Airplane!, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Little Women)
Naomi McDougall Jones - Class of 2008 (Actress and Writer, Author of the critically-acclaimed book The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood)
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what advice would you give?
You're loved, you're beautiful and stronger than you think. Have patience when you want to run, have hope when you think about your dreams, and trust your gut feelings! Don’t surround yourself with people that don’t make you feel good about yourself or don’t believe in you. You don’t need that—period.
When you have a vision in life, that’s the universe showing you your best life; what your best self can achieve. The key is getting yourself in a positive flow—in the energy of greatness—to appreciation and gratitude.
Be bold to eliminate everything in your life that’s not serving you, so that what’s meant for you can come to you!
If I could go back in time to a time right out of high school—and the four or five years to follow—I would give myself the following advice (although, I think this advice would hold up for anyone)…
Do not be afraid to take big risks. When opportunity knocks she may only knock once, and I promise you that the things you choose not to do because of fear, leaving the familiar, insecurity, and inconvenience, you will regret much more than the things you choose to do wholeheartedly. (Trust me!) I have taken risks that allowed me to fail miserably in front of thousands of people and I wouldn't change a thing, but oftentimes, I think of those opportunities that I missed because of my own choices.
Do not allow other people's projections to stop you from working towards your own goals. Many times people will discourage you from pursuing your dreams because your dreams are out of their comfort zone. They may be afraid to lose you. They may be afraid that you might fail and think they are protecting you. They may be even more afraid that you may succeed. Some are just jealous that you are pursuing your dreams and want you to stay right where you are and be miserable like them. Do not let acquaintances, friends, family members or romantic partners discourage you. Those who love you will support you, guide you and encourage you to be everything that you want to be no matter how unreasonable it may seem.
Although it is a wonderful and therapeutic act to rejoice in the success of others, do not look to anyone else's life or career as a measure of your own. We are all on our own path and each one of us has their own trajectory. It is impossible to know what lies in the future and you must maintain your focus on your work and yourself and what is best for you. Even if you feel that you are constantly being overlooked and passed up, everything can change overnight. That also holds true for someone who is experiencing a great amount of success—that can change overnight as well. The important part is to enjoy the journey and learn from each experience to become a well-rounded person with a fulfilling life.
Do not compare your looks to others. We are constantly force-fed images and ideals of beauty when the truth is this: beauty exists everywhere. Your own beauty is unique and appreciated everywhere you go. Many of us feel the need to modify our physical appearance in hopes to be more marketable or appealing. But so often what we're force-fed as being beautiful are trends that come and go. So if you choose to modify your appearance in any way, whether it's a haircut, losing or gaining weight or doing something more permanent, make sure that you're doing it for yourself, to make yourself happier and healthier and not to look like someone else. What's the point of looking like someone who already exists when no one in the world looks like you?
Who are the women that you admire and why?
Throughout history and in my own life, that's a very long list. The women I admire all have certain qualities in common: they are strong, intelligent, liberal, and persistent, often in the face of great challenges. Many of them are also highly creative. And many of them are very funny.
I would love to mention two specific women whose philosophy has changed my life. The first one is my mother; she reminds me that every time I can’t find myself, I should give myself to help others, and in the process of that I will remember my place in the world. The second is Anne Hathaway; she inspires me every day to stay connected to my passion as an actor, and to use my voice to fight for those who can’t. I admire all women just for being one, and for surviving in a society run by men. I celebrate the lives of all those who fight every day to be better people, mothers, professionals, leaders, and especially the ones that fight every day to stay faithful to who they are and manifest their natural freedom.
What steps can we take to continue to break the glass ceiling and help create equality in the industry and in the world in general?
I feel young women in the industry would be better equipped to break the glass ceiling if they learn every aspect of the industry (acting, directing, all technical areas—lights, sound, stage managing, set design, etc.). It is important to study writing for theatre and film, and to write roles for women!
Be courteous, kind, and strong. Don’t ever give up!
Naomi McDougall Jones:
The reality is that we still (yes, still) work in an industry where women are about 50% of film school graduates, and yet only direct 12-18% of indie films and 5-10% of studio films; where female characters are naked or scantily clad about 55% of the time they are on screen and have only one-third as much dialogue as their male counterparts. In terms of jobs, power, voice, and representation, our industry remains shockingly white and male (specifically; cis, hetero, and able-bodied). That is a situation that absolutely must be remedied, but there is no single silver bullet solution to do so. It wasn't until I spent a year digging into the research for my book, The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood, that I truly understood the depth of the conscious and unconscious misogyny and racism of our industry and how these statistics are the sum total of thousands of little actions and micro-decisions that every person in the industry (yes, you included) makes every day.
The first step, then, is to educate yourself—deeply and seriously—on how this kind of institutionalized discrimination happens. Reading my book is one way to do this, but there are many other wonderful resources available online and in various media forms as well (I have many of them listed on my website). Until you understand how this discrimination is happening, then you won't know how to recognize it when it's happening so that you can be part of the solution. After and alongside that work, the next step is to make small and large decisions every day that help disrupt the way things currently function (which, unchecked, will continue to result in the same overwhelmingly white and male outcomes) and promote them functioning differently. Many people underestimate how much power they personally have to shift this kind of mass-discrimination, but if the woeful statistics are the end result of all of the micro-decisions we all make all the time (and they are), then you, personally, making different decisions will help make change happen. It’s that simple. All of us need to begin making different decisions. Different actions will produce different outcomes.