Cal Lutheran hosts its first-ever Women in Film Summit

Panelists will discuss inequality in the movie and TV industry

Cal Lutheran senior Gabriella Arriola helped organize the Women in Film Summit.

Photo: Obinna Anyanwu

Pioneering French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché wrote in 1914 that “there is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.”

Yet more than 100 years later, in 2022 only 24% of directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers who worked on the top 250 grossing films were women, according to “The Celluloid Ceiling” a report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film.

Cal Lutheran senior Gabriella Arriola, who is majoring in film and television, is understandably a little hesitant about what she’ll find when venturing into the entertainment labor market after she graduates. But she will find a helpful dose of female inspiration, and perhaps some new role models, during the Women in Film Summit on March 6-7 at Cal Lutheran.

Arriola has been helping to plan and promote the first-ever event, which is open to the public and will feature panel discussions on the history and current state of women working in the entertainment industry.

“It has been quite a battle for women in the industry to get the recognition they deserve,” Arriola said. “I love that we have the opportunity to put on an event like this and see that, yes, women can do it, too.”

The following eight women who work in the entertainment industry or as media scholars will participate, with a different set of panelists each night (some will appear virtually; others in person):

  • Val Cheung, vice president of production at Shondaland
  • Munika Lay, film producer and co-founder of the Center for Intersectional Media and Entertainment
  • Beth Mickle, production designer for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”
  • Christina Lee, producer, writer and showrunner at Warner Bros. Television
  • Patricia Velasquez, actress (“The Mummy,” “The L-Word”) and activist
  • Naomi Beaty, screenwriter
  • Shannon Swanson, production coordinator for “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
  • Kathleen Tarr, Stanford University lecturer and author of the article “Bias and the Business of Show: Employment Discrimination in the ‘Entertainment’ Industry”

The panel moderators are event organizer John Fitch III, associate professor and director of the Cal Lutheran Film and Television program, and Caroline Heldman, executive director of The Representation Project.

The university’s Film and Television program is relatively new, first offered in fall of 2019; Fitch has been at Cal Lutheran since August 2022. He hopes to make the Women in Film summit an annual event, perhaps focusing on “other marginalized populations and communities” in future years.

Fitch said the department wanted to host the summit because “we were inspired by the work of organizations like Women in Film, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, The Representation Project and the Television Academy to address the inequity, abuse and alienation we see historically in the film and TV industry with women and gender.”

The subject is “particularly important to talk about in the wake of the #MeToo movement,” Fitch said. “We need to bring awareness and hold stakeholders accountable for promises they said they’d make.”

Cal Lutheran, as an institution of higher learning so close to the entertainment capital of the world, has a responsibility to explore the issue, Fitch said. “Advocating for change starts in schools with a younger generation of filmmakers.”

Fitch, who began working in TV in the 1990s, said, “it was a rough time back then … there was a lot of lingering sexism. I met strong, powerful, confident women who did amazing work, and suffered for that. They were bullied, harassed and joked about, which made me frustrated and angry. But it has gotten better in my lifetime, and that’s a great thing to see.”

He hopes the event will give students “the latest take on the state of the industry from a gender perspective” and offer them a chance to hear from those “in the trenches, in front of and behind camera.” He also wants them to learn how to advocate for themselves, and “know what they’re up against” in the industry. For “allies like me” who attend, he said, how are they going to advocate and support women in the industry?

Arriola said she is eager to hear from women who work in a variety of professions. “The film and TV industry is so broad in terms of career paths that it is exciting to see that we have speakers with a screenwriting background, production background, acting background, etc.,” she said. “Overall, I am hoping to learn from their experiences and the hardships they had to face as women in film. It is a tough industry, and it is amazing to see that these women have such distinguished and powerful positions.”

Alice Guy-Blaché couldn’t have known that it would take them 100 years — and counting — to get there.

The Women in Film Summit will take place 6-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, March 6-7, in Richter Hall in the Ahmanson Science Building on Cal Lutheran’s Thousand Oaks campus, 60 W. Olsen Road.


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