In honor of International Women’s Day, I gathered a group of 3 wonderful young women from Orange County School of the Arts to discuss women’s roles in the entertainment industry and the #MeToo movement.
Nooree (Ree) Han is a junior in the Film and Television conservatory. An avid lover of photography, you can find her work at @theworkofree on Instagram.
ALENA NGUYEN, HOST: Today is March 4, 2020. We are going to be discussing the #MeToo movement and women’s roles in the entertainment industry. The first question I have is what role does entertainment have in promoting change?
WEBER: Depending on what kind of media you use, you can have different effects on people. For documentaries, you can be telling a story about a person or group of people that have a feature a real issue or you can have films that are created for writing scripts and fiction and that can be impactful and inspire people to create those stories, so it really depends on what view of entertainment you’re looking for.
CHEUNG: Just to bounce off of what Ellie said, every form of entertainment or media is a resource for artists to share their stories and share what they want to share with the world and inspire others.
HAN: I think we’ve said a lot about representation and that’s the sort of change- everything in entertainment is white male dominated that a lot of pieces of media and entertainment which don’t have a lot of representation, but I think representation is really important in instigating change and putting more people of color, LGBTQ, and female voices to light and creating change of having a more accepting Hollywood and entertainment environment. Ellie and I are both in Film and Television (FTV) and our conservatory is very white male dominated (14 guys and 7 girls). It’s really tough trying to prove yourself to the guys in our conservatory because a lot of them don’t believe that we can do a lot of technical roles, so we’re cast as producers, directors, writers, which is great because we’re put in high roles but we’re not given a chance to be grips and gaffers and DPs because they don’t see us as people with a lot of technical knowledge, and while that may be true, we’re not given the chance to experiment on what we want to do.
WEBER: You’re right, you made a point on how they see us as people who can only do one type of job that aren’t physical. I think it’s been trying to be like “I can lift this, I can do this”. It’s always been said through history that women can’t do physical sorts of things, so it’s definitely getting better through more practice as a community you start to see that everyone can do these things. It’s also gotten better in terms of the male to female ratio-
HAN: -like the sophomore and freshman class are evening out now, which is great! I wish it really would’ve been for our class as well.
CHEUNG: Just to bounce off of what Ellie and Ree are saying as well, I think it’s the same stigma within the other side of the camera’s world. If you look through history, all actors have been played by males, regardless of what gender the character is. We’re already progressing in terms of where my conservatory (acting) has a pretty equal ratio of males to females and they’re allowing females to gender bend in roles, so that’s also pointing towards that area of change in the entertainment industry.
NGUYEN: We talked about the male female ratio- since we’re all young female teenagers, how can we change this gender imbalance?
WEBER: I’ve learned through my experience starting off in a conservatory that starts in 9th grade, it was definitely different because you had to figure out how to make your voice heard and I don’t think people -at least in my conservatory- or work I’ve done outside conservatory have really seen what I can do until my sophomore year, and that’s where it really hit. In terms of how we can make this more known, it’s really just making your voice heard, and even though that sounds generic, it’s just stepping up to do the smaller positions sometimes and saying “Hey, lemme do this, lemme do that” and it could be a position that nobody really wants to do but for an experience for yourself and for other people, you become someone who becomes more versatile, and that’s incredible to me.
HAN: My first project was with a senior named Hailey Saga for her sophomore film. I was a PA/sound helper for it. I was so grateful for the opportunity, like she was asking on her Instagram story like “hey does anyone want to help for my film?” and I didn’t even know her at the time- I just happened to follow her. At the time, I was in Acting looking to go into FTV and she was asking for help and I DM’d her and said “hey I’d love to help” and she gratefully said yes. I was so thankful for that because it started me in that path of film and knowing all the technology and knowing how to set up C-stands and tripods. I think an important thing in the evening out female to male ratios is it’s so important to just say yes to people who just want to help. At the end of the day, it’s just so important to include people who just want to experiment with film, like people from other conservatories who just want to help and see what it’s like to be on set because there’s so many girls out there who don’t know how to set up a C-stand or a Red camera, so if we just say yes to them offering to help, we could have so many more female filmmakers in the world right now. Just saying yes to help is so helpful to balancing out ratios.
WEBER: Yeah. I know on sets we’ve always had people from different conservatories do those other jobs, like “Hey, can you from Acting help us with sound?” and it’ll be someone who’s a close friend with someone in FTV or someone who’s new to this and just wants to help. It’s a very open and very interesting collaboration, like it’s not always certain people you think are doing one job have to take that job. Caitlin might have more insight on that.
CHEUNG: I feel like both of you guys are saying the overarching idea of just saying “yes” and I think that that relates to both sides of the industry and I definitely think that for actors, we’re already changing the gender ratio because of filmmakers and people on the other side of the table are allowing more genders to play any gender role. I think it’s a really good start and just saying “yes” to any opportunity you’re given, whatever level role it is, you’re working in the industry and sharing your point of view as you work your way up in the industry.
NGUYEN: Have you guys all seen “Brooklyn 99”? (They all nod their heads and claim they’ve seen a couple of scenes.)
NGUYEN: Is it the “I Want It That Way” clip? (They all exclaim yes. Weber thinks it’s really good.)
NGUYEN: In one of the episodes called “He Said, She Said,” a couple of sexual assault cases were addressed. Many of us teenagers do watch these kinds of shows. Do you think sitcoms are an appropriate place to address issues such as sexual assault? If not, where?
CHEUNG: I don’t think that certain genres of shows should define where sexual assault should be portrayed and discussed because I think there’s something special about each genre and that’s why shows are divided within genres. Just because it’s a comedic show doesn’t mean that they’re making fun of it, I think as long as they’re showing it in a respective light, then it’s okay to share that story.
WEBER: For example, this is kinda different, but have you heard of the show “Big Mouth”? (We all mutter some kind of “yeah”.)
WEBER: The weird thing about what that show does is through kind of raunchy comedy, they are teaching people who watch it actual things about sexual education. I’ve seen a couple of episodes and have actually learned things that they wouldn’t teach in class. It has nice underlying tones that “this is health education” like they’re not saying “sex education” but showing how you’re growing and mentally learning. Going back to what Caitlin was saying, you can’t really say that just because it’s comedy means it’s gonna be a joke. They could be teaching and bringing more awareness to it by approaching it through a lighter way, then having that conversation after.
HAN: You made me think of something- a lot of people find anything sexual an awkward topic and I know a lot of them use humor to (WEBER: open the door) break up the tension and make it palatable for people to understand and not just be awkward and tense about it and normalize it. It should be something we should talk about, because not a lot of people can be safe out there. You can do it on a sitcom because I know a lot of people who have gone through trauma like sexual assault and use humor to make themselves feel better about everything because a lot of the times it’s just really hard to talk about and to use other outlets like comedy is super helpful to talk about topics you don’t always want to talk about because it’s just a tough topic.
WEBER: Sometimes you gotta go the other way and… (they all agree)
HAN: It’s an important thing to talk about and if humor is the way you want to go about it, then go about it if it’s creating a healthy discussion and conversation.
NGUYEN: This will be the last question- who are some of your role models that have inspired you to change the entertainment industry?
(They all sigh because it’s so hard to choose!)
WEBER: There’s two people, and you may have heard their names. One is Ava DuVernay (we all fangirl over her). She did “When They See Us”, “A Wrinkle in Time”, “Selma”, and a documentary called “The Thirteen”, about…
HAN:… the Thirteenth Amendment.
WEBER: She’s just overall great about promoting herself and other people who work with her. One thing that I always take away from her is that she’s a very powerful woman of color, and she’s very good at giving recognition to everyone who helps her out, like she’s not like “this is me, this is all me”, like no, she’ll say “these are the producers, the gaffers, the audio, or costumes” and she’ll tag them and credit them and any time she gets put in something, she’ll repost it, and she’s so great about that and I think giving acknowledgement to people you don’t always know- not just always the front line -the director- but the other people, is great. She’s been a great inspiration, and also Greta Gerwig-
NGUYEN: YES! She’s such a good writer.
WEBER: Yeah, she’s such a good writer, and being able to go from a switch from actor to director- I know it took her some time but she did such a good job and she’s still making things happen for her.
CHEUNG: I have two people as well and they’re both on the acting side. My first one is Awkwafina (we all gush over her) she’s been a very loved actor in the industry recently and she started off as a standup comedian at random bars in LA and she’s become so big from so little which is super inspiring and also, she’s Asian so, I mean, (we laugh). I just think that through her acting, she’s been able to show so much culture and traditions that Asians have been stigmatized and have stereotypes about which I think is so cool and inspiring for me as a young Asian American actress. My second person is Melissa Benoist (NGUYEN: Supergirl!). She’s really open about sharing her mental illness and how that’s affected her as an actress and in that industry because that industry is very discriminative and tough, so I think it’s inspiring to know she’s been able to get through all these obstacles with that obstacle that she has to overcome herself.
HAN: I don’t think I have a role model. I’ve been trying to live life day by day and trying to figure out who I am as a person rather than trying to focus on one person and thinking “I want to be like that”. I just have to be the best person who I want to be and I’m trying not to compare myself to other people and just trying to be inspired and do what I want to do and try to put myself out there. If I had to choose, though, it’d probably be Carrie Fisher and Lulu Wang. For Carrie Fisher, she was amazing and so open about her mental illness and her experience with body dysmorphia and not be Princess Leia in that bikini and wanting to be so out there and I think that was really vulnerable and so beautiful for her to share. And Lulu Wang, I love her as a filmmaker, I thought that “The Farewell” was one of my top 2019 movies. It was really great, I loved how she executed it. She pushed so hard for it- I watched the Independent Spirit Awards where she talked about how she kept saying how she had to keep pushing for her movie to be produced because nobody wanted a full Asian cast and crew, they wanted it to be so whitewashed, but she kept saying “No, I have to do it this way”, and I’m really fond of her determination of wanting to do it her way because any other way wouldn’t have been her vision.
Many thanks to Ellie, Ree, and Caitlin for participating. There is much to learn and discover about the entertainment industry, and with young women such as these three, we can expect many changes for the better for the industry.