Friday, September 30, 2011

A Thelma and Louise 20th Anniversary Celebration

2011 marks the 20th Anniversary of the release of Thelma and Louise, a film primarily filmed in Utah (my new home state). This past Wednesday Geena Davis came to back our state to participate in a celebration that marks the 10th anniversay of the Utah Film Center, and to also raise awareness around the work of her foundation, The Geena Davis Institute for Gender in the Media (I serve on it’s advisory board). We had a beautiful gathering for her in a private home and also a public screening and Q & A around the film.

Released in 1991, Thelma and Louise made an instant mark on pop culture, and was expected to open the floodgates for female driven films in the years to come. Ha Ha. Twenty years later, people are still waiting for those floodgates to open. This past summer yielded the success of Bridesmaids and The Help, but these successes were labelled unexpected, with many Hollywood insiders doubting the films’ bankability. It would appear that nothing has changed in the twenty years since Thelma and Louise drove off into the sunset in that ’66 Thunderbird convertible.

It is this inequality in Hollywood that caused Geena Davis to found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004. Fueled by watching children’s programs with her kids, Davis realized that there was a substantial lack of female characters in children’s entertainment. In response, the Institute commissioned the largest research study at that point on gender in film and television, and came to the conclusion that only one out of every four characters in children’s entertainment were females. Furthermore, this statistic has remained virtually unchanged since 1946.

It is this fact that Geena Davis and her organization seek to change through advocacy, research, and the education of Hollywood on the need for more female characters in the media. It is their hope, that by 2016 when they repeat their research, the results will show a significant improvement. At the event in Salt Lake City, Davis spoke of the impact Thelma and Louise had on women at the time, and described how women would approach her and literally grab at her clothes in an effort to make sure she heard how much the film had effected their lives. Clearly there is a void in Hollywood where female voices need to be heard. Thankfully, there are people like Geena Davis coming in to fill it.

On a personal note, as I sat in the darkened theater watching that film I realized how much I have changed since I first saw the film in New York City in my mid- twenties. Then, I am sure I percieved it as a great story with two fantastic women characters who kicked some ass. It is likely I went to work the next day as a bond trader at Goldman Sachs and spoke to my all male trading desk about ‘girl power.’ Perhaps I even quoted that line in the middle of the film where Thelma asked the crying police officer to climb into the trunk of the car and warned him to “be nice to his wife or she could turn out just like me” (a gun wiedling fugitive wanted for murder and armed robbery). But then I left the movie behind and I don’t think I stopped to wonder why I never saw another film like it. I don’t remember asking myself why there were not more films like this, and why was it that almost everything I watched over the next decade had men as the heros and women as only the victims or arm candy.

Now I am 46 and have spent the last 10 years focussed on the advancement of women and girls. Now I see that the attempted rape was not just a scene in a movie, but in fact “1 in 6 American women have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.” Now I see that that Louise’s courage to say enough is enough, and it is “not ok” perhaps opened the door for countless women to do so. Now I see that violence against women continues to be a pressing issue in our society and the only way we can ever hope to stop it is if women and men, together, say enough is enough, and work to end it.

What also struck me in the film this time, which I am sure I did not notice the first time around, is how much more beauitful the women became on their journey. They started out with barbie doll style make-up and hair, uptight clothing, and a car full of luggage. They were like actors in their own life play, dressed up for the parts of submissive wife, waitress, and more. By the end of the film all that had been stripped away, and their authentic beauty, inside and out, was all we could see. Their iconic journey was one of discovering their true selves and my oh my, isn’t that the universal journey we are all on?

Geena stated that women still come up to her today, telling her how empowering the film was and how it changed their lives. She joked at the irony that a film where the two lead characters commit suicide at the end would have that effect. Well it sure did. I want more films like Thelma and Louise, only this time, can we let them live?

Jacki Zehner with much help from Laura Moore

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Turn of the Tide? Women and Television

Guest Post by Laura Moore

Last Monday night the hotly anticipated ninth season premiere of Two and a Half Men aired on CBS. Normally, shows that are entering their ninth season have long since passed their creative peaks and are limping out one last season for syndication profits. However, this premiere was different because it was the first episode to air since Charlie Sheen’s spectacular public meltdown and subsequent firing last spring, and the debut episode of his replacement, Ashton Kutcher. Tuesday morning the overnight ratings came out, and they were HUGE. Over 28 million viewers, and a 10.7 ratings share in the 18-49 demographic. For those unfamiliar with ratings, those numbers are staggering, and larger than the past three seasons ofAmerican Idol, long the number one rated show on television. But for all the headlines Men’s ratings are generating, another story is getting shoved under the rug.

Airing immediately after Two and a Half Men, the new sitcom2 Broke Girls premiered to nearly 20 million viewers and a 7.1 share, easily becoming the second most watched show Monday night, and is on track to become the highest rated debut this television season. One could argue that 2 Broke Girls benefitted greatly from its lead in, but numbers are numbers, and those 20 million people could have easily changed the channel once Men rang in its final credits. Instead, they decided to stay tuned to what was reportedly CBS’s highest scoring pilot among test audiences, and what was listed by several critics as one of the best new shows of the season. More importantly, 2 Broke Girls is at the forefront of what industry insiders are calling the year of female domination on broadcast television.

Of the 24 new shows to debut this fall, 14 are centered on a female character, compared to 7 that are centered on male characters, and of those, the majority of these men are struggling to determine what it means to be a man in a television landscape dominated by strong women. Even more telling are the behind the scenes statistics: six out of the ten new sitcoms were created by women, and the creators of ABC’s Revenge only got the go ahead once they changed their lead character to a women. Furthermore, viewership statistics show that women account for up to 65% of primetime viewing, meaning that advertisers are starting to demand shows that will deliver large female audiences. Looking at this season’s line up of new shows, it would appear that the television industry is finally delivering.

Television isn’t the only industry getting on the female bandwagon; Hollywood is starting to take notice as well. The summer season of Hollywood blockbusters has just ended, and in a season dominated by male superheroes, Bridesmaids has emerged has the underdog winner of the summer. Made on a budget of $32 million, written by two women, and starring a pitch perfect ensemble of women, Bridesmaids has now pulled in over $280 million worldwide, beating out a lot of other blockbuster juggernauts at the box office in turns of profits vs. budget.

While Bridesmaids was the story of the beginning of the season, then The Help was the story of the end of the season. Debuting in August in second place behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help went on to win the next three weekends at the box office, eventually pulling in over $150 million on a $25 million budget. This is all the more impressive given that August is the month that has commonly been known as the wasteland of summer movies, where films go to die.

So do these successes signal a turn of the tide? Only time will tell, but the immediate future looks promising. What’s Your Number? another female driven and written R-rated comedy is set to be released next week, and reports are that in the wake of Bridesmaids’ success, Hollywood producers are being inundated with scripts both written by and featuring women. Moreover, it is telling that the highest rated comedy on TV has put a heartbroken computer geek in the place of TV’s ultimate womanizing manwhore. Although the history of television tells us that over half of all new shows to debut in any given season will eventually fail, the odds are for once squarely in favor of women. One can only hope that this trend will continue, so we can finally arrive at a point where characters of either sex have equal opportunity to flourish and a television season can be judged solely on its artistic merits instead of the gender behind it.

For more information on women’s progress in media, look into the following organizations; both offer weekly newsletter updates.

Poverty in the United States

This week we got some unsettling news on income, poverty, and education that should leave us all deeply concerned.

Here are the facts from the census bureau as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

- the income of the typical American family has dropped for the third year in a row, is at the same level as 1996 when adjusted for inflation and 7% below its peak in 1999

-income of a household considered to be at the statistical middle fell 2.3% to an inflation-adjusted $49,445 in 2010

-Earnings of a typical man who works full-time year round are lower than in 1978 when adjusted for inflation

-Women are making 77 cents for every dollar earned by comparably employed men and their median incomes rose in 2010

-22% of American children live below the poverty line, up from 20.7% in 2009, and the biggest percentage since 1993 ( thought this significantly overstates poverty my mission government transfers)

-US per capita net worth is $169,691, up from $147,889 in 2007

-14 million Americans remain unemployed

-16.3% of Americans do not have health insurance, or 49.9 million people.

-5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 (14.2% of that group) lived with their parent in Spring 2011, compared to 4.7 million (11.8%) before the recession

- the results from the college entrance exam, taken by about 1.6 million students, revealed that only 43% of students posted a score high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed at college.

(for many more FACTS check out the resource section of this web-site)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

President Obama on Job Creation

Here is my recount of the speech tonight. Where possible, I quoted. Thoughts at the end.

“We meet at an urgent time in our country. We still face the impact of the Financial Crisis and Political Crisis that has made things worse.”The U.S. has thrived under the basic concept that if you worked hard, you could make it in this country. That has eroded.“There are steps we can take right now to make a difference.”“American Jobs Act” – pass it right away. (most repeated line of the night) “Everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything. Point to put more people back to work, and more money in the pockets of people who are working. Small businesses are where most jobs are created.” Payroll tax credits for small business. Next. Spend money on schools. We will spend money on infrastructure. Tax credits for hiring veterans. Tax credits for hiring young people. Tax people who have been looking for a job for longer than 6 months. Extend unemployment insurance. No tax increases on the middle class.

Now… how to fund.

I will release a more ambitious deficit reduction plan next week… which includes increasing taxes on families earning more, as well as corporations. Medicare reform needed. “We need a tax code where everyone pays their fair share.”

Says we can do this. Create jobs and pay for it. A question of priorities. We need to out innovate companies in other countries. We need to shorten the patent process. Make exporting easier and more cost effective. We need to strengthen American company’s competitiveness. “Made in America.” ( lots of cheers) Training. Internships. Ra Ra.

“We can’t afford wasteful spending. We can’t burden business. I ordered a review of all government regulations. What we can’t do is let this economic crisis be used to wipe out basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades.” He rejects a lot of ideas…. (all good) “America should be in a race to the top.” ( lots of cheers)

“We built America together.” Members of Congress we need to meet our responsibilities. Everything I laid out will be paid for. ( really????)

Ended with a huge and passionate call to action. We cannot wait to pass this jobs bill.

My commentary…

Overall a really great speech. Big picture he spoke well to the issue of job creation, but it is the actual policies and practices that matter. Sounded great. Problem is that based on what I have read there is not enough money in taxing the rich and closing loopholes for corporations to fund new programs and tax breaks, let alone narrow the deficit. This was a pep rally for all things American, and it was good. We do have to come together to solve problems. Many are in serious need and to help. Agree.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Debt. Debt. Debt.

Debt. Debt. Debt. That was all we heard about this summer and with good reason. The US is in horrible shape and the numbers below put it all in perspective.

Here is why S&P downgraded the US credit rating.

* U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000

* Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000

* New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000

* National debt: $14,271,000,000,000

* Recent budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000

Now let's remove 8 zeros and pretend it's a household budget.

* Annual family income: $21,700

* Money the family spent: $38,200

* New debt on the credit card: $16,500

* Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710

* Total budget cuts: $385

This Thursday the President is being called upon to explain how is going to get the economy going again. Unlike the last go around, his options are more limited. Because of the numbers above which we have all been living and breathing for the fast few months, he does not have the ability to keep spending, nor should he. The public is demanding jobs but the problem is that our economy was fueled by spending financed through debt, and that has all but dried up. It is time to get creative and provide incentives for the private sector to invest and thus create employment opportunites. We are likely going to be in this slow to no growth scenerio for a while. For those expecting miracles, you may have a long time to wait

Thursday, September 1, 2011


What a summer! For the first time in forever I gave myself permission to take some time off and it was wonderful. Honestly, I kept thinking about this blog ( especially after watching the film Julia and Julia with my daughter) wondering how my readers might get along without me. Well I trust you all got along just fine but it is good to be back.

I am soon going to make the big move from BLOGSPOT to so if you have not yet visited my web-site and signed up there, please do. Unlike blogspot you can elect to have my entries emailed directly to you. In addition I am populating the site with some great resources that I hope you might find interesting and useful including a robust library and events list.

So what to expect this fall? Lots more sharing about great people, ideas, organizations and more. Since kicking in to high gear this week I have already had some incredible calls with amazing women I will feature in upcoming entries - Abassador Swannee Hunt ( check out her latest Oped in the Boston Globe appearing today), Jensine Larson of World Pulse, Pat Mitchell of the Paley Center for Media and Lisa Witter of Fenton Communications.

It's good to be back.