- Posted by iWe
- On July 23, 2017
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1-on-1 with Kristofer McNeeley (MarVista Entertainment)
Interview by Wendy Haines
Wendy Haines: Tell us about your light bulb moment at the iWe Summit.
Kristofer McNeeley: I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect at that event. I just know that I support you and I support women’s agendas across the board. I was raised pretty much by a single mother and I have two daughters, 3 and 5, and I’ve always kind of gravitated towards women. I understand the community of women. So I thought I was going to come to this summit to be supportive and listen and applaud and move on.
I didn’t realize I would see such an amazing panel of women, whom I respect in the industry. So that was the first thing that caught me: how many people actually came and how full the room was and how big this issue must really be. My assumption was that, just by having passion for it and compassion for elevating women in the entertainment industry and everywhere really, I thought that was enough. Showing up and showing my support. But what I realized was that because I’m a father to two little girls, just showing up is not enough. I have to do something.
So the next thought was: what can I really do? And then I realized that my work at MarVista Entertainment, because the mandate internally is to promote women as much as possible, is exactly the platform in which to have a voice. And if I don’t do something for my daughters, not only am I shirking my responsibility as a father but also as a man who gets it. Because I do get it. I’ve witnessed it my whole life. Although I’ve never paid attention to the imbalance as much as I did that day at the summit.
So the “aha” moment for me was that day at the summit realizing that I’m actually somewhere I can do something right now. Rather than just saying I want to do something for my daughters. If I don’t do that, no one else is going to do that. Who’s going to do that except for the people who hold these positions who believe that it’s worth it? I believe all those things.
WH: Talk about why it’s important to your daughters. Why gender balance in the entertainment industry?
KM: Gender imbalance is necessary in the industry and in all of life – in every industry, in every culture, in every society. I was talking with someone the other day about the origin of the word “spinster”. And I thought it was interesting, because people don’t really use that word anymore, but women will sometimes assign it to themselves. Spinster originally meant women who were not bearing children and were often only out of the house to work as spinning yarn or thread. In puritanical American society, when they were trying to populate the country, if you were 23 or 26 and you didn’t have children, you were considered worthless, because populating was your job. So spinster was very derogatory.
I was raised with the understanding that I could do anything I wanted to. And I never thought about the fact that women may have not been given the same message from the time that they are old enough to understand. So it is imperative that my daughters know that they are on equal footing with every man that they run into, in any culture, and they can never accept anything less.
And I never thought about it until that moment at the panel. Some of the really successful women at that panel might not have been given that message, so they had to break through it. They had to discover the fact that they don’t have to ask permission, that they are not worthless if they are not bearing children, that they don’t have to apologize for entering a room or being loud or having an opinion. All things my daughters have to know. So I think what was really starting to dawn on me were some of those messages that were given to me from a male point of view. Maybe I don’t give women the space to speak. Or maybe I expect a little more from women before they prove themselves. Maybe with my children I do that, I plant that seed in their heads and I don’t even realize. So it’s given me a consciousness that I didn’t have before. If I don’t do that, if every man doesn’t do that, every woman doesn’t do that, it just doesn’t stop. So it has to start with my kids.
WH: Why is it important to bring a female presence to your projects?
KM: First of all I like women. And I’m better at working with women. I’m fairly in touch with my own feminine side and balance is important with me in everything. To be clear, I don’t prefer to work with all women either. I like balance. It’s important, because if I don’t put a woman in a position where I could put a woman, how can things ever change? Unless there are more women who are given the opportunity, whether they are boldly asking for it or not, things won’t change. And that’s the hard part, to find women who will boldly ask me for it. Or assume that they have a right to it.
WH: Is it a challenge to hire women? What do you come up against?
KM: As much as we have a mandate at MarVista to bring in women as directors, writers, and producers – all of our films are female driven – getting the women to walk through the door just doesn’t happen. We are challenged to look back at our meetings and notes and relationships to bring in women to interview and hopefully hire. I had to make phone calls to managers and agents and say why aren’t you sending me more female writers and directors? And it gave the managers pause, because they realized they’re not sending females. The first ones people think of are men. It’s always men. Why aren’t women the first ones out of the gate being sent out as well? And then I have to go bust down the gate to dig deeper to get to a woman.
WH: What can women do to help themselves?
KM: Be loud. Be really loud. Never ask for permission. Even if it feels terrifying. Be so loud that people can’t ignore you.
WH: What do women do that hurts themselves?
KM: A sense of needing to ask to occupy space. I know men who do that too and it doesn’t serve anyone well. The person on the other side of that experience needs to be secure enough that they know you are just taking up the space you deserve. But women need to do it a little bit harder, because the people who run this industry are men, usually older men. So women have to know that, and not hate them for it, not begrudge them that they are never going to change.
Also, don’t be mad. Realize that you’re playing the same game as everyone else trying to make it in the entertainment industry. You have a few more cards stacked against you, if you’re a woman, and especially if you’re dealing with someone who is stuck in the past. But that is not the world we live in today.
Oprah once said that the only way we will get rid of racism is to wait for a generation to die out. And she got a lot of flac for it, but I think that is the case in the entertainment industry as well. There is a generation that will have to leave the workplace to make way for the men and women who support women. They are out there, we are out there – the people who are ready for gender balance.
Be loud and constant and present.
WH: How do professional women gain access to those that can give them that work?
KM: This is the hard part. First of all you have to find a representative that will take you as you are and won’t bullshit you. You need to ask for equal footing. You have to find someone who you believe will give you equal footing. We can’t take every unsolicited submission, it takes way too much time and there are legal issues, so we do rely heavily on submissions from managers and agents.
But when you have an agent or a manager who’s not pushing women, how do women get to me outside of that? My gut response is organizations like iWe. If we can find a way, whether it’s the WriteHer list or something else, to vet people who come to iWe, who iWe can then send to me, then iWe acts as that intermediary. Because I know what you’re agenda is, I know you’re going to send me good quality people who may not get to me otherwise.
WH: Gender imbalance is not a female problem, it’s a WE problem, so how do we get more men to want to be involved and want to be part of the solution, like you?
KM: For me, the key was my family. So the more that you can tap a man’s connection to women in his life and the positions they may or may not hold, the struggles they may or may not have, particularly if they have children, the more you will get them to understand. Unless they’re sociopathic or unfeeling (which there are those out there), I don’t know how you can’t be hooked in by that. I honestly think there should be some sort of law that insists, as we do to combat exclusion of other races, I think the same thing should happen with gender.
WH: ACLU is working on that.
KM: I don’t know any other way, because there are so many cultures in the world where a woman is still devalued. Where her place is still not at the forefront of business. Where her opinion is automatically less than. Where quiet is good. I heard recently the US has 4% of the world’s population. The other 96% of the population, most of them are male dominant societies. And in many of them, women are just pieces of property. So I think that as a country that is undergoing a lot of social reform right now, I think there’s no other way than to lead the charge legally.
WH: In a statistical study that the Geena Davis Institute initiated about global cinema, they looked at the biggest film markets in the world in terms of female characters, but also in percent of women behind the camera. Guess which country was the most gender balanced? China.
KM: Really? That’s amazing.
WH: Yeah. The most gender-balanced was China. And the US and the UK were the bottom of the list. Of the biggest markets in the world.
KM: I wonder why that is.
WH: Well if you look at the Chinese society, there’s actually more gender balance in women in leadership. Way more than the US.
KM: Why is that? That’s what we have to figure out. That’s the thing though, I’m not surprised by that, with the US and the UK, but I’m surprised we would allow that to happen. I’m not surprised that the white men running this country would allow that, but I’m surprised that we as the public would allow that, because I don’t believe as a majority of the country that we share that opinion. That it should be that way. So again, BE LOUD. We just had gay marriage passed and it started with Stonewall. That was in the 60s. People have been very loud for 50 years.
WH: Yeah, and they say that it takes 50 years to create real social change. The awareness is #1 as you mentioned at the Summit. You weren’t aware how imbalanced things were in the industry and how long things have been that way. There’s just a lack of awareness, which is maybe part of the reason that why those of us who would not tolerate that have not done more. Because of the lack of awareness. We’re the one’s buying the tickets. Essentially, if that shifts, people that are making money from the ticket sales, are going to pay more attention.
KM: It’s all money driven. And who holds the money? Old white men. But I would say that the one thing that I come back to every time, that was most shocking to me, was women not helping women. It actually angers me, it’s just so bogus. I think those women are more to be vilified than the men. The women who are in positions of leadership and are not helping other women are the worst of the worst. They’re just doing that out of their own self-interest.
WH: I think also in the dynamics of oppression, if you’re in the oppressed group and there’s less to go around, so there’s a greater fear. If you have a piece of the pie, there’s a greater fear to give it away.
KM: But fear does not promote change.
WH: No! It promotes the opposite!
KM: Stagnation and regression. And I get frustrated, I would like to do so much more right away. But you just gotta chip away at it, little by little.