Fusion at The Wrap’s “Power Women Breakfast”
By Rachel Lambert.
On June 9th, The Wrap hosted a celebration of female power at a breakfast event that packed a room in midtown Manhattan with dozens of inspiring women, all with the goal of supporting one another and making a positive difference. Sharon Waxman, the founder and CEO of TheWrap, led discussions with leading women in the film and television industries including Lena Dunham (Girls), Katie Couric (Today), and Anika Noni Rose (Roots), and brilliant entrepreneurs Rachel Sklar (founder of Change the Ratio), Kathryn Finney (founder of the Budget Fashionista), Cindy Whitehead (founder of The Pink Ceiling), and Shelley Zalis (founder of The Girls’ Lounge). Fusion Film Festival Executive Board members Nicole Quintero, Emory Parker, and Rachel Lambert represented Fusion at the event. Waxman, in her opening to the group, said, “There are so many women who I feel are feeling this now across the country: this desire to take control of our destinies, to really push forward and find a way for us to help each other reach our potential.” And the Power Women Breakfast is working to make that happen.
The conversation began with multitalented writer, director, producer, and actress Lena Dunham, creator of the hit HBO series Girls. Dunham spoke about various topics, from Lenny Letter (a newsletter she co-created), the upcoming presidential election, and her experience with photoshop and self-image. In speaking about identity, she stated, “I think that to be trapped in that emotional spin cycle of ‘What are people feeling about me at this particular moment?’ would be exhausting. And it’s something that especially women, and especially outspoken women, need to be able to remove themselves from.” Dunham also spoke about the evolution of her character Hannah on Girls, explaining that she began as “a shadow creature who had elements of me and elements of other people that I knew and elements of what I just felt to be sort of an untapped aspect of feminine energy that I had wanted to see on television and hadn’t before.” With Girls in its final season, Dunham discussed her future plans following the series. “At this point, I would just like to write and direct, and I’d really like to create opportunities for other women,” she said. “I also think there’s such a dearth of great roles for women and for diverse women that I would just be excited to be the person that was helping engineer more of those.”
The upcoming presidential election was a frequent topic at the Power Women breakfast, and renowned journalist Katie Couric shared her thoughts, saying, “I think it’s very exciting to have a woman as a presidential nominee,” but adding that “what’s interesting is that people don’t vote in a gender-specific way.” Couric said, “I wouldn’t say we’re in a post-feminist era by any stretch, but I do feel, you know, just because there’s a female candidate, you don’t necessarily have an obligation as a woman to support that candidate unless you feel comfortable with her positions and comfortable with every aspect of that candidate.” Couric, an accomplished reporter on Today and other news outlets, transitioned from broadcast media to digital media and currently works with Yahoo. “I like to talk about important issues,” she said. “I like to sort of talk to people and peel away the layers of the onion and try to understand what makes them tick.” When asked about her advice to young, aspiring journalists, Couric shared, “I’m really a proponent of developing core values, of like being a good writer, being a reporter, getting in a position where you have a lot of experience, and get[ting] to that Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours point where. . . to become proficient at anything you have to do it again and again and again.” Couric also discussed female representation in media, saying that we should continue “rattling cages and trying to get more women in executive positions” and that “we need to get more people, more diversity, in these hiring positions, so the people they hire are therefore more diverse.”
Diversity was an important topic at the breakfast, from the portrayal of diverse women on-screen to the presence of diverse women behind-the-scenes and in top business positions. Anika Noni Rose, an actress from the 2016 television remake of Roots, spoke with Waxman about her role on the series. Rose, who portrays an intelligent and courageous enslaved woman raising a son, said of her character, “It was a really great honor, I think, to be able to bring this woman to life and to show her in tribute to all of the people that came before me and persevered and made it.” The breakfast also featured a panel titled “Diversity Is Good For Business” in which female entrepreneurs spoke about start-ups, healthcare, and intersectionality. Kathryn Finney, who shared her experience building her business and how she was received as an African-American, female entrepreneur, stressed the importance of making sure rooms are “welcoming” to diverse individuals.
In addition to diversity, the concept of women banding together to support one another was a strong element of the event. “We love to say, ‘Women are so complicated,” said Cindy Whitehead. “You know what the best word is to hold up progress? To say something is ‘complicated.’” Shelley Zalis shared, “When you’re alone you might be powerful, but you’re a little invisible. It was that moment [discussing the origin of The Girls’ Lounge] where I realized there was something amazing about the power of the pack.”
“These women have all accomplished so much in their respective fields. They have already made it. Yet, instead of reveling in their own success, they chose to work towards a bigger goal: gender equality,” said Emory Parker, Co-Head of Fusion’s marketing department. “These ladies use their talent, brains, and influence to assist and encourage the next generation of female leaders. This chain of support makes for a strong community that has the power to change the rules. I am proud to be a link in that chain.” Nicole Quintero, Fusion Co-Director and recent NYU graduate, said, “I felt honored and humbled to sit in a room filled with incredibly talented and powerful women. It was inspiring to hear them talk and know that there is a ‘pack’ out there paving the way for me to do what I want to do with no limitations.”
So what was the overarching take-away from the event? As Finney said: “One of the first things that you can do is actually invest in other women.” She and the other speakers pushed women investing in, sponsoring, and promoting other women. Find someone whose story or product you believe in and support them. “The energy was high and my mind was going wild thinking of all the possibilities the future holds for women in the industry,” said Quintero. “The movement has momentum. It’s an exciting time for women everywhere.”
Rachel Lambert is a rising junior studying Film & Television at the Tisch School of the Arts. She has been involved with Fusion since freshman year when she joined the Editorial department as a staff member. She is going into her second year as co-head of the Editorial department and will be one of Fusion’s Associate Directors for the upcoming year’s festival.