From emerging filmmakers to established program creators to actresses-turned-activists, women in media and entertainment are reshaping the content we consume. Their star power was on display at The Wrap’s 2020 Power Women Summit, the largest annual gathering of influential women in the showbiz industry. Here’s a look at how some fierce females are leading the charge, both at the Summit and in Hollywood.

Telling New Stories
While Covid-19 interrupted production of films and TV shows around the world, six enterprising moviemakers overcame extraordinary budgetary and logistical odds to create noteworthy short films that were chosen as finalists in the “Telling our Stories Film Contest” presented by TheWrap news group and Starz network. All 1,100 submissions came from women and gender-nonconforming filmmakers of color, who touched on themes of womanhood, representation and the importance of community. Sounds of War, by Jazmin Johnson, explores life as a young Black woman in America and was created following George Floyd’s murder in May of last year. Clarissa comes from writer/director Shanrica Evans and tells the story of a woman who forges an intimate bond with a homeless woman. LaToya Morgan’s submission, Team Marilyn focuses on a female politician dealing with a sex scandal. Filmed over the course of two days, the short is now being developed into a feature-length film. In A Cure for All Things, a Taiwanese woman finds a vial in her late mother’s fridge that turns her into her ancestors.  Lexical Gap, from Yoko Okumura, touches on often-stigmatized female sexuality and “the purity myth.” Finally, Gabriela Garcia Medina offered Little Con Lili about a 10-year-old who binges on junk food when her parents aren’t home. Though “Team Marilyn” won the $10,000 top prize, all six shorts will air on Starz.

Fresh, Relevant Programming
Game of Thrones is HBO’s biggest hit thus far, but programming creators aren’t sitting on their laurels. Following the series wrap, two women were challenged with the task of taking the network into a new era. Executive vice president Francesca Orsi helped greenlight the new hit drama series Watchmen, adapted from a cult-classic graphic novel. Though developed years before the Black Lives Matter movement, the show deals with timely issues like systemic racism and police brutality. “It almost feels like a mandate, but as a female leader of a division…inclusion is absolutely critical,” said Orsi during a Power Women Summit panel. As executive vice president of HBO’s comedy programming, Amy Gravitt was responsible for hits like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Insecure and Barry. To develop well-rounded characters, she aims to show a variety of voices, tones and perspectives. “I think when we’re looking for talent we’re trying to explore the notion that the human experience isn’t a monolithic one,” said Gravitt.

Changing of the Guard
Superhero movies have historically been brought to life by male directors and featured men in the leading roles, but The Old Guard is groundbreaking in its departure from that mold. The 2020 Netflix blockbuster, adapted from a comic book about a team of immortal warriors, stars actress Charlize Theron and was directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood, of Love & Basketball fame. During a conversation at the Power Women Summit, Prince-Blythewood recalled working with fellow fierce female Dana Goldberg, Skydance’s chief creative officer, to get the movie greenlit. The pair was passionate about breaking with old traditions, both onscreen and behind the camera, and for Goldberg it felt imperative that a woman director bring this story to life, as she might more intuitively understand the complex dynamics between its female characters. In another notable first, the film’s post-production team was 85 percent women. The Old Guard broke Netflix streaming records, becoming one of the top 10 most popular movies in the streamer’s history and reaching 72 million homes in its first month. What’s more, Prince-Blythewood shattered her own glass ceiling by becoming the first Black woman director of a graphic novel adaptation.

Costume designer Ruth E. Carter is likewise no stranger to breaking barriers. The Hollywood legend scored a 2019 Academy Award for her work on Black Panther, making her the first Black woman to win an Oscar in the field of costume design. After moving to Los Angeles in 1986, the Massachusetts native worked in a design shop before a chance meeting with Spike Lee changed the trajectory of her career. Having worked on over 60 films, Carter recently made history again by becoming the first Black costume designer to be honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Though the work of inclusion is gaining momentum, the entertainment industry must continue its efforts to move the needle. Women in entertainment are striving to tell empowering stories, reshape programming and inspire both personal lives and professional careers.

Flo Mitchell-Brown
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