At the 2017 MAKERS conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. I had a unique opportunity to interview the award-winning filmmaker and women’s advocate, Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
In 2011, she released her award-winning documentary Miss Representation, which explored how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. The popularity of her film instantly cultivated several movements like #ASKHERMORE, which inspired people to call out sexist reporting and to focus on women’s achievements. Jennifer gives Women 2.0 a deeper dive into her motivation behind how she used film as her platform for advocacy, the nonprofit she’s built to help break down the barriers of stereotypes and how she’s been able to balance a thriving career and growing family.
In the creation of your documentary, Miss Representation, was it your goal to start a movement or was it just something that happened naturally?
When I made the film I knew that I wanted it to be more than a film. I wanted it to be part of a larger movement. The film, 6 years later still screens somewhere in the world 2 to 3 days a week, so it’s had this cult-like following and impact. In knowing it was more than a film and part of a larger movement, we launched the Representation Project because there was so much demand for ongoing conversation and increasing citizen activism as part of the film.
With the movement you created, how did you take the next step to turn it into actionable campaigns and eventually a non profit?
We use film and media of all forms as a catalyst for awakening people's conscious, shifting attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately shifting culture. We do it one individual and one community at a time.
We are known for our campaigns like #ASKHERMORE, which has transformed the cultural conversation on the red carpet where women are asked more about their full humanity and less about who they are wearing and what they are wearing. We’ve also been credited for transforming advertising during the Super Bowl with our #NOTBUYINGIT campaign, where you see less sexualization, less limiting narratives about women during the super bowl, more expansive narratives about men and in this most recent year more expansive narratives about diversity.
The organization has gone from a film birthing the larger conversation to a conversation carried daily through social media engagements [reaching 5 million people a week], where we give people weekly actions through our website.
You have a wildly successful career and have grown a family at the same time. What advice do you have for working women that are focused on excelling in their career and also growing a family at the same time?
It takes a village, none of us can do it on our own. There’s an argument to be made that you can have it all, but maybe not all at once. I still think you can have it all, but it requires delegation, letting go, and prioritization.
I don’t get a lot of time with my friends or amazing vacations. I have to really prioritize how I spend every minute of the day. You also have to take care of yourself. That’s been the hardest for me. We all have to put on our own oxygen mask first. It's also important to surround yourself with people that are super supportive, loving and that want to see you succeed. You have to have people that are willing to help you have it all.
On the final day of the MAKERS conference, Jennifer took the stage and also spoke about her newest documentary The Mask You Live In, which shines a light on how young boys are negatively affected by America’s narrow definition of masculinity. She also announced that the Representation Project will be partnering with MAKERS to bring more men into the conversation and to celebrate model men. Newsom received a standing ovation after leaving the audience with one request. “Let’s demand a culture and society that uplifts us all. That inspires my daughters and your daughters to be leaders, presidents, CEO’s and active and engaged citizens. And that encourages my sons and your sons to be empathic, nurturing partners both at home and in their future places of work, emboldening them to stand up for women and people that are less privileged.”
You can view her keynote here.
About the interviewer: Patricia Dao is CEO of dailyKARMA, Advocate for Women in STEM, Write and Speaker on Tech and Entrepreneurship