I recently sat down with documentary filmmakers Tom Donahue and Ilan Arboleda co-founders of CreativeChaos to explore the role of men in this confounding state of affairs called gender inequality. Here’s an excerpt from our chat:
We are in the midst of a societal revolution where we are seeing cultural/historical norms break wide open, perhaps one of the most significant in modern history. What do you think will “really” change everything in terms of gender equality?
Tom – Legal mandates. There needs to be real consequences to not ending this discrimination and achieving actual parity. Voluntary compliance is not enough (as we have seen with the failure of 50/50 by 2020) If a real and enforceable legal commitment is made, parity could happen quickly. The reasons why this doesn’t happen are complex and involve patriarchy, systemic inertia, a lack of solidarity on the issues, particularly American anti-government attitudes and (believe it or not) the First Amendment.
Ilan – I don’t think we will see a real change in terms of gender equality across the board until women have an equal seat at the table at the top of the power structure – that means our financial institutions, our government and policy making bodies, and our major corporations. Until then, it’s at best, nominal gains.
Your work at CreativeChaos has focused on social change, now with your films “Casting By,” “Thank You for Your Service” and “This Changes Everything,” are you noticing any changes in how you approach your work?
Ilan – I think that social action has to baked into the very beginning of the filmmaking process. What began as an afterthought for us once a movie was completed, is now what leads us on every project.
I’d love for you share your “woke” story on feminism, equality, and toxic masculinity.
Ilan – Feminism is a symptom of toxic masculinity. My woke moment. I was sitting at a restaurant in Sedona with a group of women who had been kind enough to showcase This Changes Everything as a special event. The woman next to me at dinner asked me, “have you made other films about toxic masculinity?” And I thought for a second, and realized that ALL our films are about toxic masculinity. Whether it’s Hollywood, medical error, the mental health crisis in the military, gun violence or climate change, all of our films take on a power structure that suffers from this ailment. In the end, our foe is always the same institutional power that needs to change no matter the topic.
Tom – I grew up in a right wing household (in upstate New York) with parents who were pro-Nixon, pro-Reagan and John Paul II. Feminism was s dirty word only used in the house to define someone with absolute derision. At 10 years old, I fell in love with a tv show called MASH. Its main character, Hawkeye Pierce became my hero. I also became a big fan of Alan Alda, the actor who played him and tried to learn everything I could about him (in that pre-internet era, that pretty much meant PeopleMagazine and only People Magazine with an occasional feature article in the Poughkeepsie Journal’s Weekend section). I learned that Alan proudly defined himself as a feminist. This shocked me – How could someone openly admit they were a feminist? Esp. a man? But here was my hero doing just that. I learned that he was stumping for something called “The Equal Rights Amendment”. What was that? Aren’t we all already equal? I was taught that we all had equal rights under the law This sent me on a journey to learn that that wasn’t actually the case). I also read that Alan was friends with Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas and that introduced me to shows like That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore. So I became a feminist because of the activism of a man (and from the power of the media). From then on, I believed I had a responsibility to fight for women’s equality.
What can Hollywood do next?
Ilan – At the end of the day, Hollywood has no power and is traditionally (politics aside) a conservative reactionary monolithic body. However, Hollywood is owned by corporations who all have a fiduciary responsibility to the stockholders. It is the stockholders (and we the public are the stockholders) who should demand that the companies they invest in practice gender equality as a matter of good corporate practices with the knowledge that it will ultimately positively affect the bottom line. Otherwise, we should divest.
Tom – As a start, Hollywood should create an independent watchdog organization (with each corporation represented on its committee) that polices gender disparity within media. Its decisions would need to be legally enforceable, of course. And hey, let’s have Anita Hill chair it!