Celebrate Women’s History Month with #SheDocs!

March kicks off the second annual #SheDocs, an online film festival showcasing 12 documentaries highlighting extraordinary women and their accomplishments in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. The festival is presented by ITVS’s Women and Girls Lead campaign and sponsored by Eileen Fisher, Inc.

Female protagonists in film are few and far between. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, women have been consistently underrepresented as main characters for at least six decades. In 2013, females accounted for only 33% of all characters in the top 100 grossing films and only 11% featured women in leadership positions.

Women and Girls Lead is proud to combat these gender stereotypes and misrepresentations with the second annual #SheDocs online film festival, a collection of 12 documentaries highlighting extraordinary women working to close the gender gap and fight inequality. This month-long, free event presents films by prominent independent filmmakers and shines a spotlight on women who are working to transform their lives, their communities, and the world. Continue reading

Through Her Lens: An Antidote to the Female Director Gap

Women & Girls Lead announces the launch of Through Her Lens, an online series of dramatic shorts premiering on June 12, 2013.

Women are conspicuously absent from the top ranks of film. In 2012, women made up a measly 9 percent of directors working on the top 250 domestic-grossing films in the U.S.

But there are a few bright spots: Women were more likely to work for documentaries, dramas, and animated films than action, horror, and sci-fi in 2012. At high-profile film festivals, they more commonly were directors of documentaries than narrative features. They are also more likely to be top brass on feature-length films in top U.S. film festivals than the cash-raking, top 250 grossing films.

ITVS’s response to this gender gap? Women and Girls Lead’s series of dramatic shorts, Through Her Lens premiering exclusively online on June 12, 2013.  Directed by women, featuring stories about women, the series travels from the streets of Spanish Town, Jamaica, to an apartment in Amman, Jordan, to a Chinese immigrant enclave in New York City. Continue reading

Rebel: Examining Race and the Exclusion of Women in History

Filmmaker María Agui Carter discusses the Women & Girls Lead film Rebel, race, and the exclusion of women in national history. Rebel is the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Confederate soldier turned Union spy. She was dismissed as a hoax for a hundred and fifty years, but new evidence shows Loreta, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans, was one of an estimated 1000 secret women soldiers of the American Civil War. The documentary premieres on the PBS series Voces on May 24, 2013 (check local listings).

See more from VOCES.

Loreta Velazquez, a Confederate Soldier turned Union spy, did not change the course of the American Civil War. Why would this one woman’s story, out of the three million Americans who fought in the Civil War, matter today? She was one of hundreds of women and thousands of Latino Civil War soldiers whose stories remain outside of the national narrative of history. While the US only recently lifted the ban on women in combat, she was fighting 150 years ago.

Latinos have emerged as the nation’s largest ethnic group, while, according to a Hill and Knowlton study, 1/3 of Americans believe Hispanics are recent immigrants who have come here illegally.  Few know that over 10,000 Mexicans fought in the Civil War, entire regiments who spoke only Spanish joined in battle, and that Spanish surnamed soldiers, from South Carolina to New York, joined the ranks. Loreta’s rebellious and daring character, the tragedies of her life – and her refusal to be defeated by them – made her a riveting film subject, but it was the fact that she had been erased that propelled me to make Rebel.

As Walter Benjamin has said, history decays into images. But our society has not always deemed women and minority history worthy of documentation, I had only one, not even authenticated, photo of Loreta. But her memoir and a trove of recently discovered archival documentation about her allowed me to bring her to life, using voiceovers, recreations, animation, and contemporary storytellers.

I am interested in the tension between national narratives and community histories and in the politics of gender and race in the creation of stories about the American past. In Loreta’s lifetime, proponents of the Lost Cause rejected Velazquez for her frank criticisms of the South, and for the fact that, as a Hispanic and as a woman soldier, she disturbed their carefully crafted portrayal of the Southern soldier in the Confederacy. Continue reading

Military Women’s Long, Ongoing March to Equality

Military women have marched toward increased rights throughout United States history. From the American Revolution, when they operated primarily as nurses, to the Iraq War, when they served covertly on the frontlines in Team Lioness, women have finally been acknowledged for the service they provide to the United States. As of January 2013, they are legally recognized as ground combat fighters.

Still, women and men alike struggle with the reality of rape in the military. Twenty percent of women and one percent of men have been sexually assaulted during a term of service. After The Invisible War shined a light on the issue, the power to prosecute sexual assault moved up the chain of command. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has also credited the documentary with shaping her approach to the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, announced May 16, which enables victims of sexual assault in the military to file their case with a JAG prosecutor instead of their commanding officers.

In honor of Memorial Day, watch Rebel (airing May 24 on PBS’s Voces) to learn more about one neglected female figure who shaped the United States military, Loreta Velazquez, Confederate soldier and Union spy. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot of female soldiers’ long path to the present:

  • During the American Revolution, in 1775, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates told Gen. George Washington that, “the sick suffered much for want of good female Nurses.” Washington beseeched Congress, which approved one nurse for every ten patients. Women also served as water bearers, cooks, laundresses, and saboteurs.
  • During the Civil War, women soldiers on both sides disguised themselves as men in order to serve. In 1866, Dr. Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor. She is the only female to have been awarded this highest honor.
  • In World War I, 21,480 Army nurses serve in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses serve stateside caring for German prisoners of war (POWs) and African-American soldiers. More than 400 military nurses die in the line of duty. The majority died from the “Spanish Flu.”
  • The Army establishes the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. They were the first women besides nurses to “serve within the ranks of the United States Army.” More than 150,000 women served as WACs during the war. In 1942, Nancy Harkness Love organized 25 women pilots into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). The WAFS flew planes from the factory to military bases.
  • WACs in the Vietnam War supported the troops mainly in administrative military occupational specialties (MOSs). One WAC detachment was assigned to Headquarters, first at Ton Son Nhut Airbase, then at Long Binh. “While engineers readied new barracks at Long Binh, the women lived in a building typical of the tropics, with openings between outer wallboards and no windows,” according to Army.mil. “Red dust covered their rooms during the dry season, and rain soaked them during the wet season.”
  • By the end of 2004, 19 servicewomen were killed during the Iraq War. Team Lioness, featured in the documentary Lioness, was organized to search and soothe Muslim women in accordance with cultural customs. “These women in Ramadi would become the first to engage in offensive ground combat operations in this country’s history,” said Lory Manning, Director of Women in the Military Project, in an interview for Lioness. Continue reading

From Victim to Survivor: Women and Girls Lead Films Share Stories of Resiliency

April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. and while Women and Girls Lead campaign partners were doing their part to advocate for survivors, our main efforts went to raising public awareness through film. We started the month with the highly anticipated two-part series premiere of Kind Hearted Woman, a documentary by David Sutherland. We’ve also been preparing for the upcoming May 13th broadcast of the Academy Award nominated documentary The Invisible War by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. These two films in particular show the powerful potential for storytelling to support healing.

KHW_WAGL_infographicAn act of violence can last only minutes, but the effects on a survivor can linger for a lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, survivors of sexual assault are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. Multiply that times the 18 percent of women and girls who experience sexual assault, and the U.S. has a startling health epidemic on its hands. While awareness about prevention and punishment has steadily increased, Kind Hearted Woman and The Invisible War paint a rarely seen picture of what it takes to heal from the long-term effects of sexual violence.

In Kind Hearted Woman, we met Robin Poor Bear, a charismatic Oglala Sioux woman and mother of two. Robin is in a battle with sobriety after years of sexual abuse drove her to alcohol abuse. Robin’s story is not unique – alcohol abuse is 13 times more likely for survivors of gender-based violence. In the five-hour series, which was filmed over three years, we watch Robin heal before our eyes as her voice grows more self-assured, the bonds with her children deepen, and she remains steadfastly sober. “The more I tell my story, the stronger it’s gonna make me,” Robin declares. Watch Kind Hearted Woman online.

Viewers who tuned in to the Kind Hearted Woman broadcast on Independent Lens and FRONTLINE April 1st and 2nd responded to Robin’s story with an outpouring of compassion and support. Some even asked if there was a way they could contribute financially. As a result, the filmmakers established a fund where people can send donations to Robin and her family to use throughout their healing process. Learn more about the Robin Poor Bear Fund.

Kind Hearted Woman is also being used to train healthcare professionals in treating and responding to the harmful effects of violence. The Man Up Campaign and the American Indian Community House hosted a screening at Mount Sinai Hospital to facilitate a discussion on treating and responding to the harmful effects of violence. Throughout the year, Man Up partners with Native American communities to train and equip male advocates in fighting the high rates of gender-based violence on reservations.

During the May 13th broadcast of The Invisible War, viewers will meet U.S. service women and men who are living with the effects of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), a term developed in response to the widespread problem of rape in the military. MST is akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is characterized by severe anxiety, stress, or fear. On the whole, survivors of sexual assault are six times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Amy Herdy says in her interview for The Invisible War, “I have never seen trauma like I have seen from veterans who have suffered Military Sexual Trauma.”

When several of the survivors come together to file a lawsuit regarding their sexual assault cases, a powerful shift occured. They find strength in their common stories. “I’m not alone,” survivor Kori Coica repeats in the film, “I’m not alone.” The film’s Executive Producer Regina Kulik Scully hopes to recreate this transformative effect in the newly established Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program. The program, which welcomed its first group of veterans in February 2013, offers specialized, non-pharmaceutical treatment for survivors of MST.

In addition to the filmmaker’s efforts, our partner RAINN is working closely with the Department of Defense to offer a Safe Helpline to members of the military. The hotline makes available trained, impartial advocates who can counsel service women and men on what to do if they experience, witness, or feel at risk of sexual assault. Learn how to contact the Safe Helpline.

Also check out one of RAINN’s public service announcements, which is available to Women and Girls Lead partners and stations to use in support of the Kind Hearted Woman and The Invisible War broadcasts:

Do your part to support survivors by listening to their stories. Tune in to The Invisible War Monday, May 13th on Independent Lens (check local listings) and follow Women and Girls Lead on Facebook for sharable infographics and videos.

ITVS Partners with Geena Davis to Confront the Effects of Media on Children

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and ITVS have partnered together to produce an educational program, which includes five short videos produced for kids titled Guess Who?, to be featured by the Women and Girls Lead campaign.

Watch Guess Who?: The Mayor and The Judge on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

It is time to take a hard look at the message contemporary media is sending to children and young adults. Guess Who? teaches children ages 6 to 9 to challenge gender stereotypes through the use of video and educational curriculum.

“Media images are a powerful force in shaping our perceptions of men and women. The stark gender inequality in media aimed at little children is significant, as television and movies wield enormous influence on them as they develop a sense of their role in the world. And because young kids tend to watch the same TV shows and movies repeatedly, negative stereotypes get imprinted again and again,” said Geena Davis, Academy® Award-winning actor and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Student producers at the University of Southern California, Boston University, Columbia College, Lipscomb University, and Webster University worked with the Institute to create the shorts, which will air on public television stations nationwide and are also featured online by PBS’ Emmy Award Winning series, Independent Lens.

On April 19th, Davis will be giving the keynote address to open the 7th annual West Hollywood’s Women’s Leadership Conference: Unlimited Opportunities – Knowledge. Power. Community. The conference includes a special screening of the Oscar nominated film, The Invisible War, which will be preceded by the Guess Who? short, “The Soldier,” produced by USC. The event includes a panel discussion led by PBS SoCal’s Maria Hall Brown and features filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, along with subject Alison Gil.

Standing Proud and Standing Tall by Robin Poor Bear

Read the poem featured in this week’s broadcast of Kind Hearted Woman, a David Sutherland film about Robin Poor Bear, a mother on a journey to heal the wounds of abuse and protect her children from the same fate. Join our online forum and screening today at 11am PT / 2pm ET to meet and chat live with Robin. Moderating the conversation will be Shirley Sneve, Executive Director of Vision Maker Media. Login to the screening at https://ovee.itvs.org/screenings/na5nd.



By  Robin Poor Bear

 Standing Proud Recording by Robin

I stand here in front of you standing proud and standing tall

To remind you of when you knocked me down and watched me fall


The mean and hateful things you’d say helped me to see

Exactly how much you really loved me


As time went on I hoped and I prayed

For health and happiness to come my way Continue reading

A Letter from Kind Hearted Woman’s Robin Poor Bear

Part 1 of Kind Hearted Woman, a pillar program of the Women and Girls Lead campaign, premiered last night on the PBS series Independent Lens. Viewers met Robin Poor Bear and her family through the lens of independent filmmaker David Sutherland. The candid portrait pays tribute to one family’s resilience, strength, and courage in the face of abuse and injustice. Hear from Robin in her own words about why she and her family chose to participate in a film that closely documents the struggles of domestic violence in the Native American community. Tune in to FRONTLINE tonight at 9/8c to watch Part 2 of Kind Hearted Woman (check local listings).

KHW_kids_2_WAGLIt is with a humble heart that I welcome you into my life. Please know that witnessing my story may trigger intense reactions in those who are still in situations of abuse and recovery. Please also know you are not alone. You are the reason I chose to participate in this film, because I made a promise to myself that if others were inspired to find help and gain a better understanding, then this film would be worth doing.

Throughout my entire life, I have struggled with the aftershock of trauma from my childhood experiences of sexual abuse. I had no idea who “Robin” was, certainly no idea who “Kind Hearted Woman” (my Native American name) was. I struggled with the question, why? Why was I abused over and over and over again?

I struggled until, one night after I had prayed and asked, why? I had a dream (vision) of someone dying in the family and everyone in the house knew what had happened to the person but would not tell. They would not say anything when the police came and questioned everyone. Then, right before they left, I finally found the strength to open my mouth and say “I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.” When I woke up, I knew then and there that I needed to make the commitment to do the film. I needed to bear witness to my own life so that others would learn from my experience and know that there is a way out of the darkness.

Once I made that decision, I lost certain family members and had no idea of what was to come ahead for me. I never anticipated that my children would be taken and kept from me; in my culture it is not acceptable for Native American women to talk about the sexual abuse they experienced as a child. They certainly don’t go out and make a documentary film about it. Continue reading

Vote for Your Favorite #SheDoc by March 31st

Throughout March, we’ve been watching the 10 free films in the #SheDocs Online Film Festival for Women’s History Month. Now, with only one week to go, we’re asking you – our #SheDocs fans – to vote for your favorite festival film. Here is your chance to tell the filmmakers and the women and girl film stars that you appreciate them! Vote for your favorite #SheDoc until March 31st.


Use your vote to tell us which story inspired you to do something, learn more, or take on a new challenge. Perhaps Cheryl Haworth motivated you to hit the weight room or Chahinaz compelled you to ask more questions. Maybe Jessie Little Doe gave you a new appreciation for language, Barbara Smith Conrad sparked a love for opera, or Rafea convinced you to take up tech. Or perhaps you learned something new about Patsy Mink, Leymah Gbowee, or Gloria Steinem.  It’s quite possible you even cheered out loud when Starr’s baby was born or when Sabere declared, “I will never bring tea to you again!” If our #SheDocs moved you in anyway, then vote! We’ll announce the winner on the Women and Girls Lead Facebook page on April 1st.

Although March is almost over, we think every month deserves an empowering selection of documentary films about women and girls. We plan to keep the #SheDocs page and Twitter hashtag live as a destination to find the latest documentaries from the Women and Girls Lead campaign available to watch temporarily online. Bookmark itvs.org/women-and-girls-lead/shedocs and visit us every month to find new films streaming online for free.

Half the Sky Earns TV Academy Honors

The Independent Lens special presentation Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide will be among seven other programs to receive Television Academy Honors at the May 9th ceremony in Los Angeles.


Recognized for personifying “Television with a Conscience,” the landmark PBS program is based on the book by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The four-part series follows six actress-advocates as they travel to six countries and meet inspiring, courageous individuals who are confronting oppression and developing real, meaningful solutions through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls.

The film premiered last October as part of public media’s Women and Girls Lead initiative. Watch the trailer for the doc after the jump. Continue reading